March 27,2016 (10:00 a.m. Service) — Nancy Bancroft
Readings: Psalm 96, Mark 16:9-14
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be found pleasing to you, Oh God.
A long, long time ago I attended college in Missouri. It’s known as the Show Me state, and Missourians are as proud of their motto as we are of Vacationland. There are a number of stories about how that saying originated. What seems to be the most widely accepted legend attributes the phrase to Missouri’s U.S. Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver, who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903. While a member of the U.S. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Vandiver attended a naval banquet. In a speech there, he declared, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”
Another version of the “Show-Me” myth places the slogan’s origin in the mining town of Leadville, Colorado in the mid-1890s. A miner’s strike had been in progress there for some time, and a number of miners from southwest Missouri had been imported to take the places of the strikers. The Missouri miners were unfamiliar with Colorado mining methods and required frequent instructions. Pit bosses began saying derisively, “That man is from Missouri. You’ll have to show him.” However the slogan originated, it has since passed into a different meaning entirely, and is now used to indicate the stalwart, conservative, non-credulous character of Missourians.
Like the various accounts of how and where the Missouri catchphrase came about, the details of the first Easter vary from Gospel to Gospel. That’s what happens when you depend on the testimony of eye-witnesses. And unfortunately, no one thought to get out their cell phone and record the event for posterity. I chose Mark’s rendition of the Easter story this morning, because as I was meditating on each Gospel’s account this week, I had a bit of nostalgia for my college days. All of the characters sounded to me like they came from Missouri. Nobody believed anyone. “Show me!” they seem to be saying.
Mark tells us that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene from who he had cast out seven demons. We don’t know what that means-the casting out of demons. Some people believe Mary Magdalene had been a prostitute before she met Jesus. Perhaps the “seven demons” refer to a complex illness. Whatever the seven demons denoted, the experience Mary Magdalene had with Jesus had been life-changing. She had become one of his most devoted followers. She is recorded as having been present at Christ’s crucifixion even though most of his followers had scattered. So Jesus’ companions, to whom Mary Magdalene went to tell the good news that Easter morning, surely knew her. Did they discount her because she was a woman? Did they not trust her because of her history with demons? Maybe, it was simply because the story seemed so unbelievable.
It happened again. Jesus appears to two of his disciples. Mark adds an interesting detail; “he showed himself in another form”. Confusing! But eventually they too recognize him and like Mary Magdalene, go to tell the others. Again, though two of their own share their experience of Jesus, those who haven’t seen for themselves just can’t believe it. Finally, Jesus responds to the implicit “show me” and seems to take pity on his inner circle of companions and “while they were at table”, maybe in the breaking of the bread, he shows himself to them.
Notice that despite the empty tomb and the reports undoubtedly given with enthusiasm none of those who had been closest to Jesus suggested that he could have risen from the grave. These were honest reactions of people very much like you and me. Later Jesus’ disciples would recall how many times he had said to them things like, “I am the resurrection and the life,” but when it actually happened, they were shocked and disbelieving. The accounts were not remotely in the realm of their experience. It was all so confusing.
They were somewhat like the bright little girl in a Sunday school class: Towards the end of Lent the teacher looked at her class of six-year-olds and asked, “Does anyone know what today is?” A little girl held up her hand and said, “Yes, today is Palm Sunday” The teacher exclaimed, “that’s fantastic. That’s wonderful. Now does anyone know what next Sunday is?” The same little girl held up her hand. She said, “Yes, next Sunday is Easter Sunday” Once again the teacher said “that’s fantastic. Now, does anyone know what makes next Sunday Easter?” The same little girl responded and said, “Yes, next Sunday is Easter because Jesus rose from the grave” but before the teacher could congratulate her again, she kept on talking and said, “But if he sees his shadow, he has to go back in for six more weeks.”
Confusion keeps us from understanding the reality of Christ’s resurrection as well. If we focus on the details, the conflicting details of the Easter stories, we’re doomed. But we have the advantage of the long view. Two thousand years after a carpenter’s son was condemned by to death by religious authorities, condemned to death as a “nobody”, condemned to death by crucifixion, here we are. We could be at a nice brunch. We could be home eating chocolate bunnies, but here we are. Despite the pain and tragedy of this past week! Despite the death of poor little Florrie, whose parents had already suffered great loss and only wanted to share their love and become good parents; despite the hatred and violence demonstrated in Brussels, despite the smallness, meanness, and lack of basic respect seen in our would-be presidential candidates, here we are, celebrating that love is stronger than hate, that there is more good in the world than evil and that death is not the end of the story.
But we are all, to some degree, “show me” people. We come together because it’s not enough for us to hear the Easter story. We need to see the Risen Christ. And one of the great benefits of being part of committed worshiping community, is that though we are sometimes down and discouraged, though we sometimes suffer from doubt, we don’t all have these experiences at the same time. When I’m fed up with the evil around us, I see you visiting the sick, bringing soup to a shut in, buying socks for Seeds of Hope. We see the Risen Christ in the kindness that we show each other. We see him in the generosity of our volunteers. We see him in the welcome we give to all.
I was speaking to our neighbor across the street recently about Easter. He’s Greek and he was telling me that this year there’s a big difference in when we each celebrate our Easters. There’s isn’t until May 1st. I look forward to when he celebrates Easter because I like one of their customs very much. In the Greek speaking churches, on Easter, whenever it is celebrated people greet one another by saying
“Christos aneste!” (Christ is risen!)
and the expected reply is “Alethos aneste!” (He is truly risen!).
On Easter, this greeting replaces,
“Hi, how are ya?” “Fine thanks, how’re you?”
Some days our “Christos aneste!” (Christ is risen!) may be a little weak, a little shaky by what is going on inside or around us. But we have each other, and there is always someone in our midst who is in a place where they can strengthen us with an enthusiastic “Alethos aneste!” (He is truly risen!).
Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, provided a wonderful description of the Resurection in an article that she wrote a few years ago:
“To say ‘I believe in Jesus Christ . . . who rose from the dead,’ is to say I believe that the Resurrection goes on and on and on forever. Every time Jesus rises in our own hearts in new ways, the Resurrection happens again. Every time we see Jesus where we did not recognize him before — in the faces of the poor, in the love of the unloved, in the revelatory moments of life, Jesus rises anew. The real proof of the Resurrection lies not in the transformation of Jesus alone but in the transformation awaiting us who accept it.
To say, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ . . . who rose from the dead,’ is to say something about myself at the same time. It says that I myself am ready to be transformed. Once the Christ-life rises in me, I rise to new life as well. ‘Christ is risen, we are risen,’ we sing at Easter. But it has a great deal more to do with life than with death. If I know that Jesus has been transformed, then I am transformed myself, and as a result, everything around me.
Until we find ourselves with new hearts, more penetrating insights, fewer compulsions, less need for the transient, greater awareness of the spiritual pulse of life, resurrection has not really happened for us. Jesus has risen but we have not. Resurrection is change at the root of the soul. It marks a whole new way of being in life.”
Chittester ends her essay with a prayer: “Jesus, help me to understand that in every life, something good fails, something great ends, something righteous is taken unjustly away, something looms like an abandonment by God. Give me the wisdom to know that You rose from the dead as a sign to us that every one of these ‘little deaths’ is life become new all over again. Be with me in living Your Resurrection over and over again.”
We are all to some degree “show me” people and so I end by repeating Macrina Wiederkerhr exhortation as found in Seasons of the Heart: “ We are called to help others experience Resurrection …to help them break out of their tombs. Of course, that means we’ll have to break forth from our own tombs first. We’d look kind of silly preaching from the inside of our tombs, wouldn’t we?