Each year as I go through the Triduum – these 3 great days of sacred observance, which we conclude with this joyous Easter worship, I get all caught up in what it must have been like to be with Jesus in those final days and hours of his earthbound life. As we reenacted the last supper on Thursday night and washed each other’s feet – as Jesus did for his disciples- I was awash with a love that I imagine those first followers must have clung to as they were sucked into the vortex of the horrors of Jesus crucifixion. Then in our Good Friday services when we sang “Were you there when they laid him in the tomb” I trembled a bit and wondered how much more those first ones must have shook with the trauma of everything they witnessed first-hand.
Their grief must have been searing. I imagine that his presence in life had been so amazing, so nourishing, so refreshing –I imagine Jesus was like a cold drink of water when one is dying of thirst. For three years they had basked in that presence – when he was taken, his absence must have been overwhelming. I imagine they missed Jesus more than they had ever missed anyone else. And fear must have layered in with their grief. If the authorities could come and take him and kill him, were any of them safe? Disoriented and afraid they ran and they hid. Where was the God he had talked about – the loving Father he called Abba?
After 3 days of weeping bitterly in hiding I imagine they needed to do something. In the early morning, when no one had yet stirred, when most were still in their beds, before humans or animals were roused up for the work of the day, three of the women stole away to the tomb. The only shred of normalcy they had left was the ritual of anointing. He had been wrenched away from them and they did not understand why, but at least they could do what was required, and let our tears mingle with the oils and the spices as they tenderly touched him one last time and made his body ready for permanent burial.
But when they got to the tomb they froze – the stone was rolled back. I imagine them still as deer in the shadows of that early morning, listening for any sound any indication of danger, not moving a muscle, not daring to breath, ready to run for their lives if need be. Finally one of them breaks the spell and moves into the open mouth of the tomb, the others following close behind. Once their eyes adjust to the gloom they see that Jesus is not there. Instead there is a young man they had never seen before. They are about to bolt when they hear his voice – calm, gentle, sweet on the ear.
I wonder what they thought of is message – he is not here – he is risen as he said- he has gone ahead – back to Galilee – you will see him there – go tell the others. Oh yes and he says one more thing – Do not be alarmed. I imagine that as this mysterious young man tried to comfort those women with his words images flashed into their minds of times when Jesus had in word and action told them the same – be not afraid.
But what else can they be? If Jesus is alive through the power of God, then the whole march of history is reversed and the world as they have known it is turned upside down. They had always believed that death is final – isn’t it? Everything must die – that is the truth that humanity has lived with since the dawn of time. We all have our ways of dealing with it. But if Jesus is risen, life has out maneuvered death, and God is on the loose and on the move.
I imagine that those woman ran from the tomb that morning, not afraid for their lives, but rather afraid of life, which had risen up and challenged all their expectations and assumptions. I imagine they caught sight of the world according to God with all its new possibilities and I bet it scared them more than anything they had seen before. I imagine that they knew that radical change was coming their way, and like most of us they were scared by change.
So if the last word of this Easter Gospel according to Mark is the word AFRAID, what happened? How did the word get out? I imagine that as they ran into the uncertainty of their future, those first followers of Jesus kept hearing Jesus calling them. I imagine this because I know this to be true for myself. And I know from knowing a good number of you that you have experienced this too. We hear Jesus call us – sometimes through the lyric of a song on the radio, sometimes through a passage of scripture that comes alive for us in a new way, sometime in the off handed comment of a friend, sometimes in the exquisite beauty of music or the natural world – we hear Jesus and we come in here and we talk with one another – just as those women must have done all those years ago. We talk as we are serving meals at Among Friends, or knitting prayer shawls, or preparing the altar for worship. We talk with each other as we are balancing the finances of figuring out how to repair the roof. We talk with each other as we attend Church School or study a book together. And there are so many other ways I don’t have time to name here this morning. Suffice it to say that here in the church as we work together and talk together, we test our experiences with each other, and we are nourished by the holy meal Jesus urged us to share in remembrance of him and we begin to hear him together. We experience him alive and moving among us. And we realize as those first followers must have, that there is no going back to the way life was before we heard him – only moving ahead with each other and him in a new way. And the longer we are knit together in his mystical body – the more strongly we feel Christ is among us, guiding us, leading us into deeper connection with each other and God. And as we pray and seek to strengthen those connections, Christ shows us how to serve the world in his spirit and in his name. That is the power of his presence among us. Let us never forget that and always trust that he is with us!
All those years ago in the half light of that empty tomb the tender voice of an angel bid the women to gather the others and to meet Jesus in Galilee where he was going ahead of them. In Gospel of Mark there is no Bethlehem- chapter 1 of Mark begins with Jesus as an adult being baptized by his cousin John. He begins his ministry in Galilee the home region of many of his closest followers. So this reference to Galilee is an invitations to those first followers and to us to go back to the beginning and to consider the whole gospel again, so we will understand what the empty tomb can mean.
If we go back to Galilee, back to the beginning of Mark’s Gospel and read it all again, and if we listen carefully to what Jesus is saying and doing we see that by the standards of our current world, his ways and teachings are radical. In the Gospel Jesus preaches that real power comes when we serve each other and to care for the least, the last and the lost. He tells us and shows us that it is only through that path of self spending care for others that we will find abundant life. And he is not just talking about charity work – as important as that is – he is preaching radical realignment of societal priorities!
Interestingly, studies show that most adult Americans report that compassion is a core value for them. Theologically that lines up with our Judeo-Christian vision of the image of God dwelling at the center of every human being – at our core we are love and compassion, just as God is love and compassion. But that does not line up with how we operate much of the time in groups. Collectively our behavior indicates that we are often more driven by our fears and greed than by our core value of compassion.
In this moment, in this spot in the history of humanity, on this morning when we celebrate resurrection let us seriously consider this disconnect between our core values and the way we act together. What if before making significant choices and decisions we consciously stepped outside of the fear and self interest that so often drive us? What if we demanded the same of our leaders and then committed ourselves to supporting them in doing so? What if this moment is the perfect opportunity to meet the risen Christ back in our Galilee – back at the place we started – here in church, back in the core of our identity as compassionate creatures? What if we followed the divine source of all compassion on a new road? What if we were partners with God in building a world where loving concern for all is our highest societal value and priority? What if?
I can’t imagine a grander collaboration with the Resurrected One whom we profess to follow – can you? Our resurrected Lord is out there ahead of us – do you hear him calling? What will you do? How will you embody resurrection in this world?
Alleluia Christ is risen! Amen+