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The Sure Thing

Mark 16:1-8

The Rev. Jon Roberts

4 April

2021

Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Mag′dalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salo′me, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

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Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb by Fra Angelico,
1440-1442

There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.[1]

There once was a man from Texas who was Baptist and it is a known fact that Texan Baptists do not approve of gambling. Well, one day the man decided he just wanted to go and watch the horses run around that track, over on the other side of town where all the excitement was. There, he saw the strangest thing. He saw a Catholic priest standing by the horse. With his hand on its head, he prayed and then gave it, what appeared to be a blessing. The horse was then moved to its starting gate and waited for the gun to signal the race. At first sound of the shot, the horse got out first and easily outpaced all the others, winning the race. He observed this same thing for the next three races. The catholic priest blessed the horse and each time they won. Now the man was full of excitement, put away his fear of being caught in the act by his fellow Baptists. Before the next race began he immediately took his entire savings from his bank account and followed the priest to the next horse he gave a blessing. Once he saw which horse it was, he went to place his massive bet, already counting his possible winnings.

The gun went off, the horses galloped out of their blocks and off they went. But something went wrong. About halfway the horse he placed his bet began to slow down, writhing its head, foamed at the mouth, and collapsed, dead. He lost and this made him furious and hostile. He charged down to the catholic priest and said, “Look here. You blessed those other four horses and they all won, but this one died. I lost everything because of you.” The priest looked at him and said, “You’re not catholic are you?” “No, I am not,” the man replied, “I’m a Baptist.” “Well,” said the priest, “that makes sense, because if you were a catholic you would know the difference between a blessing and last rites.”

I wonder how certain, how sure we are about the resurrection of Jesus; that is to say, did it turn out the way we thought it would? On Easter Sunday we come to see the winner, don’t we? Jesus won over death. Those who believe in him get the prize and everyone else, just lives and dies. But the believers of his day did not think he won. They thought he died. The event of Jesus’ crucifixion, for his followers probably made them think they put their whole life savings on the wrong horse. They lost everything. But wait, there is movement. Not even death is a sure thing to keep him down and he does what is most uncertain. He gets up. This is where we find the two Marys and Salome at the empty tomb. There was not this immediate sense of joy and satisfaction, they felt. They were alarmed, confused and overwhelmed and St. Mark says, they left in fear and amazement.

Both of those expressions are related and similar. They are both strong feelings that are often unmeasurable. Fear can be frightening, unpleasant and stir you deeply. Some people freeze when fearful. Some people act out in ways that they never would before as a defense mechanism. Fear can also be profound, causing one to venerate and stand in awe of a supreme being. Amazement is an overwhelming surprise that often translates from wonder, awe and fear. Fear and amazement is how these women, the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, felt. It is what happens when Jesus surprised them and it is what happens when Jesus visits us this Easter morning.

The story should give us all chills. As we know Jesus Christ is risen today, and we welcome this happy morning, it is not the end of the race, but the beginning. To the non-believer, there is no such uncertainty as a sure thing, but for the Christian, Easter promises just that. The story unfolds, as we hear about in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Jesus died, was buried and rose again on the third day. He appeared as well to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time. This indicates the blessing God gave all of those people so that they would hold firmly the message and not come to believe in vain. They all knew the difference between a blessing and last rites. They knew a sure thing when they saw it.

What are you betting on this Easter? If God has the power and dominion over death, maybe we need to start believing that. Many lives have been lost to sickness, but Jesus is risen today and he will bless the lives of those who believe, in some unexpected way. Many believe the nation may be spiraling out of control, but Jesus is risen today and he will usher in His kingdom once more. Cost of living may increase and make life harder. We may not get that job we wanted. We may question our security and placement in life, but Jesus is risen today. Are you struck with fear and amazement? Then join the club. Each day we are challenged to hold fast to the message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, for one thing is certain, Jesus Christ is risen today and He is the sure thing.

[1] Robert Burns, Scottish poet and lyricist, 1759-96.
[2] Mark 16:1-8
[3] 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

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