Hymn- Jesus Loves Me (Medley)
It is Easter Sunday, Friends! This is certainly not how any of us pictured celebrating Easter this year, but I am so grateful that we have been able to stay connected. Embrace the joy and the wonder of the day. Allow the wild beauty of the resurrection to wash over you. We serve an amazing, loving God, who defeated death and sin, and who has set us free. Our chains have been broken. Hallelujah!
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All of those who are sick, or who have loved ones who are sick. Healthcare workers, grocery store workers, and others who are unable to self-quarantine. Our neighborhood and our community. Wilmington Yearly Meeting. Our leaders at all levels of government. People in the recovery community. Everyone who is feeling discouraged, disconnected, lonely, or stir-crazy. Parents of small children.
Hymn- He Lives!
Meditative Moment (Followed by silent worship)
“It is unearned love–the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.”- Anne Lamott
Special Music- Hymn of Promise
Back when we first started this journey through Mark, I promised you all a fun surprise on Easter. Well, here it is!
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.
In the original manuscript of Mark, this is it. This is the entire Easter story. Nobody actually sees the resurrected Jesus—not the women, the twelve disciples, or anyone else. Mary Magdalene does not become the first person to ever preach the Good News—that Jesus has risen. Peter does not get redemption for his earlier denial of Jesus. Thomas does not get to feel the wounds on Jesus’s hand and feet and believe. The way that Mark tells it, none of the good and beautiful things that we associate with the Easter story happen. There is simply fear, and failure. The women run away terrified, and don’t tell anybody what they saw or heard. Story over.
It seems a little disappointing to end the story this way—not just because you and I know what the other gospels writers include in their versions, and we are used to hearing those details—but because the story of Jesus seems to deserve so much more. Earlier in Mark, Jesus was healing people of horrible diseases, and driving out demons. He was making political statements about how God is King, not Caesar. He was encouraging His disciples to take risks, and to tell the truth. And later on, He accepted His cup and drank it—willingly going to the cross—teaching us about unconditional love and peacemaking in the process. Jesus’s life was just so wild—so extraordinary—that Mark choosing to conclude it in this way feels sort of cheap. It’s sort of like those obituaries in the newspaper where there is nothing written but the person’s name, date of death, and the time that their services will be. Every time I read one of those, I can’t help but to feel sad on behalf of that person, and to think that even the hardest people in this world to love deserve to have more said about their life than that. But if there’s anything that I’ve learned about Mark’s storytelling style on this journey through his gospel—it’s that he writes sort of like a teacher who wants to teach his students about problem solving. He gives us the information that we need, but also gives us enough space to draw our own conclusions and to expound upon them.
Mark tells us that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. His body was missing and the stone was rolled away. The man in the white robe told the women all about it. What Mark also tells us, in a not so explicit way, is that even though the women didn’t tell anybody what they had seen, the word about Jesus still got out somehow. Mark was writing 37 years after Jesus’s death, remember. He was writing to Jewish people living in Palestine who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. So, people knew what had happened—that Jesus had risen and was still alive—living in the hearts of those who chose to follow Him. And you and I have the advantage of living 2000 some odd years after all of this had gone down, so other Biblical writings tell us even more. We know that the Pentecost—and the receiving of the Holy Spirit and all of the people who came to believe that day—had taken place. Paul—who died not too long before the gospel of Mark was written—had already traveled throughout the Middle East and Europe, starting entire churches who swore their allegiance and their lives to Jesus, and telling people all about the Good News.
The women at the tomb screwed up royally. This we know. They were instructed to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive, and they didn’t do it. They ran away scared. And yet, the story of Jesus didn’t stall out and die at the tomb that morning. It still made its way around the world. So ultimately—one way or another—God was still able to get the job done and to still give this weary world a chance at new life, despite the women’s failure.
As Quakers, we talk a lot about doing. Doing—and taking action—after all, is an essential part of the Christian life. We can’t just profess that we love Jesus—the things that we do, and the ways that we treat others must reflect that. As it says in the Epistle of James, faith consists of more than just believing. Even the demons confess belief in God. And this was important to the founders of Quakerism—that we be people of integrity, and that we not just talk the talk, but that we also walk the walk. This is why our Quaker tradition has such a rich history of people who stood up for what they believe in—people who were conscientious objectors during wartime, abolitionists and people who worked on the Underground Railroad, folks who protested (and still protest) the production of nuclear weapons, suffragettes, civil rights leaders, missionaries, peace workers, and social reformers. Quakers believe that God calls all people to be ministers in their own way, and that it is important to respond to that call—whatever it might be. Our theme for Wilmington Yearly Meeting sessions in July is even Micah 6:8, and a quote from William Penn about not trying to remove oneself from the world, but being willing to mend it. Doing the right thing is important to us.
But what we Quakers don’t talk a lot about is failure. We don’t talk about those moments when we did our best, but our best wasn’t good enough. Those situations where we took on too much responsibility and couldn’t handle it, and had to throw in the towel. The times that we straight up told God no, because we were afraid, or because the risk was too great, or whatever else might have been our reason. Or the moments where we said yes, but then stopped listening to God’s direction and started only listening to ourselves—and ended up driving everything into the ground. For a lot of us, those moments of failure become dirty secrets—things that don’t leave the confines of our minds or the pages of our journals. And honestly, I can’t blame us for not talking about our failure. Nobody likes to fail. As a perfectionist, I can say that failure is my worst nightmare. It’s painful and it’s shameful. And when surrounded by “good” Quakers—either physically or via Friendly connections—who have done incredible things and have these awesome stories of how their obedience to God improved the world in some way, nobody wants to raise their hand and admit that they botched their last attempt at service to God and to others up. It’s embarrassing. It’s like being back in school, when all of your friends got an A on their test, but you failed. You aren’t going to tell them that you got an F—you’re going to hide your paper and never speak of it again.
But the way that Mark tells it, maybe we don’t need to be embarrassed. Maybe we don’t need to feel ashamed. Repentant about our shortcomings? Yes. Willing to take an honest look at the state of our hearts? Absolutely. But beating ourselves, letting shame drown us, and allowing our mistakes to become heavy chains that keep us down like the ones that the Marley brothers wore in A Christmas Carol? That’s not necessary. Or helpful. Mark tells here—in his own way—that if God wants something done, He will find a way. The women run away scared? God ensures that people find out about Jesus anyway. The risen Jesus never appears to anyone in person? Thousands of people across the world still manage to encounter the risen Jesus in their hearts. The twelve disciples abandon Jesus as He is arrested and are never heard from again? The Church still becomes a thing. As much as God wants us to be all-in, and to join Him in His work of redeeming this world—redemption does not depend upon our own abilities to follow the directions perfectly. Say that to yourself again. Redemption does not depend upon our own abilities to follow the directions perfectly. There is nothing in this world that you or I are powerful enough to completely ruin. Nothing. Not the resurrection of Christ. Not telling others about Jesus. Not feeding the hungry, or helping the poor. Not teaching Sunday school, or being in charge of the youth group. Not peacemaking, or loving our enemies. Not hospitality, not patience, not kindness—not anything. We certainly have responsibilities as followers of Jesus, and we should be trying to do the right things. Holiness doesn’t get thrown out the window. But God also delivers us and covers us when we stumble with His gift of amazing grace.
One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, says: “I do not understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” I love this quote, because without being too wordy or theologically complicated, it explains exactly how grace works. Through grace, God is able to still work His magic—to redeem the world despite us and to repair things that we have broken in our attempts—or non-attempts—to be Christ-like. But He is also, through grace, able to repair me and you. Rather than hiding in our shame and in our embarrassment, we can accept the lavish, incredible grace of God. We can take refuge in God’s grace and in His love, and allow Him to wrap His arms around us. We can trust that God loves us and forgives us. We can take grace up on the freedom that it offers to us when we experience a sense of freedom from the weight of our screw-ups. We can allow God’s grace to mend what’s broken in us and to sand down the rough edges. And when we have finally reached that point where freedom and healing intersect, grace can push us forward and give us the courage to try again. We can say without shame or regret, “I failed the first time, but God is giving me another shot.”
There is always a second, third, fourth, or fifth chance when God is involved. Always. Multiple chances are often unfathomable to mere mortals like you and me. That’s why politicians run for office with slogans about being tough on crime, or cracking down on drugs. We carry with us this strong sense of righteousness—this strong sense what we think justice should look like. We want to see wrongdoers get what they deserve, and we want the punishment to fit the crime. Perhaps this is the real reason why we aren’t willing to be vulnerable about our failures and sins. Because if we are honest, then we are no better than one of “them”—one of those people who we secretly judge and think are awful human beings. But luckily for us, God doesn’t operate like us. He doesn’t give us what we deserve. God is in the business of saving and redeeming, not in condemning. In return for our shortcomings, we receive nothing but mercy, pure love, and goodness. And God doesn’t care if He offends us and our upright sensibilities with His magnificent grace or not. Grace is a gift that anyone can take Him up on—from the epic failures, to the heroes of faith.
The word Gospel literally means “good news”. And depending on who you talk to, preaching the Gospel—preaching the Good News—can mean approximately 1000 different things. It might mean simply that Jesus is alive—that death could not hold Him. It might mean that sin has been defeated, and that the world has been set free. It might mean that God is working on this world and on us—that He has not left us—and that things will be made right again someday. It might mean that we have been granted new life. It might mean that there is hope. None of these things are wrong. These are all aspects of the Good News—things that we can rejoice in this Easter Sunday. But the part of the Good News that I would like to offer to you to take some joy in today is that the grace of God is all-powerful, all-saving, and all-redeeming. That we are all loved equally by God no matter who we are, or what we have done. That God’s ability to save the world is more powerful than our inevitable failures. That our failures are not the end of the story—that our God is a God of second chances, who never gives up on His people. That healing, redemption, and freedom is always, always possible.
Run with that, Friends. Breathe in that sweet air of liberation and let it flow through you. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve screwed up in the past, or how often you’ve made a mess of things. It doesn’t matter how big your failures have been. God can redeem the worst situations. He can redeem the most far-gone and difficult people. No matter who you’ve been, where you’ve come from, how much of a disaster you have created—God’s grace is there for you. You have a place in the family. A place in God’s story. And there is always an opportunity to try again—to try to get it right this time, with God’s help.
Live your faith boldly, Friends. Listen well. Have courage. When presented with the opportunity to use your gifts to serve God, I suggest that you don’t run away in fear. But if you do, know that it will be okay in the end. Surrender to the grace of God. Embrace the freedom, the healing, and the love. Know that God can still somehow make it work. His plans can still be accomplished. And most of all, know that you are deeply loved, and that you will never run out of forgiveness, or out of second chances. Do your very best, and trust the grace of God for all the rest.
Hymn- He Arose!
Ada Chapel Prayer
Father, we thank thee for the night; and for the blessed morning light. For rest and food and loving care; and all that makes the world so fair. Help us do the things we should; to be to others kind and good. In all we do, and all we say; to grow more loving every day. Amen.