Terror and Amazement (Easter Sunday)

Sermons on YouTube…

There are some things that just seem to go together: peanut butter and jelly; Abbott and Costello; and, although it makes no logical sense, Easter bunnies and Easter eggs!

But as the Easter Gospel concludes this morning, Mark puts two things together that don’t seem to go together: terror and amazement. “So [Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them”.  Terror and amazement.  They just don’t seem like they go together.  If you’re amazed, why are you terrified?  And if you’re terrified, it usually overwhelms your senses so that you don’t have much emotional bandwidth left to be amazed at anything.

And yet, occasionally that’s the way it is in our lives.  It doesn’t happen all the time, but there are moments – and often they’re significant moments.  I know of times when:

  • I’ve been with new parents.  And they’re amazed at this new life that’s just come into the world!  But often, especially the first time around, it’s also terrifying!  “Oh my gosh, are we going to do this parenting thing right?  And how will we know if we’re doing it right?”  It’s amazing, but it’s also in a sense terrifying.  Maybe that’s happened in your life…
  • Somebody has finally landed a new and exciting job.  It’s amazing, because they have the opportunity to do things they’d never done before, to make a difference in the lives of people around them, and maybe even change the world!  But it can also be terrifying!  “Here I am in a position of great responsibility but I’ve never actually done this before.  People are counting on me.  And there will surely be unknown challenges ahead.”  It can be a little terrifying.  Maybe that’s happened in your life…
  • After a long period of careful planning and saving, somebody reaches retirement.  It’s amazing because all kinds of new opportunities lie ahead – the chance to invest yourself in activities and relationships you maybe didn’t have enough time for while you were working.  And yet, it can also be a little terrifying.  I remember one retiring Pastor buddy a few years ago who said, “I know I’m set and the financial planners also told me I’m in great shape.  But when the paycheck actually stops…”  Well, that can be a little terrifying.  Maybe that’s happened in your life…

Terror and amazement.  They actually do sometimes go together.  And they often go together at moments which are particularly significant and often life-changing.

And I point this out because sometimes we read this Gospel ending and think that it’s not very meaningful.  After all, the Risen Jesus never actually appears.  There’s no scene where the women report the news to the rest of the disciples (although clearly they must have or we wouldn’t know about it).  And while the angel tells them that Jesus will go ahead of them to Galilee, Mark’s Gospel ends before that happens.  It’s no wonder that later scribes added stuff to the end of Mark’s Gospel, because it just seems to lack something…!

And so we often pass over “terror and amazement” as though it was just the prelude to something more important that was either lost in transmission, or which Mark chose not to include.

But maybe, “terror and amazement” are part of the point of the Resurrection.  That is, sometimes we read this Gospel and figure that “terror and amazement” mean the women didn’t understand what was really happening.  And indeed, in Mark’s Gospel all of Jesus’ disciples are terminally clueless.

But perhaps here, in the very last verses, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome DO understand at last.  Or at least, they begin to understand in a way that none of them had before.

That is, perhaps they were amazed because Jesus’ words suddenly made sense.  He really was talking about dying and being raised up.  New life wasn’t just a metaphor, but an actual reality they were beginning to experience – not just for Jesus but for themselves.  And that meant that they also, were being called forward into a new life of promise and hope that wouldn’t end with the grave for them either.  It was amazing!

But that meant it was also terrifying!  What would that new life mean for them?  What would the Risen Jesus call them to do?  And how would they be received by others if they started talking about this amazing – but for most people – unbelievable story?  If they thought about it for very long, this amazing news was also kind of terrifying.

So maybe the women DID get it!  And it shows because they were seized by “terror and amazement” even if they didn’t get to see Jesus that morning.

Or maybe, that is the way they “saw” Jesus (or at least experienced his Risen presence.)  Mark says that they were seized by “terror and amazement”, but maybe “terror and amazement” was the reaction they had because, in one sense, they were actually seized by the Risen Jesus himself.  Even though they didn’t see him physically, the Resurrection had become real to them.  Even though they didn’t see him physically, in that moment they felt the presence of the Risen Jesus.  And even if they were still waiting to see him physically later on in Galilee, they knew the Risen Jesus was running alongside them, even in the midst of their terror and amazement.

Maybe they were seized by terror and amazement because the Resurrection in that moment had become real to them.  It wasn’t just a nice idea of life after death someday in heaven.  It was happening now.  And it was happening to them.  And the Risen Jesus was somehow present with them, even if they didn’t see him physically.

And actually, that is the point of Easter!  And so on this Easter, may you also be seized by the Risen Jesus so much so that it causes you to feel terror and amazement. 

And like those women, may the Risen Jesus be a reality in your life, and not just a Bible story.  May you feel the presence of Jesus in your life right now, even if you don’t see him standing physically in front of you. And may you know the accompaniment of Jesus running beside you always and in all situations.