“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”
A couple years ago now, as many of you remember, Heather and I took a small group of high schoolers backpacking in Colorado. We went to Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. And each day, in addition to magnificent high country adventures, each day began in very intentional silence, until one member of our group shouted, “This is the day that the Lord has made!” and we would all respond, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” then another person would open the bible and read a verse of Scripture. That’s how every day began. No talking from the moment we woke up until that Word of Scripture was read. It was called First Word. And the idea was obviously intended to get us thinking (and it did) about what our first words were each morning. Even after the trip, it stuck with me for a little while: What are the first words words that come out of my mouth in the morning, in yet another day that God has given me? Are they words of hope and joy? Are they kind words? Are they words of worry or fear? Are they cruel words? I invite you to think about your first words this new Easter season (50 days!). And like we were encouraged at camp, consider making them words of praise to God, thanksgiving and joy.
That sounds good, right? And then reality sets in.
|(catacomb I visited in Rome)|
The first words out of the women’s mouths in the Gospel of Mark today were words of worry: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb? There’s a huge rock there. Who’s going to move it for us?” “There are a bunch of heavy tables that need to be moved for the Easter Brunch on Sunday morning. Who’s going to help us? How are we going to get all the supplies we need from the house to the car to the fellowship space? What about the kids? What are they going to wear? Oh no, we need to fill up the gas tank! How are we going to get there? And taxes are due later this month! I don’t know that there’s time for this. I don’t know if this is going to work? Why bring all these spices when there’s a big rock in the way?” You see how the anxiety can work us up and into a frenzy?
There are lots of things to be worried and even scared about. The reality is women traveling by themselves to a graveyard, before the sun rises -- then and now -- can be dangerous.
The reality is that there’s a lot to do -- and not enough help, and not enough money, and not enough time. The reality is there’s a lot to be scared of, there’s a lot to worry about. Appointments to keep, bills to be paid, errands to run, spices to deliver...not to mention what’s happening on the state, national and global scale: election frenzy, media hype, grand standing politicians...and this tragic week: suicide bombings in Brussels.
There are a lot of things to be worried and even scared about. We can all relate to the logistical, busy, up-at-dawn, anxious, scared women at the tomb: Mary Magdalene, James’ mom Mary, and Salome.
But they went about their work anyway, even in their fear. They did what they did. They moved through the darkness, carried the spices, not even knowing who was going to move that stone. There’s something profound in what they are doing. After everything that’s happened, they still show up. They creep out, even in their fear, and do what they do. Those women were faithful in their practice, even if their “first word” was filled with worry and anxiety.
And even after their encounter with the messenger clothed in a white robe, they’re still scared. I tried to find a way to translate fear and amazement and trembling in some kind of positive, worshipful light, but friends, I couldn’t. In Mark’s Gospel, they were terrified...and the last line of our passage says they told no one, and they were afraid. And many biblical authorities, claim that’s where Mark’s gospel ends. (Early-century editors of came and added endings to this because they thought Mark’s gospel couldn’t just end like this -- in terror and silence.) I’ll leave it to you to do your own study of that…does it end right here at verse 8, or with one of the 2 (!) different endings, that clearly try to wrap it up?
This is my point: We know how the Easter story ends, we’ve heard it so many times before, we celebrate it big time, each year on this great day...and every Sunday really, because every Sunday for us Christians is a mini-Easter Sunday. And yet, we still worry, even after we’re told, and we tell ourselves, “He is risen indeed.” We still get scared, we still get wrapped up in all the logistics, in who will roll the stones away, in what we say or don’t say, in what we hear and what we see. We still can get worked into a frenzy of anxiety and fear, and even anger and despair...even after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I cherish this version from Mark (which is the oldest, btw), because it’s real. I’m grateful for the other versions too, but this version ends in fear. [slowly] Jesus‘ resurrection doesn’t just make all our troubles and worries go away like the ending of a Disney movie. You’re going to go out there after this service, and terrorism is still a reality, Donald Trump is still inciting prejudice and bigotry, taxes are still due in two weeks, our children are still exposed to bullying and guns in school, our veterans are still being overlooked and under-served, our women are still being objectified and underpaid.
So many are still not safe on the roads and in the dark graveyards of this world. Jesus‘ resurrection doesn’t just take all that away.
But Jesus’ resurrection still changes everything for us!
It changes our First Word...and our last. For our first word and our last is God’s word...it’s not ours at all. AMEN?
And we have a God who speaks peace. And so we can speak peace even amid a violent and terrifying world. We have a God who comes with us through our fears and our tragedies. We have a God who loves us despite our hatred and bigotry. Christ’s resurrection breaks the barriers of sin and brokenness, as if that stone that’s rolled away crushes our wrongdoings, and the grave cloths that are strewn about the tomb hurl us into a new reality.
Even in our fear and silence, we too are made new this day. Even in our fear and silence, we live in a new reality. Even if we leave hear still scared. God is still with us. In fact, we are told that Christ has already gone ahead of us. Christ is already out there, right smack in the middle of those tired, old realities. Right smack in the middle of our pain and sorrow, fear and anger. Right smack in the middle of our death. Jesus is present, and has already been there. It’s the new reality. It’s breaking into our old one. When you see terror, see Jesus present with the frightened. When you see hopelessness, see Jesus standing with the oppressed. When you feel lost, know that God finds you. When you feel dirty, know that Christ washes you in these baptismal waters of grace. When you get hungry, taste and see that the Lord is good. And when you die, know that Christ is right there to lead you home.
This is the day that God has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. That’s an Easter proclamation! And let us cling to the resurrection reality is this ours this day and into eternity. Christ is risen! Alleluia! AMEN.