- First Reading Acts 10:34-43
- Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
- Second Reading 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
- Gospel Mark 16:1-8
“They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
So ends the lectionary for today, and, depending on who you ask, so ends the Gospel of Mark. If you open a bible, most likely you will see a few more paragraphs describing a few resurrection appearances, first to Mary Magdalene, then to two who were walking into the country, perhaps along the Emmaus Road, then the eleven. These later paragraphs do not appear in the oldest manuscripts, the oldest copies of Mark we have found so far.
“They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
It is a dramatic ending, and it is obviously untrue. If it were true, if they had, in fact, told no one, then we could not now tell the story of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In every Gospel, the women are the first to discover the empty tomb and, necessarily, the first to proclaim the resurrection but Mark tells us “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
This is not how we expect someone to react to good news.
These women, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, are confused. They are lost. They have come to honor Jesus in what they think is the only way left to them: to anoint his body for a proper, Jewish burial, only to arrive and find that the tomb is empty. As the young man, explicitly identified in Matthew’s Gospel as an angel, says: “He is not here” and points to the empty space where Jesus had been laid before telling them to tell Peter and the others, to depart for Galilee, where Jesus will meet them, where Jesus had already told them he would meet them.
The women are left in the in-between, the now-but-not-yet. As we say in the communion prayers: “Great is the mystery of faith. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Past, Present, and Future tense all tied together. The women are the first to realize they are in this time, where Jesus’ earthly career has ended, and the work of the resurrected Christ has begun and they do not yet know their role in this new arrangement.
So, as in so many other encounters between the human and the divine, and despite the regular and earnest requests of countless angels, fear wins, at least at first, and “so they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
I think about this in-between space. We find ourselves in such a space now, more than usually do, covid numbers are falling, vaccines are being administered, more and more people find themselves partially or fully vaccinated. A few weeks ago I compared this past year, this year of covid to a protracted lent, so I hope you are not surprised that it is coming up again on Easter.
Like the women at the tomb, we are in this space where we see that things are changing, but we are not yet sure how. The angel may have said “He has been raised” but I think the women only heard “He is not here,” and it must not have been until later that the full message reached through the shock.
Before they can repeat that cry, before they can be the first humans to say “He is risen” they need to take some time to understand what it means and just how it is good news for the world.
I do not know how many of you have watched the Holy Thursday and Good Friday services online. I know some of you were on Zoom for them. Each of those services closed with a charge, and not a blessing, because historically those services are parts of a longer worship service, the triduum, which begins on Thursday evening, pauses until Friday evening, and then resumes Saturday night and continues through the night and into Sunday morning. Last night, Katherine told me I had better not end this service with another TBC, another “to be continued,” like the ending of our last two services.
I promised that there would be a blessing this morning, but I made no promises about the sermon.
I am sorry.
Easter is not a Sunday, it is a season. We have seven more Sundays of Easter before Pentecost, or six, if we remove Ascension Sunday.
The angel can say, “He has been raised, he is not here,” but it takes time for us humans to comprehend. Just as the angels usually say “do not be afraid,” or “do not be alarmed” but the people they address are, at the least, alarmed. It takes us time to work through the shock that comes with these encounters with the divine.
It takes time for us to realize that “He is risen” is more than a greeting, more than a declaration of faith, more than a promise of hope made to us. When we proclaim “he is risen” and “he is risen indeed” we are promising to participate in the good news, to make it more than just words. It is our actions in the world that make it good news. We must tell, yes, but we cannot forget that we speak loudest through our actions.
Katherine, when she made me promise not to leave us with another TBC, another to be continued said “we need something to celebrate.” Today is a celebration.
Today, removed from the immediate encounter with the angel, we are not afraid.
Today, we celebrate: He is risen!
But we celebrate without forgetting that when we proclaim “he is risen” and “he is risen indeed” we take on the responsibility. If we stay silent, it is not news, and if we do not allow it to change our lives, it is not good. So we celebrate the good news: He is risen.