I preached this a week ago. It was at the funeral of M. who was shot to death in a bar not far from my church. I used the Gospel from Mark for this coming Easter Sunday, Mark 16:1-8. I was not originally going to post this but I found that on this Good Friday, I could not get away from the power and the sadness of that day a week ago. It seemed to belong to Good Friday.
I am very grateful to D. and to L. and to M’s. mother and father, R. and J., for asking me to be here today, to officiate at M.’s funeral. On the whole, I wish that we were not meeting for the first time like this, but there is no place I’d rather be right now than right here as we remember and say farewell to M. and try to make meaning out of something senseless.
I have a question for all of you. How many of you are right now wearing a cross or a crucifix? Maybe as jewelry or a patch or maybe even as a tattoo? Do you know that cross is? The cross was the thing on which Jesus died. We don’t think of it this way because try to nice it up…but Jesus was executed on a cross. He was murdered.
Our savior died on the cross. But he died because of someone’s fear, someone’s greed, and someone’s need for power. He was just like us in every way but without sin and he still died. Jesus was murdered.
So what you are wearing is an instrument of torture and death.
I think that Jesus’ friends, when they went to the grave of Jesus were feeling the same things that many of you might be feeling now: they were feeling sad, shocked, stunned and angry. They were probably feeling pretty numb, too. Because it was the third day since their friend was murdered.
Jesus was with his friends when they came and arrested him and took him away. And they tried him in a kangaroo court and he was beaten, and spit upon, and stripped naked and paraded through the streets and he was very publicly murdered by the Roman Empire. The Romans crucified people to make them an example for all to see. Don’t mess with Rome. Obey the rules. Or else.
We want to make it all pretty and nice, but here is the truth. Jesus was executed. He was murdered.
And he didn’t deserve it. Everyone knew he was innocent, but they killed him anyway. Jesus said nothing in his defense. He was mostly silent. When some of his followers wanted to fight for him, he stopped them. Why? Because unlike M., Jesus chose this path. He was doing this so that all of us, you and me, might be made whole and healed and right with God. When he died on the cross Jesus—who was himself both all God and all human—ended the power of sin and death over us. In Christ, God has healed the rift between us and God and gives us a chance to live, really live, as God made us to live: with love, with hope, with power, with purpose and direction and for the care of others.
The cross did all that, but on that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene and the other women did not know that yet. They went to Jesus’ grave to finish caring for his broken body. And they found the tomb empty. Jesus was not there. Instead, they met an angel who told them Jesus was risen from the dead and where to meet him.
The women who went to Jesus’ grave were his friends and companions. They must have felt many things. They may have felt shocked, stunned, sad and even anger. They went to grave of their friend to care for him, just as you all are here now: because you care for M.and want to care for both family and your own hurt.
You want to know what was strange? They probably said to themselves “I wish this never happened” and “I wish I could see my friend again.” And then they come to the grave and find the tomb empty. An angel tells them that what they wished in their hurt and loss has come true. Jesus is alive! And they have the chance to see him again!
So what do they do? Do they say “Hooray! I can see my dead friend again!” Not at all. Instead, they ran away. Despite all their hopes and their wishing, deep down inside that their friend was dead and gone. They ran away from the empty grave because they were afraid. This is where Mark’s Gospel ends. That’s it. No more. End of story.
Jesus was murdered. Jesus was buried. Jesus is raised from the dead…and the women don’t tell
anyone! Why? Because they were afraid!
Grief is like that. It can make one feel so sad, so helpless, so washed out that sometimes you don’t want to do anything. Even when you know you have to. Even when you know you want to. Grief can make you feel numb, and tired and scared so that you don’t want to do anything except sit in your hurt.
But you know what? They must have told somebody. How do we know that? Because we are here! Because millions and millions of people over thousands of years know the story: they know that Jesus died, Jesus is risen and Jesus will come again. We know it because of all those crosses and crucifixes you wear. In a way, all of you show us that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were able to get past their sadness, anger, sorrow and shock and found a way to tell someone the truth. Jesus who was dead is now alive.
It took time for the truth to sink in. But when it did everything changed forever.
In the days and weeks and months to come, you will be coming to terms with M.'s death. You will have to come to terms with its suddenness, with the violence of it, and with the simple fact that M. is no longer here to share your life. D. you will need to raise your little girl knowing that her father will not see her grow up. R. and J., you are doing the impossible: you are burying a son and that feels backwards and wrong. You friends and family will be there for you, and they will need to find out how to live their lives without M. as well.
And you will have to find ways to honor him and remember him. I am glad to see all the t-shirts that someone took the time to make with that great picture of a smiling, M. who seems to be in on some joke that only you and he are in on. Your t-shirts with his picture is a sign to me and everyone else that M. has a story that went beyond the front page of the newspaper, a story that was way more than the lead story on the evening news.
And there are other ways to tell his story. The most important way is how you are with each other and the community beyond this funeral home in the days, weeks and years to come.
I don’t know what happened to make some person choose to shoot M., and frankly, I don’t care. I’ve ministered in jails, in soup kitchens, half-way houses, drug and alcohol programs and in hospitals. I have heard all the stories. You can tell me about the “real” life that I don’t understand all you want, or about “codes” or whatever else might describe this. I don’t care. It all boils down to this: what happened Monday was the act of a coward and it was sin.
Now all of you have a choice. If you want to remember M. and you want to make it right, then you will choose to put aside violence, and you will choose to put away hatred. You will choose to put it aside. You will tell the story of what M. brought into the world by how you choose to live your lives. You want to remember M.? Live so that no one else has to face the choices or the violence he did. You will make sure that his daughter, I., is raised surrounded by love and safety and creativity and hope. And all of you will have to work make sure that no one else has to hold or face a gun to prove their manhood. Here are a few things you can do: Plant a tree. Write a song. Work for a better city. Stay in school. Mentor a youngster. Care for and respect your elders. You want to build a monument to M.? Be the best you that you can possibly be.
And most of all, you can remember M. best by turning to the one who makes it possible to stand up to and stare down evil: the One who was executed, our murdered savior Jesus Christ.
Yes. We still have to contend with evil. Yes. We still have to deal with the bad things people do. Yes. The world can still be a scary place. But in Jesus, we find the way to win over evil, we find the tools that bring hope and we discover the purpose God has for us.
And what is God’s purpose for us? That we decide to follow Jesus everyday; that we see Christ’s face in each and every one of us; that we serve each other with love and respect; and that, empowered by God’s love and living in the company of God’s faithful people, we bring God’s love to every single person—especially the one’s who seem farthest from it.
We are just like those two women who found Jesus’ tomb empty and had a vision of angels. They were scared, stunned, frightened and maybe even angry at the death of their friend. We don’t know how they did it. But they made their way through their grief and told the story, and ever since we have finding new life even in the midst of death.
Evil is still out there. But it has lost the war. Death still happens. But it is not the end of us. Why? Because of that cross, which is more than jewelry, God has defeated evil. Because Jesus rose from death that first Easter morning, he opened the way for us to live as God’s people: with love, with hope, with purpose and with real power.