Every Sunday morning I do the same thing. The alarm goes off, groan, shower and dress, get the paper from the driveway and hand it to Carrie, hop in the car. I used to go to one place to get a cup of coffee, then changed when I got really horrible service, so I go to the Starbucks down the hill. I print out my sermon, and come in here, to run through things in the quiet of the morning. I don’t know why this is my pattern, but every week I do exactly the same thing. I just finished a fascinating book by Charles Duhigg called "The Power of Habit." Most of the choices we make each day, he writes, may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, he writes, the meals we order, what we say to our kids each night, whether we save or spend, how often we exercise, and the way we organize our thoughts and work routines have enormous impacts on our health, productivity, financial security, and happiness. One paper published by a Duke researcher in 2006 found that more than 40% of the actions people perform each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.1
I don’t think Mary, Mary, and Salome sensed anything unexpected that morning. They were doing what people did when loved ones died. They had been there at Jesus’ burial, seen there wasn’t enough time to anoint the body before the Sabbath.2 As soon as they could, they bought spices. Up at dawn, they begin walking in silence, then someone worried about the stone. But they went. Surely, it was an act of deep devotion. They had loved Him; they continued to love Him, but the grief pressed down on their chests. It was not only the death of a person, Cam Murchinson writes, but it was also the death of a world-embracing dream: with the death of Jesus’ claim to embody the reign of God for the well-being of the world. So even in this habitual exercise "they had uncommon reason to grieve deeply and profoundly, and somehow to make peace with the death of this dream."3 That things might have been different. I wonder if you have ever felt like that, not only when a person you loved died, but when a dream was snuffed out right in front of you – a job that seemed perfect, the college you knew you were going to get into, the relationship that felt so right. And then things change, and you have to figure out how to live not the life you had hoped for, but the life you have.
As the arrived they see the stone, off to the side. They step in – Mark says it so simply, but I cannot imagine how their hearts pounded – a young man in a white robe, bible code for angel, was just sitting there. And they were alarmed. The angel, perceptively, jumps in: Don’t feel that way. I know who you are looking for, Jesus, whom you just buried. "He has been raised, he is not here." Look. He was right here. Then the angel says GO, TELL, make sure you tell Peter, the one who feels really bad about denying me, and to let them know that He has already hit the road, out there, in Galilee. And then Mark’s story ends. They fled, he says, for terror and amazement seized them, and, get this, they said NOTHING, because they were afraid. In Greek it is worse, the end of verse eight reads, "For they were afraid and…" The oldest and best manuscripts end there.4 No matter how loudly we sing ‘Jesus Christ is Risen Today,’ this ending doesn’t feel like good news. It feels like okay news, I guess, maybe a bit odd. Certainly not worth breaking out the trumpets for. The early church, too, was frustrated, and tried to add on. If you have your pew bibles open you see that there are some editorial notes and something called ‘the shorter ending’ and, brilliantly, ‘the longer ending’. There is broad scholarly consensus that these sections were not original to Mark, but came much later.
But even though it feels a bit odd, I think Mark is trying to do something powerful in his telling. Mark doesn’t dwell on the tomb, doesn’t distract us with glorious appearances, but immediately sends us out to find Christ in the world. Mark doesn’t tie it up neatly, but says to us, to YOU – GO. Let all of what you do be reshaped in light of the resurrection, because God’s kingdom of compassion and courage and love has broken in, and the old rules don’t apply anymore, and we are FREE. You are FREE from the pressure to achieve, from the relentless desire for more, from the pain and fear and doubt that grips you no matter how brave a face you try and put on. Christ is ALIVE. Death is not the end. And for this reason we can have the deepest kind of hope.
I don’t know exactly what got you here this morning. For some of you this is may be a habit; church is what you do. Faithfulness is a shaping practice in your life. Maybe you are humoring someone in your family, desperately hoping the preacher will keep it short (I am almost done). Maybe it’s a sense of duty, maybe it’s because you are excited about the music, maybe you don’t have any idea. But regardless of how or why you ended up here, let this be a chance for you to have your habits reshaped – all of those things you do without thinking, without paying attention, day after day after day. You can start by going home and looking back at this story in your bible this afternoon, or coming back to worship next week. You could serve a meal or volunteer to help with Vacation Church School or come to choir practice just once, it won’t hurt. Or you could say a prayer for the co-worker who drives you crazy, or you could have a conversation you need to have with someone you love. Because resurrection means that possibilities exist that didn’t before. Resurrection means that He goes ahead of us to Galilee, and WE are called to follow – to the woods where the homeless live, to schools where children are stressed to the max, to the shelter for battered women, to the homes filled with ghosts of a dead loved one, to neighborhoods of foreclosures, to offices plagued with dysfunction, to beside the hospital bed.5 That resurrection began at the tomb, but it didn’t end that first Easter morning. Resurrection continues in every place, freeing us to set in place new habits, new practices, brand new ways of being, so that God’s glory might be seen all throughout the world. Mark’s gospel doesn’t end with us gazing at the tomb in wonder. It ends with an angel looking at the women, and us, and saying YOU. GO. Write the rest of the story….
1. Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do 2. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XIII, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 730
3. David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting On the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2008), Easter Vigil Pastoral Perspective by D. Cameron Murchinson, p 354.
4. Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock, The People’s NT Commentary (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2004), p 172, with an assist from Jessica Tate’s great paper on this text for The Well, 2011, Austin.
5. Tate’s paper.