What the… For the love of God!
This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015. Throughout the Lenten Season, we have been reading through the Gospel of Mark. To find our 40 day reading plan, click here.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
They saw it all.
The women were the only ones left. The men had all scattered, but they were there “watching from a distance” (see Mark 15:40). Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of “the younger” James and Joses, and Salome they were there. They saw it all: the nails, the cross, the religious leaders mocking Jesus, the darkness.
They saw it all. It had been dark from about noon till three in the afternoon. It was hard to see, but they stayed. As Jesus cried out, the sun began to shine, the Centurion at the foot of Jesus’ cross turned around. The crowd began to disperse. Call it what you will, perhaps women’s intuition, they knew. It was finished. Jesus was dead. The women began to cry. They had followed and supported Jesus throughout his ministry in the Galilee. He was their teacher and friend. He was their Lord. Through their tears they noticed a well-dressed man…strangely enough it looked like a councilman. He took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped him in a cloth, laid him in a tomb, and sealed it with a stone. The women—Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James—saw where he laid Jesus. They saw it all; but the sun was now setting, the Sabbath had begun. They could do nothing but go home.
When the Sabbath was over, the women—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb. It was a quiet walk. There wasn’t much to say. They were carrying spices to anoint Jesus’ dead body. They dreaded doing it. They hadn’t gotten permission from the man who’d placed Jesus there, but they knew it had to be done. As they neared the tomb, one of them, hard to say who, finally broke the silence, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us” (Mark 16:3, Common English Bible)? They were deep in discussion when they rounded the corner. Salome was the first to see it. She gasped, “What the…”
“What?” asked the Marys in unison. Then they saw it. The stone had been rolled away. Fearing the religious leaders who had unrelentingly mocked Jesus had desecrated his grave, Mary Magdalene began to cry, “Oh, for the love of God!”
For the love of God!
They ran to the tomb. They were startled by a young man in a white robe sitting in the tomb, “Don’t be alarmed!” he pleaded. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here” (Mark 16:6, Common English Bible). The man, or was he an angel, saw the look of dread on their faces. He continued speaking a bit faster, “Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you” (Mark 16:6b-7, Common English Bible).
The women didn’t know how to respond. They’d come to the tomb in the cover of darkness not to be seen. They had seen what the religious leaders had done to Jesus. If they were caught what would be done to them? Jesus’ body was gone. “Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).
As the women topped the hill, the place where they had watched the drama unfold a few days ago, Mary Magdalene looked back. She saw the place where Jesus was crucified, and she saw the empty tomb. The young man was standing in the opening. Through her tears, Mary said it again, “For the love of God.”
And the young man dressed in white standing from afar responded, “Exactly, Mary.”
For the love of God!
We gather this morning to celebrate what is the greatest mystery of the Christian tradition: how the lifeless body of Jesus, sealed away in a tomb, could be resurrected, brought back to life on the third day. I don’t know how it happened; and, if I’m honest, the whole story can seem pretty fanciful to me too. But this I know. Regardless of how it all happened, for the love of God, it happened. It happened so that you and I and all the world might know that for the love of God we don’t have to do anything.
“This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us” (1 John 4:9-10a, Common English Bible). When our love failed, when we killed God’s love, shoved Christ in a borrowed tomb, and rolled the biggest rock we could find in front of the grave, we thought he was through, but Easter reminds us that not our biggest blunders, not our farthest straying, not our heaviest burdens can keep us from the love of God found in Jesus Christ for on the third day, he rose again. Put a bit more bluntly: Christ went to hell (to those furthest from God) and back to demonstrate God’s love for us.
And so, on this Easter morning, for the love of God, know this: God’s love is offered without condition. God loves you just the way you are. “Because faithful love is with the Lord, because great redemption is with our God” (Psalm 130:7b, Common English Bible). For “I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created” (Romans 8:38-39, Common English Bible).
On that first Easter morning, “overcome with terror and dread, [the women] fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8, Common English Bible). For the love of God, they didn’t need to be. For the love of God they didn’t need to do anything; and neither do we. God’s love goes before us and is offered without condition wherever we may find ourselves; and that, dear friends, is the Gospel Truth, Good News for us all on this Easter morning.
Let us pray
O God your love is greater than any tongue can confess, higher than the stars and deeper than the lowest of hells. Thank you, O God, for sending your Son to show us that love. Help us to receive it. And help us to live it into the world so that those who think themselves farthest from God might know God’s love. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.