“Easter Message”

Scripture – Mark 16:1-8

Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones

Sunday, April 9, 2023


Several days a week I check my Spam Protection Report on the off chance that someone I know has been nabbed from my inbox and consigned to email purgatory. It’s not unusual to have 20 a day in my spam report and 98% of the time, they are genuinely junk. They announce that I am the lucky winner of a Makita power drill or Russian beauties are waiting exclusively for me. I do a quick scan of the subject line on each and then delete the whole bunch.

Last Tuesday, I was relieved to see that the spam folder was lighter than usual – only eleven. But, as I quickly glanced at each one it struck me that four of them focused on health and aging. Here are the subject lines: “Are you ready to stop wrinkles now.” I’ll bet some of you have received that one. Not that you need it! Then, there was: “How to shed pounds and feel great.” It’s tempting to click on that one. “How to speed up hair growth in four weeks.” I know, I know, I should have given it a look. But it was the last one that really grabbed me: “Live past 100? Weird secret of a 197-year-old.” I’m guessing that a lot of people over 70 are tempted to take a peek.

Many of us wonder how we can squeeze out a few more years. However, in some circles these days, the idea is not simply to tack on a few more years, but rather to make death obsolete.

In 2017, a group of super rich celebrities and venture capitalists gathered in Norman Lear’s living room to hear scientists talk about the secrets of longevity. As reported in The New Yorker, “The premise of the evening was that answers, and maybe even an encompassing solution, are just around the corner…(The scientists talked about) enzymes that help regulate aging; genes that control life span in various dog breeds; and a technique by which an old mouse is surgically connected to a young mouse, shares its blood, and within weeks becomes younger.”1

Dr. Joon Yun – sporting a biology degree from Harvard, Doctor of Medicine degree from Duke, and residency in Stanford Hospital – said, “Thermodynamically, there should be no reason we cannot defer entropy indefinitely. We can end aging forever.”2

Martine Rothblatt also spoke at the gathering. He’s the founder of “a biotech firm that intends to grow new organs from people’s DNA. He said, ‘Clearly, it is possible, through technology, to make death optional.’”3

I’m sure there are a number of people out there clamoring, “Where do I sign up?” Frankly, I think it is a horrible idea; and for at least two reasons. First, one of the great ironies of human existence is that death is what gives vitality to life. The knowledge that we will die accents the significance of each day. It beckons us to buckle down and take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves because there may not be a second chance.

On Sunday, we often live as if there will always be Monday, but if we lived that way all the time, we would constantly put things off. Students would never finish the term paper. “There’s always next year!” Committees would never reach a decision. If we have all the time in the world, why not procrastinate?

The second reason I think it’s a terrible idea to keep people alive indefinitely is because living forever is not our greatest concern. Much more important is to live nobly. Who would relish the idea of keeping a ruthless dictator alive forever?

People are created in the image of God, BUT – and this is the real problem – we have a proclivity to sin. Anger, envy, greed, self-centeredness seep into our soul and poison our relationships. Every community has bright spots, but we have yet to find a community where you cannot also uncover injustice, ill will, and abuse.

This quest to live forever may sound very similar to what Easter is all about, but there is a major difference. I think Mark’s gospel provides a clue to the meaning of resurrection.

If you were following while I was reading the final eight verses of the Gospel of Mark, you know it has an abrupt ending. The women who went to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his corpse with spices discovered that his body was missing. When they entered the tomb, a young man in a white robe said, “He has been raised; he is not here…Go, tell his disciples that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” But the women are so terrified, they flee from the tomb, and say nothing to anyone. And lest we chastise the women for being afraid, keep in mind that the disciples are hovering behind locked doors in an undisclosed location in Jerusalem.

The obvious question posed by Mark’s conclusion is this: Why the abrupt ending with no appearances of Jesus?

New Testament scholars recognize that the author of Mark is a gifted writer who employs sophisticated literary techniques. Thus, his abrupt ending was no clumsy mistake. He intentionally left the story hanging.

Mark intended to deny us readers any sense of closure. The last thing he wanted was for us to read his gospel to the end, snap the book shut and say, “Wow, what a story; and such an uplifting ending!”

No, Mark beckons us to grasp that the story of the risen Christ did NOT end with appearances to his first followers; nor did it end with his appearance to the Apostle Paul; nor did it end with the birth of the church. The story of the risen Christ was not the conclusion of an amazing story. It was the BEGINNING!

Remember what the young man in the tomb said to the women?  “He has been raised.  He is not here…he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” Why Galilee?  Because Galilee represents where they live their ordinary lives. Galilee is not a specific geographical location. It is where they work, where they live, where they raise their families.

We might expect the young man in the tomb to say, “Jesus is risen, he will see you later in heaven. That’s not what he says. He says, “You will see him in Galilee.” I think the author of Mark’s gospel wants us to realize that the resurrection of Jesus is not only a promise of life after death, but also a calling to life before death. The resurrection declares the hope that life can have a new and better trajectory.

Resurrection is not only about being transformed from a physical body to a spiritual body in God’s eternal realm. Resurrection is also about being transformed into a more Christ-like person before death. I like the way Presbyterian minister Tom Are puts it. He says, “Resurrection is not simply about getting us into heaven; it’s about getting a little heaven into us…The idea of simply extending life eternally in this world is not good news. We don’t need more time; we need a better us.”4

Like Jesus, we live in a world dominated by Herods and Pilates. Hate groups spew anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Racism and homophobia keep popping up like some evil game of Whac-A-Mole. Lamenting gun violence is so routine as to become cliché. Russia invades Ukraine and disgruntled voters who don’t get their way at the polls attack democracy. Sometimes our lives and sometimes our entire world seems stuck on Good Friday. The pain, the violence, and the injustice scream crucifixion. And, like Jesus, we may plead, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?”

And yet. Easter promises us that death and darkness – as powerful as they are – are not the final word. Resurrection declares that God brings light out of darkness and new life out of death.

Adam Hamilton, pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, tells of the horrific event that occurred just a few miles from his church a few years ago. A man whose mind had been poisoned by anti-Semitic garbage for years, loaded several guns and drove to the Jewish Community Center. He murdered three people. Ironically, not one was Jewish. Two of them were members of Hamilton’s Methodist congregation. A grandfather and his grandson were killed as they showed up at the Center for rehearsals for a musical.

That day, the boy’s mother, Mindy, lost her father and her son in a moment of madness. Hamilton remembers sitting with her after this tragedy and says it is impossible to describe the intensity of the grief she experienced. There were times when she was in such pain that she could not feed or dress herself. However, as she trudged through the darkness, her faith did not crumble. A gradual transformation created in her a fierce determination not to allow evil to have the final say.

This is a resurrection story. She took Romans 12:21 to heart. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

It did not happen overnight, but she was transformed into a new person. She became the driving force behind an organization called “Seven Days of Kindness.” Every year they sponsor events that bring people from different religions together so that they can get to know one another and become friends. She developed school curriculum and her work has spread into 60 area schools. They have developed a “Kindness Campaign” among teenagers.5 The world is different because of the way she responded to her overwhelming grief. She is a picture of what resurrection looks like.

Mark wants us to realize that the resurrection of Christ was not the conclusion of a first century cliffhanger. It was a declaration that resurrection is emblematic of God’s activity in the world. God works in human lives by bringing new life out of death – not only eternal life after our earthly journey ends, but new life before our final breath. Resurrection is always present beneath the surface beckoning us to a rich life despite the inevitable losses that are a part of human existence.

Resurrection generates hope because the way things are today are not how they will be forever. Hope refuses to allow present difficulties to dictate the future.

Our eyes are not sharp enough to see a great distance down the road. But when we proclaim that Christ is risen, we declare our trust that taking steps toward God can open new possibilities.

Easter heralds a new day. Easter proclaims that while life includes Maundy Thursdays, Good Fridays, and Holy Saturdays, those are never the full story. The story includes resurrection – new life after betrayal, new life after crucifixion, new life after despair. God is full of surprises, so you keep your eyes wide open.



  1. Tad Friend, “Silicon Valley’s Quest to Live Forever,” The New Yorker, April 3, 2017.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Tom Are, “Resurrection Is No Fairy Tale,” Journal for Preachers, Easter 2023, p. 11.
  5. Adam Hamilton, “Crucified and Resurrected Life,” April 5, 2022.


Prayers of the People

Sudie Niesen Thompson


God of New Life,

On this Easter morn, we come running to your tomb. We are eager to see the stone rolled away, the grave clothes cast aside. We yearn to stand at the entrance of that empty tomb and feel the sunlight as it floods the darkness. We long to hear again the extravagantly good news: He is not here! He has been raised!

We come running to your tomb, fettered as we are by our own grave clothes. There are many things that bind us: relationships that tear us down rather than build us up, the depression that takes all life in its grip, the sorrow that fills us but leaves us empty, the ashes of unfulfilled hopes and dreams. Your people seek healing, O God.

We come running to your tomb, dragging the burden of our brokenness. There are many things that weigh us down: immobilizing fear, consuming doubt, the toil of unforgiving labor, the jolting episodes of violence, the injustice that is disturbingly persistent. Our hearts are heavy as we remember those who long for signs of resurrection, but who can’t imagine a world where death does not hold sway: those living in war-torn lands; those grieving loved ones lost to gun violence; those fleeing homes or homelands that are no longer safe; those surveying the rubble of homes now gone. Your people seek liberation, O God.

We come running to your tomb because we know our salvation lies in you – the one who triumphs over death. We come running because we cannot wait a minute more to share in your new life.

We come running to your tomb, hoping … trusting that this encounter will transform us. May we rise from the place where you lay, ready to follow you into the world – a world where you are on the loose – healing, liberating, bringing new life. Beckon us beyond fear, beyond doubt, and make us bold to proclaim the good news: Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

We lift this prayer in the name of the Risen Christ. And, trusting that all things are possible through him – we join our voices and pray with the confidence of children: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.