The Resurrection of Our Lord
Texts: Mark 16:1-8;
Acts 10; 1 Cor 15:1-11
It was a close game my girls had played well but they still had a way to go, they lost the game. I said to them I am very proud of the good work you did, we didnít win but we proved that we could play the game. It was a moral victory.
One of my daughterís team mates turned to her and asked, "What's a moral victory?" She said thatís just what my Dad says when we lose the game.
If you canít fool an eight year old softball player about failure, who can you fool? When they read the scores on TV nobody ever talks about a moral victory they just tell you the scores and the team with the lower scores are simply losers.
Some will still say "It's not who won or lost, but how well they played the game." But basically winning is really important, and if you lose you become a loser.
Failure is that sinking feeling when you take in less than you spend. When you name is at the bottom of the test list. Hearing the doctor come back from the operating room and saying, We did everything we could.
What to do with defeat? One response is cheap rationalization: It was a moral victory. I hate it when people say when someone dies, they are better off now, or they are in a better place or the like. The dead are dead and you need to deal with that not dismiss it.
Today, in the face of failure, we have more skillful rationalizations. "Spin doctoring" we call it. And the best spin doctors are able to shrewdly shift responsibility to the some other person, the modern version of a very old story: "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." And the woman said, "The serpent whom thou created, he gave me the fruit to eat." Rationalization, blaming is not new, you see.
Failure. Defeat. How do we respond in the face of it? On this Easter Sunday -- the day we celebrate God's victory over death, much more than a mere moral victory, but the most real and important victory in history -- we nevertheless notice that we have the version of the Easter story which you might say is the most realistic. Mark's version. It hardly even looks like a victory. Jesus never appears. Just a young man who plays messenger for Jesus, asking the women to be messenger to the disciples. And the very last verse of Mark's gospel is this: "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." That sounds like it might be a failure!
In fact, Mark's Gospel might be said to be the Gospel of Failure. Of the four gospels it is the most realistic about the fact of human failure. From beginning to end it seemingly is a catalogue of human failure. And yet it is a Gospel, that is, a story of Good News. So what gives? Is this just a "moral victory?"
No! , of course not. Because even as it catalogues for us all the human failures, it tells us the Good News of God's response to it. It's not a matter of what our response to failure might be, so much as it is the Good News that God has the perfect response for it: forgiveness. Jesus comes for those who need a doctor. Jesus comes precisely for those of us who fail a lot, because he has the perfect cure: the Good News of a God who loves us unconditionally with a forgiveness that is greater than even the greatest of our failures. Mark's Gospel seems to want to prove that to us by not shying away one iota from that failure. No cheap rationalizations here.
Take the case of Peter as the #1 example. And, perhaps surprisingly, that's precisely what I think Peter is in Mark's Gospel, the model of failure. What is the Story here?" We know Peter as the head disciple, one of the good guys. But, in Mark's story, the story is that Peter, as head disciple, is the chief example of failure.
Consider his name. We know that his actual given name was Simon, not Peter. No, in fact Jesus gave him the name Peter, which means Rock. I ask you: Did Jesus mean that as a compliment? We know from St. Paul in Galatians that Simon Peter was also called Cephas, which means "head." Simon Peter Cephas. Simon, the Rock Head! Is there meaning in this? Well, it's how he behaves in Mark's Gospel. He's exemplary of a group of disciples who don't ever seem to get it into their thick skulls what Jesus is really about. On the way to Caesarea Philippi, Peter actually gets it right: that Jesus is the Messiah. But as soon as Jesus tells him what that means, "that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again," Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. To which Jesus doesn't just say, "Peter, you Rock Head!" No, it's even worse. Jesus says to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
But there's even more. Peter's the rock, right? Do you remember Jesus's Parable of the Sower? Well, some of the seed of God's word falls on the rocky soil. This is how Jesus describes that rocky soil: "when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away." Isn't that the perfect picture of Jesus' disciples? In the end, they all run away, failing Jesus at his most crucial hour.
Here again, Peter is the chief example, not the chief exception. Minutes before Jesus' betrayal, this is the last exchange between Peter and Jesus that Mark records for us:
And Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." Peter said to him, "Even though all become deserters, I will not." Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times."
Now listen again to what the young man says to the women on that first Easter: "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."
Did you notice that he singles out Peter? We might tend to miss that, because we usually think, 'Oh, yea, Peter, the head disciple, of course Jesus wants him to know especially.' But, now, "you know the rest of the story!" Peter is singled out because he is the biggest failure of all, and God's response is that of a forgiveness which can outlast even our biggest failures. It is a forgiveness that can even outlive death on a cross.
The Risen Jesus makes a big difference in my life. He made a huge difference in the lives of the apostles and the communities that they founded. They finally got it when he appeared to them, his appearance to St. Paul changed him from a persecutor to a proclaimer.
The celebration of the Risen Jesus is full of the joy that history does not end with a whimper but with a cry of exaltation and victory, the victory won by Jesus on the Cross. Since we share in Jesusí cross, we also share in his resurrection, and all that it promises in all of its benefits. We are given the fullness of the Spirit as a down payment of this future gift.
Our celebration of his feast today is both political and spiritual, for by breaking bread on Easter, we proclaim that it is not the principalities and powers of the world who won the day. It is Jesus Christ, Risen Savior, Glorious Lord whom we worship and adore. Today it is His healing that is vindicated, His inclusiveness, His love, His forgiveness, His casting out of demons, His teaching that is all vindicated. His is the life and message we proclaim. Not even we in our weakness and failures can diminish this.
What failures did you and I come here with this morning? Job-related failures? Personal relationship failures? Moral failures? Well, the Good News for us once again this Easter morning is that our God has a victory for us which is much more than a moral victory. It's a forgiveness that can't be defeated by even the most deadly of our failures. "He is risen! He goes before you! There you will see him, just as he promised you." (In fact, he's waiting for us right over there at that table...)