Bewildered Hope, Defiant Love

April 06, 2021
Mark 16:1-8

Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed.

Here we are, another Easter, celebrating risen life on Zoom. Hopes are rising. The dangers of disease and death are starting to feel less immediate, the vaccine is in many arms –  and I still protect my heart so it won’t be broken if things get more extreme again. Let’s rejoice in small Easter miracles – like the M family being able to travel. And the SF family – also able to travel – meeting by accident, at a National Park in Utah. What a wonderful surprise for them – and for us.

On this day when we celebrate the surprise of resurrection hope, I admit that I need small miracles like the serendipitous meeting of two families far from home. Because the world can get heavy. Because injustice continues. Because it is too easy to get caught up in anger and grief. This is precisely why we must tell the resurrection story each year. We must dare to hold out hope for new possibilities, hold onto hope that life can come from death, that life does come from death.

And yet the resurrection story, as Mark’s gospel tells it, is not really all that hopeful or joyous. We just heard the strange ending:

So they went out and fled from the tomb,
          bewildered and trembling;
          and they said nothing to anyone,
          because they were so afraid. (16:8)

There are two additional endings to Mark, the second includes Jesus teaching about snake-handling and drinking poison as signs of faithfulness. These other endings were added later perhaps because this abrupt ending doesn’t seem quite adequate. Or maybe because it doesn’t reflect well on the disciples. The original ending certainly doesn’t seem like proof of resurrection, if that is what we are hoping for.

We might wonder at the women fleeing because, as the gospel tells it, they have been fearless up until this point. Women, many women, have been following Jesus, and they are with him until the end. As Mark describes the crucifixion:

There were also some women present
          looking on from a distance.
          Among them were Mary Magdalene,
          and Mary the mother of James the younger
          and of Joses,
          and Salome. They used to follow him
          and provide for him when he was in Galilee;
          and there were many other women
          who had come up with him to Jerusalem. (15:40-41)

The women are there. The other disciples, the ones with names we know, have disappeared but the women stay to watch the horror, to bear witness to the death of their beloved Jesus. Despite the trauma it must inflict upon them, the women stay. And two of them, Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of James and Joses, refuse to leave until they see where Joseph of Arimathea entombs Jesus.

Only after they see where Jesus is laid do the women go home to weep and prepare for the Sabbath. This Sabbath is not the day of rest and worship they usually look forward to. Instead it is a day when they get in touch with their grief and even anger. We are not told of their anger but how can they not be angry? It is part of the grief process. Their beloved teacher who taught love and goodness, who healed and restored people to the community, who held out hope that the reign of God was near – how could they not be angry at his unjust death. They saw with their own eyes, the criminal crucifixion that stole the breath and very life from their dear Jesus.

So as early as they can on Sunday morning, as the sun is rising, they make their way to the tomb. The other disciples might be hiding but these three women will not be cowed by the threat of Roman violence. Dayna Olson-Getty puts it this way – “Showing up at the tomb to care for Jesus and mourn for him was an act of political defiance, a refusal to allow him to be defined in death by his status as the victim of Roman crucifixion. Picture Mamie Till demanding that the whole world look her beautiful battered boy in the face or (mother) Lezley McSpadden weeping over Michael Brown’s body, in the streets of Ferguson, and you’ll have some sense of the fierce, courageous, defiant love of Jesus’ female disciples at the tomb.” (on Facebook 3.30.2021)

Defiant love. Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome don’t even know if they will be able to deliver their gift of spices given the huge boulder that Joseph of Arimathea has had placed in front of the tomb. But they are determined to bring some dignity to Jesus. Just as the woman poured her expensive perfume on Jesus to honor him a few days before his death, these three now bring their ointments to ward off the indignities of abuse, assault and execution. They will not be deterred by a stone, no matter how big.

As they arrive they realize that the boulder is not their biggest obstacle. Instead it is the emptiness of the tomb which is now guarded by someone in a white robe. Angels don’t appear in Mark’s gospel except as company for Jesus in his forty day sojourn in the wilderness. On the other hand, “dressed in white,” is biblical shorthand for angel.

The person certainly speaks the message of angels: ‘Do not be afraid.’ This one knows that the women are looking for Jesus who was crucified. ‘He is risen. He is not here. Go! Tell the disciples, and Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee where you will see him just as he told you.’

The message, meant as a comfort, sends the women into a panic. Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome, back away, bewildered and shaking with fear. It has only been two days; the threat and trauma of crucifixion is present with them all over again. They run. And they say nothing to anyone, for they are afraid.

Of course the irony of Mark’s gospel is that they do tell; the women do not stay silent. Their defiant love leads them to talk with the disciples, even Peter. They talk about the hard things; talking helps heal the trauma. And they talk about the good news of Jesus going ahead to Galilee.

(How have I forgotten that Jesus said he would meet them in Galilee, back on their old stomping grounds where it all started. It is right there in the story.

After they sing songs of praise
          at the Passover meal
          and they are all walking to the Mount of Olives,
          Jesus says, “You will all fall away,
          for scripture says,
          ‘I will strike the shepherd
          and the sheep will be scattered.’
          But after I have been raised,
          I will go to Galilee ahead of you.”

I get so wrapped up in Peter’s self-righteous, defiant, retort – “I will never fall away,” so wrapped up in my own mixture of self-righteousness and mockery of how little Peter understands himself, that I miss this clue, that Jesus will go ahead to Galilee.)

I wonder how long it takes the women and the disciples to understand that going to the tomb with the ointments is the not the end but the first step. And if they want to meet Jesus again, they will have to keep walking, they will have to walk as Jesus walked in Galilee. They will have to do the work that Jesus did. They will have to offer themselves as healers and restorers of relationships. They will have to live out the love of God and love their neighbors as they love themselves. This is how they will see Jesus again. And it will be, it can be, joyful.

St Teresa of Avila said it this way in the 16th century:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
yours are the only hands with
which Christ can do work,
yours the only feet with which Christ
can go about the world,
yours are the only eyes through
which Christ’s compassion
can shine forth upon a troubled world.
Christ has no body on earth now but yours.

It takes more than thirty years after the horrors of that Passover week, for Mark’s community to write down the story. Perhaps they are still trying to understand what it means to turn trauma to joy. Or maybe they are so busy living it out that they don’t bother with a written record.

Then, there is another intense wave of violence by Rome. Death is everywhere and in the midst of vengeance and war, the Roman armies destroy the temple. It is then, when it is hard to remember the possibilities of life and love and joy, when they have to remember who they are, this is when Mark’s community records the story of Jesus. The community defiantly tells the story of Jesus, remembering that healing is for everyone, that humanity is in everyone, that the reign of God is near. They write the story of Jesus, who brought God close to them, who brought their tradition to life again. They write the story of Jesus who reminded them to love God, love themselves and love their neighbors. What a defiant and deep show of love.

Christ has no body on earth now but yours.

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.