The Renewal Power of Easter
Text: Mark 16: 1-8
1 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. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 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. 7 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.” 8 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.
Depending on what translation of Bible you happen to be looking at this text in Mark will normally be annotated with some notes about various possible endings for this particular Gospel. The first eight verses of chapter 16, which I just read, is what Bible scholars believe was the extent of the original manuscript. The verses after verse 8 were added later.
The only reason I bring this up is to point out that among the Gospels the stories of the original Easter morning don’t necessarily agree; the original manuscript of Mark ends with Mary not saying anything to anyone and the other Gospels end in different ways. This is not unusual, nor should we allow it to bother us in any way. As a matter of fact, I think this information might actually bring us comfort, if we look at it from a particular point of view.
What I mean by that, is I think most of us have thought about the resurrection in a variety of ways. We might have doubts or questions about the story as it has been told to us over the years. Frankly, some parts of the Easter story raise more questions than answers and it is only human nature to question some of what happened. If you have questions now, or have in the past, I think that is OK. You should not feel bad about asking questions or having a few doubts about certain aspects of the story; you are in good company when you ask questions. As I pointed out, even the authors of the Gospels did not agree as to exactly what happened Easter morning or what the actual sequence of events was.
What I wanted to do this morning, however, is not focus on the differences or the doubts or the questions. I just wanted to establish they are normal. What I want to focus on is what we can be sure of that happened Easter morning. I believe what we can be certain of is enough for us. We really don’t need anymore.
Let’s take a look at what we believe to be true about this Easter story. There is overwhelming historical evidence that Jesus lived and was executed as described in the scriptures. There are very few dissenting opinions about that. During the execution and shortly after it is also almost universally accepted that the disciples and followers of Jesus dispersed and went into hiding. They were terrified.
At this point I think it is interesting to raise a significant question; why didn’t the execution of Jesus and the subsequent scattering of his followers do the job for Rome? In other words, why wasn’t Rome successful in snuffing out all this attention and commotion that Jesus was causing? The short question is why didn’t Rome win?
The short answer to the short question is that something remarkable happened Easter morning. Something took place that gave the disciples and other followers of Jesus the ability to stand in the face of insurmountable odds and defy Roman authorities again and again. I want you to think about this; what could happen that would transform someone who runs and hides into someone who will stand against the Roman iron fist?
It is clear that Rome did not win. Jesus won and the disciples won and Christianity won. We are still here. The Roman Empire has long since withered away. When you want to talk about strength and staying power, the Roman Empire pales in comparison to Christianity. But how did that happen and what transformed those who fled from the execution of Jesus into those who would stand and tell the story of Jesus?
This question brings me to what I think may be an interesting observation. If you really want to understand the power of Easter morning, maybe we should look at what happened to the disciples. Let me say that another way. I think the disciples tell a story of transformation that is every bit as compelling as the transformation of Jesus on Easter morning. Consider what they accomplished and at what cost and personal risk; what would motivate them to do that? If you can answer that question then you can begin to understand more clearly, I believe, what happened Easter morning.
To say this another way, perhaps we don’t need to know all the details, perhaps we don’t need to have the exact sequence of events, perhaps we don’t need all the Gospels to agree. We can simply look at history and know that something extraordinary transformed the disciples and followers of Jesus. They were transformed from fearful people in hiding to bold preachers of the Good News. By every indication and by every measure, Rome should have been successful in snuffing out Jesus and his movement. But we know that isn’t what happened. Quite the opposite, actually.
I believe this is the real story of Easter morning and I believe this is the real story of Christianity and what draws people to our faith tradition today. It is the power of transformation that I believe is the heart of Christianity. It is the power to transform a hopeless situation into one of hopeful anticipation. It is the power to transform defeat into victory, the power to transform ugly endings into beautiful new beginnings. It is the power to transform brokenness into unity, hate into love and fear into confidence. It is the power to transform a checkered past into a clean slate. Easter is all about the power of transformation.
One of my favorite symbols of Easter is the butterfly. I love the symbolism of the cocoon or the chrysalis and how the caterpillar is transformed into a beautiful butterfly or moth by entering the darkness of the cocoon. Without the cocoon, there would be no butterfly.
Have you ever considered the remarkable change of perspective that must take place from a caterpillar to a butterfly? What is the view like when you are a caterpillar? I mean, really, consider this for a minute. What possibilities can the caterpillar see? How much of the world does the caterpillar get to experience? Isn’t the caterpillar destined to just simply put one foot in front of the other? If it is in the grass that is all it can see is grass. If it happens to climb out on a leaf of a tree, I’m not sure it can see beyond that leaf.
What a difference when that same caterpillar emerges as a butterfly and begins to soar and explore a much larger world!
Don’t we often find ourselves in the same situation? Don’t we often suffer the fate of the caterpillar? In our jobs, our relationships, our very existence seems limited; we are limited to simply putting one foot in front of the other and we are focused on getting through just one more day. All of us at one time or another are guilty of caterpillar thinking. We convince ourselves that there isn’t any more to life than what we see before us. Our perspective never changes and our hope for something new begins to fade.
Now the caterpillar has a definite advantage over us human beings when it comes to this transformation business. The caterpillar has an instinct driven ability to overcome caterpillar thinking and to begin to think like a butterfly. As the caterpillar begins to think like a butterfly it begins to realize this life of putting one foot in front of the other isn’t what it is called to be. The caterpillar realizes it is called to be something more, something greater, and something magnificent. So it willingly gives up its life as a caterpillar; it literally dies to the old life in anticipation of something new. It quits thinking like a caterpillar and starts thinking like a butterfly. The caterpillar spins a cocoon and slowly a transformation takes place and soon it is soaring with new wings. And with new wings, everything changes.
Without that driving instinct, however, we humans can choose to stay in our caterpillar thinking forever. It is Christianity that gives us the hope of transformation. It is the power of Easter morning that grants us the faith to believe we are destined to soar. The power of transformation lifts our thinking and fuels our imaginations so we too can begin to soar with the butterflies.
The power of transformation gives us the reason to quit thinking like caterpillars and a reason to begin something new; a reason to begin to think like butterflies!