Message for Resurrection Sunday Worship

Message for Resurrection Sunday worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 4th of Fourth Month, 2021



Scripture: Psalm 118:19–24, 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.





Good morning, Friends!



“Alleluia!”

“Alleluia” is the call of this day, just as “hosanna” was the cry this past Sunday.

“Alleluia,” or perhaps more commonly, “hallelujah,” is simply, “praise God!” If we were able to have the choir singing here in the worship room today, doubtless we would have sung the Alleluia composed by Mark Repasky, which has become such a favorite. I look forward to the day when we will be able to praise God with that Alleluia, and many other beloved songs, again here, even though I cannot tell you when that day will be.

“Alleluia”, like “hosanna”, comes to us through the Psalms, the songs of praise of the Hebrew people. Psalm 118, which we heard part of at the beginning of worship this morning, is part of a grouping known as the “hallel” psalms, because they often begin or end with “hallelujah.” In Jewish tradition this group of psalms is sung, or recited, as part of the Passover meal, and this practice goes back at least to Jesus’ time. The Gospels mention that when Jesus and the disciples had finished their last meal together, they sang a hymn before departing, and some scholars think that this would have been one of the Hallel psalms. They might have sung, as we heard this morning, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone! This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!”


“Alleluia,” “praise God!” is the call of this day, when we celebrate the resurrection, and the presence of the Living Christ in our midst. But celebration doesn’t always come easily; “Alleluia” is not always easy to say. We live in a world of great difficulty, in a time of great uncertainty.


Our friend Jim Grace has said to me, a number of times in the past year, “it’s really a spiritual discipline to be able to live with uncertainty.” Indeed. This past year seems like it’s been one long lesson in living in uncertainty, for all of us. The pandemic has shaken much of our previous assumptions about where one can and can’t go; what one can and can’t do; whom one can and can’t be with… the contours of what is safe and prudent for most of us have shrunk significantly in the last thirteen months, and they might not ever return to the exact shape they had before.


We can see light at the end of the tunnel, yes; many of us have been partially or fully vaccinated. In the two-thirds world, however, this life-saving treatment is many months, perhaps years away, for most people. And even with the new vaccines, there is the worrying reality of the new variants of the coronavirus, and how much protection against those the vaccines will afford us.


In the face of all of this, Jim’s counsel is a welcome call to re-focus: facing uncertainty requires spiritual resources. An uncertain future is not something we can talk or buy or muscle our way out of. There is no way to make things certain for ourselves in a situation of such change and upheaval. So we have to find a way to stand in the midst of all that, to say, “here we are; we don’t even know what we don’t know, but what we have is the Spirit of God; and we will wait on the Lord to know what is ours to do.”


In the Gospel reading for this morning, we encounter three faithful women who are also in a situation of great uncertainty. “Alleluia,” “praise God!” seems very far from their hearts.


Most of you probably know this part of the story; it also was our text on Easter last year, so of the four empty tomb stories, it’s the one we’ve read together most recently. So you might remember that these three—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome—were the core of a group of women who played a pivotal role in the Jesus movement. Mark’s Gospel testifies, at the end of chapter 15, that these three were at the cross at the moment of Jesus’ death, at a point when all of the men who followed Jesus were in hiding. These three represent a much larger group of women who provided for and supported Jesus' work; as it is with women even today, in so many movements and organizations.


If you were listening attentively, you will have observed that this reading ends fairly abruptly: with the women having heard good news that they don’t yet understand; trembling and astonished and afraid; unwilling to speak to anyone of what they had seen and heard. Don't we expect to hear more? Some of you will remember that verse 8 of chapter 16 is where the oldest and most authoritative manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end. Most scholars agree that verses 9 through 20 are likely not part of the original, and were probably added at a later time. That’s one reason that we haven’t read any further than verse 8 today.


There is of course another reason, which is that verse 8 seems to resonate so much with our present state; that’s the main reason we read it last year, and it is still relevant this Easter Sunday. The tomb is empty, but much is unclear. The body is gone, and we are afraid.Jesus has risen, but what does that mean?


This past Friday evening, Eden Grace led our Good Friday worship sharing, and took us through the last hours of Jesus’ life as told in various scenes from the Gospels. We remembered Gethsemane, where he bid Peter, James and John stay with him, watch and pray—but they could not stay awake. We sat with Peter outside of Pilate’s palace, and heard him deny that he had anything to do with Jesus. We stood at the cross, listening to the bandits crucified with Jesus, as one of them mocked and reviled him, while the other asked for mercy.


And in each of these scenes, we asked ourselves, “when have I felt too weak to keep watch?” “When have I denied Christ?” “When have I received mercy that I did not deserve?” In the quiet of our worship together on Friday, the depth of the denial and rejection that Jesus experienced in his last hours became clear once again. But as I consider these things, I consider also how each of them was transformed by the resurrection.


For because of the resurrection, there is no weakness so complete that God cannot lend strength; because of the resurrection, there is no denial so forceful that God cannot speak affirmation over and around it; because of the resurrection, there is no rejection so deep that God’s mercy cannot forgive it. All that has gone before is corrected, repaired, made whole.


And for this, we cry, “Alleluia!” With the Psalmist, we sing, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone! This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!” Praise God, who raised Jesus from the dead. But most importantly: remember that while the resurrection is an act of God’s immeasurable love for all the world that took place in history, it is also a present reality. To paraphrase Quaker theologian Robert Barclay, a knowledge of the historyis not adequate without experience of the presentmystery. As Friends, we believe that the risen Christ is also the inward Christ, and that the experience of the resurrection means that Christ is raised in us—in each one of us. None of us can predict when we will experience Christ raised in us, or under what circumstances, but we know it when inwardly we experience our weakness supplied by God’s strength; when inwardly we hear God’saffirmation when all we can do is deny God; when inwardly we receive God’s mercy when all we have done is reject God. All that has gone before is corrected, repaired, made whole.


Earlier I mentioned the beloved Alleluia that the choir has often sung on Easter here at West Richmond. There’s another Alleluia that I love, from much further back in my personal history. Many of you know that in my young adulthood, I was part of the Chicago Fellowship of Friends, an interracial Friends church in a public housing project in Chicago. The Alleluia that our choir sang there was a lot simpler than the one we sing here—it was called Alleluia Anyhow, and it went like this:


Alleluia anyhow! Don’t let your troubles get you down... When you can’t see your way, Lift your head and say, Alleluia anyhow!


Alleluia anyhow—has been a touchstone for me, in all kinds of season, in trouble and in rejoicing. Alleluia anyhow—is often the only kind of alleluia I can sing, especially in this

troubled and uncertain time. Alleluia anyhow—may be the alleluia we most need right now.


Between the “Hosanna!” of Palm Sunday and the “Alleluia” of Easter lie both the cross and the empty tomb. As Friends, we are of course free to shout “Alleluia” whenever the Spirit gives us leave to do so; it doesn’t matter what season of the year or day of the week. And it strikes me that we need both these cries, for the spiritual discipline of living with uncertainty. As we seek those spiritual resources, we need to rely on both the hosannas and the alleluias.


And if it needs to be “Alleluia anyhow,” let it be that, for as long as we need:


Alleluia anyhow! Don’t let your troubles get you down... When you can’t see your way, Lift your head and say, Alleluia anyhow!




Le Tombeau Vide (The Empty Tomb).Vie de Jesus Mafa: “Life of Jesus Mafa” Project, 1970.


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