The following sermon was preached at Divinity Lutheran Church of Parma Heights, OH, at the Easter Vigil Service on April 6. It was based on the text of Mark 16:1-8
My niece and nephew love to play Hide-and-Seek. Just last night at bath-time, four year-old Phoebe hid from her two year-old brother Alex when he wasn’t looking. She hid in the most stealth of places, behind a curtain, her little hot pink socks pointing out underneath the fabric of the curtain, which was shaking with the force of her giggles.
Once Alex realized Phoebe was missing, he got a little flustered. He started walking around the living room, “Phoebe? Phoebe?” As his search grid became wider, his started to look more and more bewildered, his voice getting louder and louder, “Phoebe? Phoebe?” He looked over at me with big fearful eyes, afraid because he couldn’t find his sister.
I pointed him over to the corner window. Once it sunk in that she was hiding in plain-site, he could not wait to pull back the curtain and “find her.” Together they laughed and laughed at this miraculous discovery, and my mom and I laughed with them.
The fun as adults watching children play games like Hide-and-Seek and Peek-a-Boo is that we know there is never any real threat. We know that the missing person will be found. We can enjoy in the experience of the discovery because we know the ending to the story.
Looking at this passage from Mark, once again we have the privilege of being the informed observer. We know that there is no real threat to the Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James. We know that the man in the tomb who speaks to them is an angel telling of a resurrection. We can enjoy the experience of the discovery because the good news of this message is as obvious to us as a four-year-old hiding behind the curtain.
But for Mary, Salome, and Mary, this news makes them very, very afraid.
Fear is an important part of Mark and is what propels this gospel towards the cross. Time and time again throughout we see that people are afraid of divine miracles that test their faith.
For instance, after Jesus stills the boat on the sea, he asks the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Later, there are three times when Jesus foretells the crucifixion, and each time the disciples had questions about what Jesus was saying but were too afraid to ask. Perhaps most significant to Easter, the chief priests and scribes searched for a way to crucify Jesus because they were afraid of his teachings, and later when trying to trap him as they questioned him about John the Baptist, those same priests and scribes were afraid of the crowds.
We must also remember that as Jesus performs divine actions throughout Mark, he tells people to stay silent. We see incident after incident where Jesus casts out demons and heals the sick, and each and every time he instructs the formerly afflicted to “tell no one what has happened here.” And yet, the healed cannot compel themselves to keep such actions a secret. They share the miracles, and the attention that comes from these miracles eventually results in Jesus’ crucifixion.
It is ironic that the one and only time in this gospel when someone is specifically told to share a miracle that has happened, Mary, Salome, and Mary cannot do it because they are afraid.
It is hard to acknowledge the times when our fear stands in the way of being courageous in our faith. This was most certainly true for the translators of Mark. We have learned that in a few sources translated after the fourth century, the Gospel of Mark suddenly has a different ending from the original source. This new-and-improved ending has all sorts of reassuring images of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and the disciples, and the ascension to heaven. This new ending was to reassure fourth century people that their faith was placed in the right place.
The original intention of the Gospel of Mark does not want us hide from the notion of fear. The original ending, while at times unsettling, is important because it speaks so honestly of what it means to be a person of faith.
Faith is a scary thing. Our faith is arguably the most personal thing we have, but it does not come from our own making. It is given to us as a gift from the Holy Spirit, and it is what calls us into relationship with God. This gift of faith is what brings us to the table at Holy Communion, and is the gift of faith that justifies us through the waters of baptism.
Tonight we celebrate the baptism of our newest members of the body of Christ. Somewhere along their journey to the font, they experienced a means of grace. Somewhere along their journey, the Holy Spirit gave them the gift of faith, and today they will be justified through the waters of baptism.
It is so fitting for us to celebrate baptism on this Easter Vigil night. We were born into the world victims of a fallen humanity. Through Christ’s death on the cross we are freed from the bondage of that sin that comes from a fallen humanity, justified to engage in the relationship of faith. In baptism, we can most intimately experience the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is through baptism we travel the journey of death from the bondage of sin to live forever a life where sin no longer holds us captive.
Through baptism we are justified by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, without the fear that if we do not complete a certain quota of good works our justification will be taken away. It is in thanksgiving of this fear that at our baptisms we pledge to exhibit our faith the best way we can. We recognize the truest way to exhibit faith is complete good works like caring for the earth and loving our neighbor.
In baptism, we publically accept this gift of faith and we commit ourselves to a relationship with God that is eternal. This is a life changing moment, and can make even the best of us a bit fearful. This is why we celebrate baptism together in community. We support one another in this commitment because it is easy to be fearful when accepting the magnificent blessing of salvation.
The challenge comes in living out our faith. It is hard to be bold in our faith at times when we feel shaken.
Today’s lesson of Mary, Mary and Salome is the perfect example. They were afraid to accept this turn their faith journey took. They believed in the teachings of Jesus. They loved Jesus. They were dedicated servants to his ministry. It was faith that brought them to the tomb.
But while the stone of the physical tomb had been rolled away, the stone of their fear kept them silent. They didn’t know how to handle this shocking revelation that so greatly impacted what they understood their relationship with Jesus to be.
Every time I have read this passage lately, I have been reminded of a song by Mumford and Sons. The song opens, “Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine. Together we can see what we will find. Don’t leave me alone at this time, for I’m afraid of what I’ll discover inside.”
When we encounter stones that redirect the pathways of our faith journeys, it is easy to be afraid and to feel alone. We are not alone.
In baptism we are adopted into God’s family, given a family wider and broader then we could ever imagine. In baptism we are adopted into a relationship with a mothering Father who stands fast with us in times of strife. In baptism we are adopted into a relationship with a Son who died on the cross for our salvation. In baptism we are adopted into a relationship with a Spirit who is as close a confidant as the most tenderhearted sister.
Because our baptismal family is so large and broad, we will experience transitions in our faith at times when we least expect it.
Four years ago, I did not know where my faith would lead me. Four years ago I was working as a librarian, and while feeling loved by God, did not feel overly connected to the idea of the church.
Four years ago, I stood at a baptismal font with my niece Phoebe. As I watched the waters of baptism justify her sweet, infant face, I began to weep. I remember later when I returned to my seat my aunt joking that I cried more at the waters of Phoebe’s baptism then Phoebe did herself.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment of baptism reactivated my awareness of my gift of faith. Within six months I was no longer a librarian, but working part time as a secretary for a church. Six months after that, I was the director of that same church, overseeing the outreach ministry and living a life of service. Six months after that I first began discerning my call to ordained leadership, and six months after that I was accepted as a pastoral candidate for our synod. Six months after that I applied to seminary, and now I stand before you with almost a year of seminary under my belt.
With each and every faith transition I have been afraid.
I was afraid that day at the font of someone else’s baptism because I knew then that despite turning my back on my faith at times, God never turned away from me.
I was afraid because I knew that I am not a perfect person. I have tattoos, I swear, I battle a cigarette and food addiction, I have let my loved ones down, spent more money on myself then I gave to my neighbor, have ignored the homeless on the street corners, have lied, have doubted, and yet, there I was.
Hearing the Holy Spirit call my name at someone else’s baptism.
Hearing the Holy Spirit say to me, “Tina, child of God, you have been sealed by the cross of Christ forever.”
Hearing the Holy Spirit say to me, “No matter what, I love you, and believe in you. Be in relationship with me. Do not be afraid. Live out your faith and be in relationship with me.”
It was at someone else’s baptism that I was able to start the process of rolling away my stone. It was at someone else’s baptism that I realized I wasn’t alone. It was at someone else’s baptism that I re-discovered what was inside, and it was at someone else’s baptism that I learned the joy of being afraid.
It was the fear of my faith transition that gave me the strength to ask my baptismal family to stand with me as I began living out my faith journey, and they have not let me down. Being true to my faith and my individual sense of calling and sharing that with my church family has been more of a blessing to me then I can ever begin to put in words.
I am so grateful that tonight our family will grow again, and to see how the Spirit will work through their lives. I feel privileged to bear witness to the Spirit calling their names into a relationship of faith, and supporting them as they are sealed with the cross of Christ forever.
I am so grateful for such spirit filled waters, and I can’t wait to discover how the Holy Spirit will speak to me tonight at someone else’s baptism.
Roll away your stone. I’ll roll away mine. Together we can see what we can find. We are not alone at this time, even when we are afraid of what we will discover inside.
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