Easter Sunday Sermon – And I Love You

All during Lent in a sermon series called “We are Not Alone” we have been thinking about the various ways most of us are isolated or alone, often in ways we don’t even notice. We talked about the decline of social institutions, like the church, PTA and social clubs. We looked at how modern technology helps people have more acquaintances and fewer real friends. And as we got closer to Holy Week, we found strength in the courageous path Jesus took to the cross to challenge our fears, including our fear of being alone, our fear of death which sometimes paralyzes us and keeps us from living toward who God is calling us to be. Today we come to the culmination of this journey, the celebration of Christ’s victory over that fear, indeed over death itself. Today we’re going to look at God’s triumph over one of the loneliest experiences of humanity – Alzheimers and dementia. Listen for the word of God for you this day from Mark 16, the very end of the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 16:1-8 When the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought perfumed oils so that they could anoint Jesus.  Very early, just after sunrise on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked, they found that the huge stone has been roiled back. On entering the tomb, they saw a young person sitting at the right, dressed in a white robe.  They were very frightened, but the youth reassured them:  “Do not be amazed.  You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the One who was crucified.  He has risen; he is not here.  See the place where they laid him. Now go and tell the disciples and Peter, ‘Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see him just as he told you.” They made their way out and fled from the tomb bewildered and trembling; but they said nothing to anyone because the were… afraid.

April 5, 2015 – Easter Sunday

And I Love You 

The Gospel of Mark is one of the most definitive declarations and celebrations of the love of God and this is the way it ends. “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” What a strange and magnificent way to leave us hanging! It forces the reader to wonder what they missed.

Indeed later writers added extra verses to the end of the gospel of Mark, and the other gospels have much more detail about what happens next. We’ll be reading some of those in coming weeks. But Mark clearly intended for people to scratch their heads and go back to the beginning of the story to realize the presence of the risen Christ all through the book. When the angel says “Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee,” all the reader had to do is go back to the beginning of the gospel and find Jesus in Galilee, healing people and easing people’s fears, helping them to find a way to challenge the oppressive forces in their lives.

That is some reassurance, but you still come back to the end again, this uncomfortable ending where the women, the only ones who have not already run away, say nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. The ending has a desolation about it. Mark shows Jesus experiencing the utter isolation, abandoned it seems, even by God. Jesus in the gospel of Mark knows the worst of human loneliness and isolation, the worst of the human experience.

In the end God is Jesus’ only hope. God and the community of God that emerges out of the desolation and despair of these final hours. The power of God’s love emerges from the hardest places of our lives even out of human community whose usual mode of operation is timidity, betrayal, and failure.

 

As the population in our society ages rapidly, Alzheimers and other forms of dementia has become a health care crisis. And those of us who are getting older don’t even want to think about it happening to us. In some ways it is scarier than death. Talk about feeling alone! You hear about people who would rather die than suffer alone or make loved ones take care of them.

It’s a disease that makes you scratch your head and wonder why. How could this happen to good people? How do we find hope and community in dealing with the disease? These pictures were done by an artist with dementia, illustrating for himself the progression of his disease. Brilliant and heartbreaking.

 

Al was a United Methodist whose wife Linda was fairly active in the church. When he started to forget things, people joked about it, about how Al always forgets things, “he’d forget his head if it wasn’t attached,” they’d say. But when he started forgetting important appointments and started having trouble remembering simple things that he knew the day before, Linda started getting worried.

She and Al went to a doctor and after a lot of tests and visits, the diagnosis as I’m sure you have guessed was Alzheimers. It was a confirmation of their worst fears. We think of losing memories as a lot of little deaths. It is a hard cross to bear.

Eventually Al had to go into assisted living and get special care. When Linda went to visit him, he sometimes couldn’t remember her name. Linda started to ask when she went into the room, “Who am I? Who am I, Al?” She would get very upset that he could not remember her name.

Some of the assistants in the Methodist home where they were staying tried to help her. They suggested to Linda that she not worry quite so much about whether he remembered her name, but to notice the look on his face when she came in the room, to notice that he was glad to see her, that he longed to see her.

That was difficult for Linda. It was very distressing to her and she continued to ask Al when she went to see him if he remembered her name. Al was the one who ended up coming up with a creative solution to the difficulty. One day she went in to see him and she asked him what her name was. Al responded to her, “I don’t know who you are, but I love you.”

“I don’t know who you are, but I love you.” What a beautiful solution to a heart rending dilemma! I can’t suggest that solved all their problems or made everything all right. But for that moment it made a difference for Linda. And in that moment they knew a presence beyond them in the loneliness of the difficult disease they would find a way.

As Christians we worship a God who on Easter confronts death and yet affirms life. We worship a God who is with us even when we think we are totally alone. We worship a God who loves people even if we don’t know their name, even if they don’t know their own name.

Al told his wife “I don’t know who you are, but I love you.” God says to us, “I know who you are, and I love you anyway. I know who you are, and I love you no matter who you are. I know who you are, and I love you no matter how scary it gets for you and your loved ones, and I love you every day of your life and beyond death. And I love you past your fear of death, and I love you past your fear of life. And I love you. And I love you. And I love you.

This is God’s good news.