Sitting in my office with the remnants of Lent services and studies scattered amidst the props and pieces of Holy Week services yet to come, I’m finding it hard to believe that Easter is just days away. Usually Lent feels a bit pressured and overly long; there’s a lot to do out in the wilderness to prepare the way for Resurrection. This year has been different from the beginning. Lent has gone quickly and without a lot of fanfare. I’m not quite ready to leave the sanctity of the wild places just yet.
This year I am envisioning the length of the path that led the women to the tomb in the early morning gloaming. The path is cold and dark and the spices are heavy in their hands, nearly as heavy as the grief in their hearts. The hours between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning have never been so long, so lonely, so full of grief. Yet, those women trudge through the moments that hang between night and day so they can anoint Jesus properly. What they find at the tomb is not at all what they expected.
Instead of the body of their beloved rabbi, they are met with an unfamiliar young man dressed in white robes. This stranger tells them to not be afraid (which they were, of course) and tells them that Jesus is no longer among the dead because he has risen. In days to come, this might be considered good news. But in that moment, it was terrifying. And it should be. Who walks out of tomb after being crucified? That’s scary stuff!
In Mark’s account, the women are told by the young stranger to go and tell Peter and the others that Jesus has risen from the dead. Mark goes on to tell us, the readers, that the women didn’t say anything to anyone because they were terrified and amazed. This is where the written story ends and the lived story begins.
This move from death to life is not an easy transition. We might be okay with the amazement. Then again, when is the last time you were completely, speechlessly amazed by God? Wherever we are with amazement, we don’t tend to welcome terror, not this kind of terror that has us running away from the unfathomable. The good news is that neither terror nor amazement keeps hold of us forever.
At some point the women told of their early morning angelic encounter. Soon word spread that the tomb couldn’t hold Jesus, and a whole new religious way unfolded. We have centuries of knowing the story. We also have centuries of distortion and mistellings and confusion and diffusion of power. This odd story has become so familiar that we hardly notice the message. We have a tendancy to dismiss the terror and the amazement and jump right to the Alleluias.
I don’t know about you, but this year I need to feel the power that has been leached out of this story. I want to feel the terror in my gut and the amazement in my knees. This Lent has been a bewildering journey through the wilderness. It was marked by school shootings, police shooting unarmed black men, illnesses and losses, people asking why these things happen, and people crying out for justice. It hasn’t been quiet in the wilderness this year; I’ve had a lot of company. Yet, I am still reluctant to leave.
In this moment I am grieving the loss of a mentor and friend, a grief I share with many others. We are connected in our wandering in this season of seeking and searching. Tears flow freely as I contemplate the path ahead. I can almost smell the spices those women carried. The despair and heaviness that made their footsteps slow weighs on me as well. I’m just not sure I’m ready to find that tomb empty. Not because I don’t believe the story, but because I do.
You see, Mark leaves the ending in our hands. Or, rather, Mark leaves the continuation in our hands. We are the story that began with the empty tomb. We are now the ones who embody that movement from death to life. We are the ones called to speak Love in a world filled with fear and hatred. We are the ones invited into life in a world that loves death and destruction.
There is much in the world that can fill us with terror, the immobilizing kind of terror. And there is a lot to amaze us as well. But is there anything other than the power of God to speed our feet away from the place where death dwells and into life where Love lives on?
Yes, I am weary and grieving. Yes, I am reluctant to move forward. Yes, I am hesitant to claim the Alleluia that is growing closer. However, my feet are on this path, in this gloaming between death and life. The world pulls one way and the Risen Christ leads the other. The story was written long ago and it waits to live on in me and you and all who are willing to brave the wilderness in search of new life.
Christ is risen!
(If you are looking for sermon help, try here.)
RCL – Year B – Easter – April 1, 2018
Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8