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Acts 10:34-43; Ps. 118:1-2,14-24; 1Cor. 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

To expand on what I shared with the children… At the beginning of Mark’s story of Jesus’ passion that we read last Sunday, at Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, full circle like the beginning of the gospel and Jesus’ first act of healing a leper, an intimate act of extravagance described in detail takes place for Jesus by an unnamed woman. Breaking open an alabaster jar of costly ointment of pure nard worth three hundred denarii, she  anoints Jesus’ head, and is scolded by others for this waste of funds that could have been given to the poor. Jesus, in response, rebukes her accusers and defends her action as good, anointing his body beforehand for burial. Crediting her with believing what Jesus himself said was to happen, that he was to be killed. And then saying, “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” An amazing affirmation of her by Jesus that begins his passionate suffering and death, and is immediately followed by Judas’ contrasting betrayal.

           This woman’s extravagant gift of anointing Jesus beforehand for burial has remained with me through this Holy Week. My noticing this is certainly not unique. As I have said before, the great feminist theologian and author, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza wrote an important book in the 1980’s titled, In Memory of Her, referencing this woman and her significance.  Remembering her is present in every reference to the women around Jesus, who did not scatter like the other disciples, or deny Jesus like Peter, but instead were at the cross. Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome, along with many others. Women who followed and provided for Jesus, and who remain and witness all that happened in Jesus’ suffering and death and burial.

           And once again it is these women, the two Mary’s and Salome, who get up very early on the first day of the week, having bought spices to anoint Jesus’ body. Again? And we heard what happened, worried who might roll away the stone for them, they find the tomb already open. And entering the tomb, they are alarmed to see a young man in a white robe sitting on the right, who tells them not to be alarmed, that they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, but he is not there, as they can see, he has been raised. And to go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee, and there you will see him, just as he told you. And we heard what happened in this abrupt and shocking ending in Mark’s gospel, the women fled, seized with terror and amazement, “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

           So much has been written and debated about how the gospel could end this way, and alternate endings have been an early part of the gospel’s history, and are included in our Bibles. But most agree, this is the earliest ending of the gospel, and it leaves us with these same women, possibly one who extravagantly anointed Jesus beforehand for his burial, Mary and Mary and Salome, who remained with Jesus along with many other women to witness his death and burial, and who go to his grave to anoint his body, and find the tomb empty and hear the good news that Jesus has been raised and is going head of them to Galilee. Once again in a full circle, ministry with the risen Christ Jesus begins in Galilee, wherever in the world that may be, and the invitation is to go and meet Jesus there, and share the good news, and what she has done in remembrance of her. The irony and the failing of not doing so, and telling no one, is the question the gospel leaves with us.

From the extravagance and courageous faithfulness of the women who journey with Jesus and in remembrance of her, to the stark contrast of the women fleeing the tomb seized with terror and amazement, and saying nothing to anyone because they were so afraid. That’s this Easter morning’s gospel for us. Extravagant and courageous faithfulness to Jesus, and fear and fleeing the risen Christ. Maybe its a spectrum of truth in which any of us can find ourselves and our world this morning. And my trust is in the women, and their going with Jesus as before, and their witness, as in Jesus’ death, to Jesus’ risen life. And wherever in the world that good news is told, what these women have done, will be told in remembrance of them.

           I was visiting and sharing communion with an elder of this community for Holy Week and we talked about her fears and struggles with aging. Trying to offer her some solace, I recalled a reading from 1John, “that love has no fear, for perfect love casts out fear,”  not our perfect love, but God’s for us. And she began to sing these very words, “love hath no fear, for perfect love cast-eth out fear…” recalling them from a long time ago. And she shared that she sang many solos in church as a young person and over the years. We spoke about the power of music and its significance over these holy days and in our lives and I mentioned the song, “I Wonder as I Wander,” that Nathan sang at Christmas and again this Passion Sunday, and that Abby would be singing on Good Friday, bringing us full circle. And she began to sing it word for word, a long held memory and favourite to sing, she said. It was such a joy to hear her singing and filled with these songs and to see some of the anxiety lifted in the singing. I encouraged her to keep singing, especially through fears and struggle. And she assured me, it was exactly what she did when she couldn’t sleep. What an extravagant gift of joy and good news in that moment to witness, in remembrance of her.

           I recently read a poem by Mary Oliver, from the collection “Swan” in 2010, titled “Don’t Hesitate.”

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,

don’t hesitate. Give into it. There are plenty

of lives and whole towns destroyed or about

to be. We are not wise, and not very often

kind. And much can never be redeemed.

Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this

is its way of fighting back, that sometimes

something happens better than all the riches

and power in the world. It could be anything,

but very likely you notice it in the instant

when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the

case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid

of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb. (Beacon Press, 2010)  

        Extravagance, not a crumb, this resurrection joy. In terror and amazement and good news and great joy to be shared in all the world, and wherever in the world it is shared, that beautiful, faithful, wonderful extravagant good news will be told in remembrance of her. And I could name other extravagant joys of these days – at Abby’s recital this week of beautiful sound!

In all the worship and music of these days including today and festive brass, moments of quiet and loud extravagance, in gospel song and ritual action and the people of God gathered to hear and share the good news. And so also in the extravagant and glorious news of support for the Luther Court affordable intergenerational housing project with the church. And, I hope and pray, other good news in our lives and communities, along side the fear and terror and amazement known to us and too well to this world, as it was to the first women disciples fleeing from the tomb. All of it, fear and amazement, good news and joy, in remembrance of her, of all the faithful women.         

           It is the same word that is used around the sacred meal that Jesus shares with his followers. Do this in remembrance of me. An extravagant and costly meal of Jesus’ very self given for you, and all humanity and all creation, for life! Full circle, the risen life of Jesus going before us from Galilee to the ends of the earth, and the invitation to meet him and the women there sharing this good news in remembrance of her, in remembrance of Jesus. Blessed Easter. Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.