Two brothers, twins and the pastor’s sons, lived up to that PK reputation and wreaked havoc in church school. In Fred and George Weasley style, they were always getting into some kind of trouble and their dad was usually called in to settle things. One Easter, their father, (you remember he was the pastor), quizzed the boys on what they learned in church school that morning. He knew the lesson was that we find the risen Christ in our hearts when we let him live there. So he said, “I have a question for you both, where’s Jesus?” thinking the boys would say, “In our hearts.” But the two boys just sat there, unsure how to answer. They looked sheepishly at one another but didn’t say a thing. “Where is Jesus?” he asked again. Nothing. “Boys, I believe you know.” The boys were silent, too frightened to speak. Their dad was getting frustrated now, and asked a little more forcefully, “Where is Jesus?”
At that, one boy jumped up and grabbed his brother, “C’mon, let’s get out of here! Jesus is missing and Dad thinks we did it!” It’s always good to start an Easter sermon with a joke. Smile!
According to St. John, when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on Easter morning, Jesus was missing. She said, “They’ve taken the Lord and I don’t know where they’ve put him!” John 20:2 (If I were her, I’d want to question those two boys.)
But Mark’s Gospel, our text for today, tells the Easter story differently. Mary Magdalene, James’ mother Mary, and Salome find the tomb empty, except for an angel gowned in white. The angel tells them that Jesus is alive, raised, resurrected and will meet his friends in Galilee. The women are terrified, bewildered and afraid, (three different words in one sentence according to New Testament Greek, each meaning basically the same thing… I guess Mark wanted to make the point!), and that may explain why Mark records them saying nothing at the tomb; they were scared speechless (times 3) and they run away, saying nothing to anyone. (Mark 16:8)
I’m glad John’s Gospel gives the women a 2nd chance at their response to the empty tomb. The Gospel of John was written many years after Mark’s Gospel and that may account for the more detailed story. The Early Christian writers had time to reconsider the story. In the other three Gospels, the women have great speaking parts and Mary Magdalene is the star of the drama. And thanks to these versions, church school Easter pageants everywhere give the women the best parts. Good for you, Matthew, Luke and John, for giving the women a 2nd chance in the story.
In Matthew’s version, written many years after Mark’s, the women race away from the empty tomb afraid, but Matthew adds, “but with great joy” (karas in Greek). In this Easter story, the women get a 2nd chance to not only show their fear and amazement at the miracle, but their strong faith, as well. Afraid, yes, but also they were really happy about it. Matthew gives the women a 2nd chance by adding this new dimension to the women’s faith.
Then in Luke’s version of the Easter story, also written well after Mark’s, the women get a 2nd chance at how they respond to the miracle. In Luke’s account, not just a single angel greets them, but two angles in radiant white. And instead of just trembling from head to toe, they have the presence of mind to bow down in reverence to the angels and to jointly remember that Jesus had told them this was going to happen. They run to tell the apostles all they have seen. Mary Magdalene even argues with the apostles, trying to convince the hard-headed men it really happened.
In Franco Zephenelli’s film, Jesus of Nazareth, it’s doubting Thomas who brushes off the story as a woman’s silly fantasy. But according to Luke, Mary keeps talking until Peter finally gets it and goes to see for himself. (Scholars tell us that Luke, of the four Gospel writers, is known for giving women prominence in the Gospels so we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s in Luke’s version of the story that the women get a 2nd chance at a number of things on Easter Sunday in comparison to Mark’s staccato account.)
Thanks to all these 2nd chances for the women, we might be correct in saying: Easter means a 2nd chance. And not just a 2nd chance for the women disciples to be portrayed more heroically in the Gospels, but a 2nd chance for us to believe in Christ’s promises.
A young minister, serving his first church after seminary, visited a member under hospice care. Introducing himself as the new pastor, the woman asked him, “Can you help me to believe?” and reached for his hand. He later confessed, “I had nothing to say to her. They didn’t teach us anything about this at seminary.” So the inexperienced minister and the dying woman sat in embarrassed silence. She slipped away into eternity and the young minister fled the scene shaking head to toe in fear. In the privacy of his car he cried and vomited.
He’s not alone in his doubts about the empty tomb. Recent polls seem to indicate that more and more people, including some ministers and church leaders, don’t believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, so we shouldn’t be surprised by such a bedside scene. If you don’t believe in the resurrection to life beyond death, then what is there to say to a dying man or woman? It might sound like this: “You’ve lived a good life and we’ll try to remember all you did.” Or “You’ve had your chance. I hope you did the best you could.” Or “Maybe there’s something else after this. But I’m not sure.”
If the Church was left with just Mark’s version of Easter morning and its ending with the women running away, terrified, and saying nothing to anyone, the typical Easter sermon you might hear is… “We hope there’s something more, but who knows. We never did hear if he was raised or not. We hope so!”
But thanks to the other three Gospels that give the women a 2nd chance at the story, we can say with certainty that Christ is risen, he’s risen, indeed! Thank God for 2nd chances. It’s the 2nd chance that gives us Easter faith; that makes us resurrection people. And it’s 2nd chances that let us in on the rest of the story of that wet behind the ears pastor.
That night, the young minister walked into the kitchen of the parsonage and fell into a chair. His young wife comforted him with kind words and gently held him in her arms. After telling her the story he wondered if he should consider another occupation, maybe going back to school to learn a trade. He said to her, “I’m having a hard time believing in Easter. For three years I studied the faith, now I’m not sure if believe it all. Do you believe in Easter?”
After absorbing three years of seminary talk and a personal faith that surprised even her, she found herself asking her husband, “Do you believe Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world?” “Yes,” he answered. “That’s John 3:16.”
She asked, “If you believe that, then what would be a good way for God to let the world know that that was true for all generations?” He said, “I guess God would have to do something spectacular so people would always remember it.”
She said, “That’s what I believe, too. To me, Easter is a 2nd chance that God gives us to realize that God’s steadfast love endures forever.” “
“So then,” he concluded, “Easter is God’s ‘amen’ to the cross! I’ll have to think about that.”
Pastors don’t have to wait very long before getting a 2nd chance to walk with a member through the valley of the shadow of death. As he sat with a member in the hospital, he found himself asking the same thing his wife has asked him just a few weeks before, “Do you believe in Easter?” The member confessed, “I want to, but I keep questioning it. It’s so hard to believe.”
And the minister asked, “What would God have to do to prove to everyone that what Jesus did on the cross was real, eternal, and for them?” The member said, “God would have to do something really spectacular so everyone would remember it. Is that what Easter is?”
The minister nodded, “Yes! Easter is the 2nd chance God gives us to realize his grace, mercy and steadfast love endures forever. That’s what I believe.”
A few months later, at the funeral, the young minister read these words that were requested by the member.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good! His steadfast love endures forever. God who alone does great miracles. His steadfast love endures forever.”
I had a similar story. Standing at the bedside of a member under hospice care, one of his granddaughters asked me what I believed about eternal life. I’m not sure why, but the question made me think hard. I came up with something to say. But when I got back to my study, I put pen to paper and asked myself what I believed. I came up with something I call: Ten Assurances that Give Me Hope in Times Like These… The next day I shared my thoughts with the dying member and his family. I was glad I had a 2nd chance. I said this is what give me hope.
- That we belong to God who loves us.
- That a life well lived will include love, forgiveness and grace.
- That each day is a new opportunity to live for God.
- That the invisible Spirit of Christ is with us every step of the way.
- That there is a sacred space that awaits us on the other side.
- That in that sacred space we will be with God.
- That once there, there will be no more tears, no more suffering, no more wondering; we will know the full story.
- That, there, we will see God face to face.
- That we’ll greet our loved ones who’ve gone before us.
- That just a little faith, the size of a mustard seed, is all one needs to believe all this is true.
I believe that Easter means a 2nd chance...a 2nd chance at believing. Do you believe? Amen.
 Ps. 139: 1,4