A Sanctuary with Helicopters Flying
Mark 16: 1-8
God of joy and delight, we open our hearts to receive the risen Christ with hope in the new life you promise. May we calm our fears and free our voices to sing out for all to hear: Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Last Sunday morning some of us were surprised to see huge black curtains covering the entire choir loft and both sides of the front of the sanctuary. It might have been even more surprising to know that helicopters were heard flying around this sanctuary last week. What was going on here? When the Fairview Mall Library Theatre was closed abruptly as a result of a city worker’s strike the week before, the Curtain Call Players had to find a place in a rush to perform their scheduled show, “Miss Saigon,” and eventually presented it in our sanctuary under the name, “Rhodes Avenue Theatre,” over the past two weekends.
Last week, we marked Holy Week in this sanctuary, starting with the Palm/Passion Sunday service and continuing with special services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. This year, we had to celebrate it in quite a different setting. Our sanctuary was transformed into a theatre with huge curtains, two big lighting poles and a spacious stage. The black curtains formed a dramatic backdrop to the Holy Week services. Not only was our sanctuary bombarded with the noise from the flying helicopters but our pews were packed with audiences for several nights. How many years has it been since we saw such a crowd in our sanctuary during Holy Week?
Holy Week has ended and this morning we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The show, “Miss Saigon,” ended yesterday. The loyal patrons of the theatre group have returned to their normal lives. For those who would never have come into a church otherwise, Easter is merely another day, or, at the most, a long holiday weekend. For us, Easter Sunday is a very special day, commemorating the single most important event on the Christian calendar. Today begins a 50-day period, the season of Easter, that lasts until the Day of Pentecost.
A short while ago, we read Mark’s Gospel. According to Mark, three women, two named Mary and one, Salome, went to the tomb early in the morning to anoint the dead body of Jesus. They had seen Joseph roll the large stone across the entrance (15:46) so they knew what had to be done; Joseph had not anointed the body prior to burying it. They went to the tomb to complete the burial requirement of their tradition.
What they were concerned about on the way to the tomb, however, was how to get into the tomb because it had been closed with that large stone. They knew they could not move it themselves. They hoped someone would roll it away so they could go inside. But as soon as they arrived they realized they did not have to worry about the stone; it had already been rolled away and the tomb was open. Surprised as they were, they entered the tomb. What they saw was not the dead body of Jesus, but a young man dressed in a white robe. They were alarmed (v.5).
The angel knew what they were looking for. The three women heard that Jesus had been raised and would go ahead of them and see them in
just as he had told them previously.
They were commissioned to tell the other disciples, and especially
Peter. The women are told to remind the
disciples of the promise that Jesus had already made; after his resurrection,
he would go before them to Galilee (14:28).
Here, we are reminded how all the male disciples had failed to understand who Jesus was and to stand by him in his passion. In particular, it was Peter who had boasted that he would die with Jesus even if all the rest fled (14:31); instead, he denied even knowing who Jesus was (14:71). When we last saw Peter, he was weeping as he recalled Jesus’ words. Now, these women were the first disciples commissioned to tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection. Nevertheless, they too fled from the tomb and abandoned their commission because they were so terrified. The story says they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid (v.8). This is the end of the story in Mark: that is it. It sounds odd. Obviously the women must have said something to someone sometime, or else how would we know what they saw in the tomb?
According to Mark, even the women disciples fled from and abandoned their calling out of fear. The women’s response also brings us face to face with the mystery of faith. There are no heroes or heroines among Jesus’ followers. The hostility that put Jesus on the cross has reduced them all to flight and fearful silence. Nevertheless, God brings faith out of just such weakness and failure. Jesus did not need to come once again and choose a new team of better disciples. Despite all the stories of our weakness and failure, the Gospel message has spread around the globe and the story of Jesus has touched the world throughout the ages. However imperfect our faith and however many times we remain silent when we should testify to the Gospel, we can always return to God. Not one of us can get so far away from Jesus that we cannot be touched by God’s powerful presence in our lives.
The finale of “Miss Saigon” is heart-breaking. Kim, the heroine, kills herself for the sake of the future of both her son, Tam, and her lover, Chris. The tragic story of a seventeen- year- old girl in a war-torn country has touched many people. That is why it still draws such large crowds. The show is over: there is no more crowd here; there are no more helicopters flying in this sanctuary. Our pews are empty once again.
“Do not be alarmed,” says the angel sitting in the empty tomb today. Our story at Glen Rhodes does not end here. Mark’s Gospel invites us to find ourselves in the ongoing story. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ ministry begins in
At the conclusion of Mark, it is in Galilee
that Jesus’ followers find the risen Christ. Galilee
also is the land of the Gentiles. What does that mean? It may be that Christ’s return to Galilee completes the full circle of Jesus’ ministry.
Perhaps it is for us an indication that Jesus’ ministry is not finished but
will begin again, in the life and ministry of the disciples and even in ours
Christ is risen! Christ is risen in
deed! This ancient Easter greeting heralds the
defining story of our faith. Sharing
bread and wine at the common table set by Jesus Christ, let us go out into the
world with this great news of the risen Christ, carrying on Jesus’ ministry in
our ministry today and in the days ahead. Amen.