"A Resurrection Uprising" (Mark 16:1-8)

Mark Longhurst, April 1, 2018
Part of the Easter series
the scripture readings can be found at the bottom of the page

First Congregational Church
Williamstown, MA
Sermon Easter 4-1-2018
"A Resurrection Uprising"
Rev. Mark Longhurst
Scripture: Mark 16:1-8

Women will lead the uprising. Here are my resurrection heroes this year: There is Emma Gonzalez, the senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, one of the organizers of the recent March for Our Lives. She stood in front of thousands, TV Cameras streaming to millions, and led the country in a silent prayer. A prayer for life. Resurrection. There is Ava DuVernay, an African American director who gained fame by directing the movie Selma, which is about Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggle for voting rights in 1965. She has recently adapted Madeline L’Engle’s beloved book A Wrinkle in Time. Or, there is Serena Williams, the African American woman that some tennis greats call the greatest player that ever lived. She’s become a philanthropic force to support education and victims of violence. Or, there are the thousands of women who have stepped forward against collusion and abuse by powerful men and said, #metoo. Some of these are famous, such as Reese Witherspoon and Angelina Jolie, and most are not. Women are leading the uprising. It is an uprising of love, and justice, compassion, equality, and joy.

This is resurrection.

Women are leading the uprising in Jerusalem. These women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, they are the ones who have the grit and fortitude of heart to stay with Jesus while he is dying. The men have completely abandoned the scene. Bummer, men. Sometimes you hear about men who can’t stand to be in an operating room because of blood, well, Jesus’s male disciples have fled the operating room. It takes a few soldiers with swords, clubs, a cadre of lawyers and well-connected clergy and the disciples are gone. All except, Peter, that is, who can’t bring himself to desert Jesus, but also can’t bring himself to stay with Jesus. So he sneaks into the high priest’s courtyard, warms his hands by a fire, and denies that he knows his teacher not once, but three, times.

The best of intentions fall flat. Why is it that men find it so difficult to follow Jesus’s way of love and justice? (I love men, I’m a man, but) Why is that men are leading the companies that most profit over wrecking the planet? Why is that men start wars and threaten with bombs? Why is it that men think sexuality is about taking what they want? Why is that women, the first witnesses and preachers of the resurrection, two thousand years later, are not even allowed to teach in some churches? Why is it that men resist the resurrection? And why haven’t we learned, yet?

Women will lead the uprising. And that’s what resurrection is linguistically: a standing up, a rising up. The Greek word for it is called Anastasis. These women are the ones who show up as faithful caregivers to grieve, to bless Jesus’s body and prepare him for burial. These women, just like many of the women in our families, or our organizations, or our churches, are the ones standing up. They, you, are holding forth with vision and courage and compassion and life—often amidst heartbreak or struggle.

The Marys’ and Salome are there because they have followed Jesus to the end. Peter denies Jesus, but when Jesus visits Peter’s mother in law at the very beginning of the book, and heals her from a fever, she gets right up and joins the movement. She becomes the first church deacon. Or, another time, Jesus is teaching a large crowd, and a woman is there who has been bleeding, hemorrhaging, for twelve years. She has seen countless doctors, spent her savings, and seen no results. She pushes through the crowd, walks up to Jesus and touches his cloak. She thinks, “If I can just touch his cloak, then I will be made well.” And immediately she feels in her body that her disease is gone. Jesus praises her faith and welcomes her into the new family of wholeness: “Go in peace, be healed,” he says.

Before we learn about Jesus’s rising up, in the story, the women have risen up. They’ve been debating with one another how best to roll away this large stone. We’re told a man named Joseph is the one that rolled it in front of the tomb in the first place, but Joseph had coordinated with Pilate and Pilate likely threw a few Roman soldiers his way to help him out. The women do not have imperial connections to leverage, and so they’re managing necessary logistics: “Who will roll away the stone?” They arrive, however, and they find that the stone has already been rolled away.

At this point, their hearts have undoubtedly leapt into their throats. They enter the tomb and they see a young man wearing a white robe, a martyr’s robe. This strange figure, possibly an angel, has apparently emerged from the heavenly realm. He sits on the right side of the tomb, just as Jesus declared he would sit on the right side of God the Father. Some new, mysterious reality is unfolding.

The women see the man, and they are alarmed. Other translations say amazed. I’d be alarmed, wouldn’t you?! Not only did they not have to roll the stone away, the body of their teacher has disappeared and a strange figure is sitting in his place. The man says it’s good news, that “he has been raised.” But Jesus is not here, and the women are rightfully afraid.

You’ll notice that this resurrection story in Mark’s gospel ends with a jolt. The story is driving 90 miles an hour and then Mark slams on the breaks and says, “the women fled, said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” And then it’s done. That’s it So much for Easter trumpets, simple spiritual platitudes and rousing hymns. They fled, said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. Generations of biblical scholars have struggled with this: they’ve scratched their heads, postulated additional endings, or they’ve embraced Mark’s Kafka-esque, existentialist leap off the narrative cliff.

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy the unanswered questions. I like it better that way; the spiritual life for me is always about how we are going, not whether we arrive. If Mark the gospel writer wants to leave us hanging, hearts in throats, I’m game, even if it makes Easter preaching more complex. At the same time, I believe there’s more going on in this story, in this ending than a Haruki Murakami novel or Paul Thomas Anderson film would have us believe.

In the biblical tradition fear and amazement are linked together, particularly when there is a possible angel involved. The women’s response is the type of amazement that is so good, so unbelievable, so challenging to normal expectations, that it registers in the body as fear. That’s why angels are always saying, “Do not be afraid.” They bring tidings of good news and joy, and then say, “Do not be afraid.” Because tidings of good news and joy often shock our system. It’s the same response Mary has when she’s visited by angel Gabriel; the same response John the Baptist’s father Zechariah has when he’s rendered speechless in the temple; it’s the same response I had in the hospital delivery room witnessing the birth of my sons Ian and Oliver. It’s an encounter with life that is so intimate and outside of normal day-to-day experience that time falls away, adrenaline kicks in, and emotions overpower.

Fear and amazement are not separate, they are connected. Our fear, our exhaustion, our uncertainty, our doubts, our trauma, our baggage with religion, our skepticism that love really will win, our concern about the state of our country, our difficulty believing seemingly unbelievable events like the resurrection, these are not barriers to God. These are questions that lead us to life, resurrected aliveness, even, and aliveness is never a denial of complexity, it is the embrace of our full humanity. Our fear and our amazement are the fuel that jumpstarts the uprising.

Resurrection is an uprising. It is the rising up of Jesus, who has gone on to Galilee, the place where he first began his ministry. But the rising up of Jesus is never only about one body, as if God’s action stopped there. It’s about all bodies standing up for life. It is the rising up of women, the first witnesses of the empty tomb. It is the rising up, eventually, of the male disciples. It is the rising up of life itself against and through all that deals death in this world.

Mark’s abrupt ending is not a “happy ever after ending” that leaves us off the hook; rather, it implicates us. Mark’s question is whether we, too, will go and see the risen Jesus. Will we, too, continue the story of God’s realm in this life, on this earth? Will we, too, face our fear and hesitancy? Will we, too, stand up against policies, systems, and habits of heart that kill, deaden, or dull our lives? The choice before us is whether we will join the resurrection uprising. Will you stand up?

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