April 5th, 2015
Easter Day, Year B
The Rev. Rob Fisher
St. Dunstan’s, Carmel Valley
Text: Mark 16:1-8
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
A few days ago, I was scooping the cat litter, and it was really not good.
I looked over at the cat who was just sitting beside me, watching at me as I cleaned up his mess. Then he blinked and looked away.
For a split second I wondered if he was feeling grateful that I was scooping his litter for him, and then I came to my senses and realized that of course, he’s a cat. His little cat brain simply doesn’t work like that.
Even if you are a die-hard cat person, you have to admit that cats are wired really differently from us.
A couple weeks ago, New York Magazine ran a surprising little article called “17 Things We Know About Forgiveness,” and fact #2 in the list reports that “Cat’s never forgive.”
The article explains, “Scientists have observed conciliatory behavior in many different animal species; the bulk of the research has been on primates like bonobos, mountain gorillas, and chimps, who often follow confrontations with friendly behavior like embracing or kissing. Scientists have observed similar behaviors in non-primates like goats and hyenas; the only species that has so far failed to show outward signs of reconciliation are domestic cats.”
The article was full of other surprising and yet believable facts about forgiveness. For instance, fact #10 says that “carrying a grudge literally weighs you down.” The article states, “Researchers at Erasmus University asked people to write about a time when they either gave or withheld forgiveness. They then asked their human guinea pigs to jump as high as they could, five times, without bending their knees. Those who had been thinking about a time when they’d forgiven jumped highest, about 11.8 inches on average; those who had written about their grudges, on the other hand, jumped 8.5 inches—a huge difference, and a startling illustration of how forgiveness can actually unburden you.”
Forgiveness literally makes you lighter!
Jesus himself had every reason to hold a grudge.
The betrayal, the trial, and ultimately the painful execution on the cross were all completely undeserved.
And yet what does Christ say while he is being crucified?
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
All four of the gospels, Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry in different ways. They emphasize different points and use different details to make those points. And so we get four different versions of the same story.
Mark’s gospel is notable in that it is the shortest of the four. It is also the starkest. Most scholars believe that it is the oldest of the gospels to be written. It is probably the one that is closest to the source.
The reading that we just heard was of the final eight verses of Mark’s original gospel.
But a little known fact is that the gospel of Mark also has two additional endings that have been tacked onto it. What we heard this morning is the original ending that Mark wrote, but there is a shorter and a longer ending that were added by some other writer centuries later. These endings were probably added in order to make the ending more satisfying to the readers, but the earliest examples of the Gospel of Mark have only the ending that we heard.
In this final, very short chapter we hear of the women discovering the tomb with the heavy stone rolled away. Inside the tomb they find no body, but instead they are greeted by an angel dressed in white who tells them that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and that they will see him if they return to Galilee. And the very final words that Mark leaves us with—the words that seemed too anti-climactic to some later editors—tell of that the women flee in terror and amazement, and say nothing to anyone, because they are afraid.
I think it shows courage on the part of Mark to leave the gospel on this note. He did not need to say more.
Obviously, the women’s fear was not the end of the story. Obviously, someone did tell.
Mark left it suspenseful probably because he had a lot of confidence that his readers—including you and me—didn’t have to read about the risen Christ to know him.
Mark perhaps realized that he didn’t need to write any accounts of the risen Jesus, because he is available to us today. He’s alive. We can experience him in our hearts right now.
It seems to me that Christmas and Easter—the two major celebrations in the Christian year—both bring a very special gift.
The gift of Christmas is that God became a child and lived among us. The gift of Christmas is God with us—Emmanuel.
The gift of Easter is that God gives us forgiveness.
I once shared with my spiritual director, who is a wise Episcopal monk, that we were going to do a special study on forgiveness for a time at St. Dunstan’s and he practically fell out of his chair. He said: “That’s it! That’s the bottom line.
“God doesn’t forgive; God is forgiveness.”
It’s the gift of Easter, and it’s the foundation of our faith.
As William Sloane Coffin loved to say, it turns out there is more mercy in God than sin in us.
But when I hear the women say, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” these, too, are very familiar words to us. It is like when we look longingly upon our need to either give or receive forgive. It can be so hard. It can seem so daunting. The stone is very heavy.
As wonderful as forgiveness may sound in theory, forgiveness in actuality is never easy.
We say, who can roll away this heavy stone?
And yet, just like the women, we find this morning that God has rolled away the stone already.
It defies the laws of the world.
According to the world, none of us deserves forgiveness.
But according to God’s grace, we get it anyway.
And here’s the bottom line that makes all the difference: If it were up to us alone to move that weight, we would be correct in calling it impossible.
Thanks be to God, the weight of the world is not on our shoulders alone.
Because God is bigger than we are, God can forgive things that we cannot, and that gives us the hope of being able to share in the forgiveness that is Gods, both giving it and receiving it. Like in St. Francis’ prayer, we get to be instruments of God’s peace.
So when we forgive, we have the power to do the impossible because we are not doing the heavy lifting alone, but instead we let God’s forgiveness work through us. And we feel the weight we cannot lift being taken off of our shoulders.
This is not easy work, but thanks be to God we are not cats! Which is to say that while it is hard, it is not impossible for us.
We were made in God’s image, and God can work with us to do more than we could ever ask or imagine.
The story does not end with the empty tomb. In a way, that is only the beginning. Christ is alive. He has defeated death and every heavy weight of the world.
And this morning he invites us to trust in the power he has shown so that we, too, can become fully alive.