What Comes Next?  

Easter Sunday, March 31, 2024
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

  Mark 16:1-8                                                                       

 

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!

I love the satisfaction of finishing a good book. You get to the end; the story is all wrapped up. The main character has usually landed on their feet, and the future seems secure. At the same time, if the book is really good there are enough loose ends or affection for the characters to wonder, “what comes next?”

The traditional ending of Mark’s gospel, where we end the story today is far from a satisfying ending, but it certainly leaves the question, “What comes next” looming large in our imaginations. The women arrive at the tomb early that morning to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. But Jesus is gone.

  • There’s no physical evidence of Jesus’ really being raised from the dead.
  • No calling Mary by name.
  • No walking through walls or fish grilling on the beach with the disciples.
  • No invitation to place our fingers in his wounds.
  • No Great Commission or promise that Jesus is with us to the ends of the earth.

There’s just an empty tomb, and a mysterious young man telling the women to huff it 75 miles back to Galilee, where Jesus will supposedly meet them. For all the women know, and we know at this point as well, is that the probability of resurrection is still a long way off. All we can assume is that this mysterious young man sitting there where Jesus was is telling us the truth. But then what? What comes next?!

Isn’t this the question we find ourselves asking at pivotal points in our lives? You get married and have a big wedding and the next morning you look at the person you have just committed your entire life to and you say to each other, “Ok! What comes next?”

You have a persistent ache that just won’t go away. You go to the doctor and find it’s not a pulled muscle, but cancer. Your world is turned upside down in an instant. “What comes next?”

You build a life and a career and come to the point when it’s time to retire, you want to do something new but so much of who you are is defined by what you’ve done. So, then what? “What comes next?!”

You live life alongside your spouse for 40, 50, 60 years, and you come to that day when death parts you. And for the first time in longer than you can remember you are living alone. What comes next?

How do we move into the future when everything has changed – for good or not so good reasons?

In the wake of the unexpected news of resurrection the women fled – hightailed it, sprinted – from death, from the tomb, seized with terror and amazement. There world was turned upside down. No surprise, right? If you heard there was even the faintest chance this were true, that death hadn’t had the last word, wouldn’t you run from the tomb too?

Now, there’s something really interesting about the Greek word for amazement, it’s ecstasis – like ecstasy. It literally means “to stand in a different place”. So, the women at the tomb who heard that Jesus had been raised, though seized with terror and surrounded by death, also heard this news of resurrection as cause to “stand in a different place” in relation to their current experience.

And standing in a different place opened them to the possibility that even in the face of death what came next was life and a future in which to hope, no matter how far off that hope may seem.

I met Stan and Heidi about twelve years ago. They were at a point in their lives where they didn’t know what would come next. They came from California to the Mayo Clinic for medical care. Heidi was clinging to life, desperately in need of a heart transplant. While Heidi spent more than 500 days in the hospital, Stan worshiped weekly at the church I served, becoming a regular fixture of the congregation. He got involved in music at Zumbro – even writing an original song for Reformation.

All the while, Heidi continued to fight for her life, several times just barely making it through one more infection or one more medical set back. As time went on, her condition worsened. In addition to a heart, she needed a kidney transplant too. The odds seemed against them. It would have been so easy for both of them to be seized by terror and consumed by the prospect of death that there could not be hope.

But you’d never know it talking to them. Their faith in Christ and their trust that resurrection was possible, even this side of heaven, was palpable. They stood in a different place, even as they lingered near the tomb. Their language was filled with hope. Their focus was on gratitude and the blessings of new relationships they wouldn’t have had without this event in their lives. They believed deep in their being that whatever came next there would be life – in one form or another.

One afternoon more than a year and a half after I first met Stan and Heidi, I passed through a waiting area near the cardiac ICU while doing hospital visits. As I came around the corner I was surprised to see Stan.

He popped out of his chair, and with tears in his eyes and the improbability of new life beaming from him, he hugged me and said, “Today’s the day! Heidi’s in surgery, getting a new heart and kidney!” We cried tears of joy and relief and resurrection hope, we prayed together, giving thanks to God. We knew she wasn’t out of the woods, but together by God’s grace and promise of new life, we stood in a different place trusting as we had all along, that life came next.

Nine months after Heidi’s transplants, Stan sent me an email on Good Friday. In it he said, “Thinking of you as Friday’s darkness turns to Sunday’s light! Recovery continues for Heidi, frankly for us both.  She continues to amaze. God be with you as the Alleluia returns to our song! Our voices and hearts sing with you.”

Friends, today we sing our Alleluias knowing that because the tomb is empty we stand in a different place. Whatever season you are in right now, whatever challenge may seem too difficult to bear, the story is not finished. The women’s silence at the end of the gospel is our invitation to be part of the story – to be amazed – to look at the places in our lives where death and hopelessness try to cling – and in the face of it all, choose to believe that what comes next is always life – a place where Christ in his goodness and love is indeed risen and going ahead of us, paving a way toward abundance and joy that only God could make possible.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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