Mark 16:1-8

(sermon note: 03-31 sermon note)

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about two American Jewish men who sent their sons to Jerusalem to learn about their culture. A year later, the two were having a chat. One of the men complained, “I am so disappointed in my son, I don’t know what to do. Once he came home from Jerusalem, he claimed to have become Christian!” “My son as well!” replied the other man. “This is a tragedy!” The first man suggested, “We should go see our Rabbi, maybe he can guide us.” The two men visited their Rabbi and told him their stories, to which he replied, “Unfortunately, I’m in the same boat as you two. I sent my son to Jerusalem a few years ago and he also became a Christian! Only God can help us now, we should pray to him!!!” So they start praying, with the Rabbi pleading, “Please help us, God. We sent our sons to Jerusalem so they could learn about our culture, but instead they returned as Christians!!!” God heard his plea, thought about it for a while, and finally responded, “You guys won’t believe it, but 2,000 years ago I also sent my son to Jerusalem…”

Hmmm, funny how Jerusalem has a knack for turning sons into Christians! Of course, it’s not true but kind of funny to consider. A city itself is an inanimate object and has no influence over anyone and what they believe. No, a person becomes a Christian by placing their love and trust in Jesus and that can happen in any city. Jesus himself didn’t become Christ by going to Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem simply put him to death, again something that can happen in any city. It was Jesus’ conquering of death that made him Christ. The resurrection is what defines Jesus as Christ, his ability to raise himself from the dead into eternal life. Lazarus couldn’t raise himself from the dead. Only Jesus has power over death. Only Jesus is Christ, and his resurrection clearly tells us so!

So if the resurrection defines Jesus as Christ, what defines us as Christian if not the city of Jerusalem? I suggested we’re defined as Christians by our willingness to place our love and trust in Jesus, but I think this is only a start to the definition. Our reading for today helps flush it out a little more. Recall what the man in the tomb told the 3 women to relay to the disciples: “he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” What an interesting statement to make! Not, “Jesus will come to visit you in due time.” Not, “Come back a different day and Jesus will be waiting for you.” No, Jesus has gone on ahead of you. What a revelatory statement to make! Of course, Jesus had gone on ahead of his disciples! He had ALWAYS gone ahead of them! They were ALWAYS playing catch-up to Jesus! At the same time, because he had gone ahead of them, they were given hope. Their journey hadn’t come to an end. There were still more miles to go to be with him. And presumably he would have prepared a place for them to be with him. They would meet with him and their ministries in this world would continue.

Friends, that is what it means to be a Christian. Yes, Jesus died but he came back to us. He went ahead of us into death and came back to us as the resurrected Christ. He’s always ahead of us in this life and the next life! He’s always just a little ways ahead of us, in the next town over. Why? To give us hope. The resurrection gives us hope, death isn’t an end but a beginning to new life. The journey isn’t over, it carries on. Jesus Christ is unending, everlasting hope!

If Jesus is always ahead of us, then that means we are always following him. This is also a defining characteristic of what it means to be a Christian. Sure, we have unending, everlasting hope but we also serve him as followers. He is ahead of us, and we are his followers. What does it mean to be followers of Christ? Again, Jesus helps us to understand this as well. In Matthew, we heard Jesus tell his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (16:24) Certainly a difficult statement to understand! As followers of Christ, we are called to sacrifice whatever keeps us from honoring his teaching and commands…whatever keeps us from loving God and each other. We are to self-sacrifice daily for the sake of loving God and loving each other. In John’s gospel, we Jesus tell us, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (8:12) As followers of Christ, we are called to walk in his light and share his light with the world. Christians are to be a light to the world. Jesus also says in John, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and the follow me.” As followers of Christ, we are called to listen for Jesus in all that we do. He is always ahead of us and always calling back to us, guiding us and protecting us from whatever lies ahead. And we can go into what lies ahead without fear.

Today, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection by giving thanks that he is always ahead of us. The resurrection revealed his unique power over death. He gives us unending hope and we are grateful to be able to follow him. Let us boldly follow him with self-sacrifice, love, and attentiveness. And let us give thanks for him. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.