“Because They Were Afraid” Easter Sunday (March 27, 2016), MCC Windsor
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
our God has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The Holy One has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.
O God, save us!
Holy One, grant us success!
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of our God.
From the house of the Holy One we bless you.
The Holy One is God,
and God has made the divine light shine on us.
With branches in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Will you pray with and for me? Risen God, reawaken our love for you. Refresh our hearts with the fire of your love for us. Remind us of your grace-filled presence with us, even when it seems to us you are absent. Give us a spirit of courage to speak your truth, to be bold in your service, to not count the cost when we do your work, to know what we have seen and heard from you, and give us grace and breath to share it. In all your blessed names, amen.
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
When we make that Easter declaration to each other, we are in a sense braver than than those women at the tomb. They had seen the empty tomb; they knew where Jesus' dead body had been laid, and it wasn't there anymore. They knew something was happening--they weren't sure what, but something was going on. It was so far outside their experience that they didn't even have words for it. Neither did anyone else. They had seen Lazarus raised, or some of of them had--but in that case Jesus had called Lazarus forth from the tomb. One person raised another. But Jesus had been alone in the tomb--it was a new tomb, Jesus was the first person in it. So who had raised him? Or had someone taken the body? Had some of the disciples moved it to keep it safe? What had happened to Jesus' body? So many questions and too few answers. And they had to be cautious, too--if they asked the wrong question in the wrong place, the results could be disastrous. If the Romans found out the body was gone, they might blame the religious leaders and then the religious leaders would retaliate on the disciples... Or the religious leaders would try to blame the disciples. No, better to keep quiet.
The earliest versions of Mark do in fact end here. The tomb is empty. The angels give the good news--and the women who were witnesses don't say anything to anyone--out of fear of ridicule, one suspects, quite apart from the larger implications I just mentioned. The Luke reading says that the women's story "sounded like nonsense" to the other apostles, so they didn't believe them. Only Peter goes to see what they are talking about, and finds just what they said--an empty tomb. He goes home, still confused.
When I was young, and read or heard a story, or saw a movie or TV show I liked, I tried to imagine myself into the story. I was the daughter or sidekick or friend of the hero or heroine, and part of the story. How would I have acted, what would I have done? How would that have changed the story? Usually, of course, I would have had far more sense than the hapless characters, or even more courage than the brave ones, and would have solved the riddles much more quickly than the heroes and heroines.
But when we read the Bible, it is harder to think that we could be better than these people, that we would not make the mistakes that they do. After all, aren't we all proud of our strengths, like Samson? And faithful to a fault--until we aren't--like Peter? Unlike most book heroes, people in the Bible have plenty of faults, and those faults are their downfall--Joseph and his pride, David and his arrogance, Paul and his absolute adherence to Jewish law.
And then these women, who experienced the unforgettable, but also literally unspeakable--because who would believe them? And even if they did, it would complicate things so much for the authorities and the disciples--probably a better idea to keep it quiet, and talk it out among themselves.
How often do we keep good news inside, out of fear? Are we afraid to share good news because we don't want to be laughed at or shunned, because it seems too far fetched or strange, or asks people to do things they aren't used to doing? What good news are we holding in, even now, because we don't know how to speak it, or who to tell, or what to do next?
There's all kinds of good news to share--all kinds of prophecy to share--prophecy in the sense of speaking truth to power. Our sisters and brothers in North Carolina in the US are speaking truth to power in the wake of sweeping legislation that prohibits anti-discrimination laws by cities in that state that are broader than the state's laws, and that expressly prohibits protection for transgender women and men by requiring them to use the washroom of the gender indicated on their birth certificate. Their birth certificate can only be changed--again, according to state law--after surgical gender correction--which many people cannot afford or which is medically impossible for them. It is, practically speaking, a farce, as trans men--marked as female on their birth certificate--who have been taking testosterone will appear fully masculine, but must use the women's room according to the this legislation--and the reverse is true for many transwomen. And then there's the logistics--will everyone have to carry a copy of their birth certificate with them at all times? And what about people who fall at variant places on the gender spectrum? I have friends who identify as cisgender women and yet are frequently hassled in women's rooms because they tend to present in a more masculine way.
Well, you can see this one pushes my buttons! But these are truths that need to be spoken.
And there are other calls for truth-telling--about the way we humans treat the natural world, how we treat each other, both our immediate neighbours and those who share the earth with us, how we treat ourselves. I am guessing that every one of us has some truth in our hearts that we are longing to tell--but we are afraid.
The truth the women found at Jesus' tomb was not kept a secret, was it? Mark's account may have ended while it was still whispered about, uncertain--but Matthew, Luke and John were recorded when the truth could be shouted loud and clear--Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
The same is true of the truths we are keeping in our hearts--we cannot keep them there forever; when the time is right, or even when we think it is not right, it will burst out of us, the truth will be spoken to power, even if our voice shakes, because, my friends, like Martin Luther, we can do no other. We will speak that dreadful truth--and others will join us, and testify that it is their truth too--but even if we are still speaking alone, we are speaking truth, and that is enough.
And so on this lovely, new, open, fresh-start Easter, my friends, know your truth, speak that truth to power, speak it to the Romans, to the disciples, to whoever needs to hear it.
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!