Sermon for Sunday, April 1, 2018 || Easter B || Mark 16:1-8
Good morning. I am so glad to be worshiping with you on this Easter morning. And I’m so glad that I got to read the last eight verses of Mark’s Gospel a minute ago because they hold some good news I never noticed before this week. Unlike the other accounts of the Gospel, Mark focuses entirely on the women’s walk to the tomb and their conversation with the young man in the white robe. The Risen Christ doesn’t actually appear in these verses, and we’re left in that unsettling moment when the women run off and don’t tell anybody because they’re afraid. Of course, they must have said something eventually or else this story wouldn’t have made it into the Gospel.
I can imagine Mary and Mary and Salome recounting their story to the disciples later on. “We got up early that morning and bought some spices to anoint his body. We had no idea how we were going to move the stone, but we went anyway, and when we got there –”
“Wait a minute,” one of the disciples will say. Maybe Philip because he was pretty practical. “You bought spices and went to his tomb even though you had no way to move the stone?”
Mary and Mary and Salome will look at each other and laugh. “We wondered who might move the stone for us, but we didn’t let that keep us from going.”
I love Mary and Mary and Salome so much because they did not let that fairly massive detail deter them from trying to serve their Lord. They lived out an old brainstorming technique: you start by listing every idea you can think of without listing why they won’t work. During the brainstorm, you don’t focus on the obstacles an idea presents or else the idea with never become robust enough to overcome the obstacles.
The probability the stone was going to be there was near 100%. But if those three tenacious women let that obstacle stand in their way, they never would have gone to the tomb. They never would have met that young man in the white robe. They never would have been the first witnesses to the resurrection. They expected the stone to be there. They expected to fail in their work of anointing Jesus’ crucified body. But they go anyway.
Mother Teresa once said, “God did not call me to be successful. God called me to be faithful.” In other words, God’s call on our lives has very little to do with results and everything to do with relationships. For that’s what faithfulness is. Faith is the glue that binds all healthy relationships together. Think about it. When one member of a couple thinks the other might be committing adultery, what’s the adjective we use? Unfaithful. Or a more positive example: we use the term “faithful” to talk about our dogs, right? Our faithful companions.
When Mary and Mary and Salome go to the tomb, they demonstrate their faith – not because they think they stone will be gone, but because they still desire to be in relationship with Jesus, even if it means a last act of mournful preparation of his body. They do not expect to be successful. (And if you think about it, in the end, they’re not successful in their plan to anoint his body.) They are not successful, but they remain faithful, despite the presence or absence of the stone.
This faithful witness of Mary and Mary and Salome heartens me this Easter morning. For all too often I get caught up in the priorities of this world, priorities that stress success over all else. I worry about the number of people sitting in the pews of this church. I worry about the sales of my books. I worry about the number of views my websites receive. But such worries are really just ego trips that distract me from my true calling. Worldly success has nothing to do with the truth in which God calls us to participate. The number of people in the pews is nothing compared to the relationships they develop with God and with each other. My book sales are nothing compared to the reality that if I don’t write, I will cease to be a functional human being and all my relationships will suffer. Success is measured in statistics. Faith is measured in relationships.
And in the ultimate act of faith, Jesus Christ rose from the dead in order to keep his promise to be in relationship with us. St. Paul says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s our faith. That’s what we celebrate today.
There’s no way to be a successful Christian. We can only be faithful ones. In this day and age when all the markers of the success-driven world are declining for the North American Church, Mary and Mary and Salome show us a different way. Like them, we have obstacles in our paths, stones that we cannot move by ourselves. These stones exist in the wider Church and in the world. These stones are everything that keep people from entering deep, meaningful, and reconciling relationships with one another across all spectrums of difference.
And these stones could keep us from acting on our faith. We could roll over and go back to sleep. But those three amazing women got up. And they went to the tomb. And that stone was rolled aside. If we don’t rise in faith, we’ll never know if our stones could also roll away. It’s utter foolishness what Mary and Mary and Salome did that Sunday morning so long ago. At least if you think in terms of success. But in terms of faith, it was the only activity that could have made a lick of sense to them.
This Eastertide, I wonder what stones you see in your path or in the path of this world. Are those stones keeping you from rising? What would it be like if you got up anyway? What would it be like if you went to that place where the stone is? That’s where we will meet the Risen Christ. Christ will reach out a hand, drawing us deeper and deeper into faith-filled relationship, and say, “Here. Help me roll this stone away.”