Saturday, April 04, 2015

April 5, Easter 2015: Women's Work

(This is the painting that graces the reredos of our sanctuary, The Empty Tomb, by Virgilio Tojetti. In St. Mark's account the young man is seated inside.)

Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Acts 10:34-43, Mark 16:1-7

This was women’s work, what they were doing, these three women, early at the tomb, taking care of things after the men were all done. Like after the church suppers of my childhood. Like on an ancient battlefield—the losers retreat, the victors chase them, and then the women come out to tend the wounded and the dying and the dead. The disciples of Jesus had fled and were in hiding. Did the women buy their spices in the dark because they feared the danger all around them?

A corpse begins to stink in just a few hours, and it was long past that. They wanted the spices to cover the smell so they could dress his body. These women were the ones who had been providing for him all along, and had seen to his necessities, so even his corpse was precious to them. In this way they were closer to him then his disciples were, these women who had birthed and nursed and held and swaddled and cleaned and fed and dressed the bodies of others—women’s work. So one last time they come to dress him and hold him and grieve for him whom they have loved and lost.

And when they get there, even his body is lost to them. The tomb is empty, except for the young man, who is described but not explained. Was he expecting them? Is he an angel? He acts like angels do in his disregard for human feeling. When the women are alarmed he says, “Don’t be alarmed.” How helpful is that! He matter-of-factly gives them instructions, which they do not carry out. They flee in fear, they don’t tell nothing to nobody.

And that’s how the Gospel of Mark concludes, with their terror, their amazement, and their fear. End of story. What? Don’t they meet up with Jesus, like in the other gospels? Like in Matthew, Luke, and John, where they encounter him fully alive, robust, and powerful, and his disciples walk and talk with him and even eat and drink with him? Not in the Gospel of Mark, at least according to our most ancient manuscripts. The later manuscripts offer a couple of longer endings, like the extra verse we did not read this morning, which provide more conventional conclusions. Because, like, how could St. Mark end his Gospel this way?

It’s not to discount those post-resurrection appearances that were already reported in the earlier writings of St. Paul and St. Matthew. St. Mark is not denying them, he rather assumes we know of them, but he wants to convey his own literary emphasis. In the Gospel of Mark, the miracles of Jesus are met with emotions that are strong and unpredictable and often negative. When Jesus walks on water his disciples are terrified. When Jesus is transfigured they are terrified. And all three times that Jesus directly predicts his resurrection his disciples speak against it from the fear of it.

The Gospel of Mark is always wonderful but never comfortable. The good news is always good but not always nice. The salvation shakes you up. The good news of salvation is so drastic that it is fearful. The choice before you is so total that it’s a whole new world in the midst of this one, and that means everything you thought was certain and dependable is shaking loose with instability.

In the reality of our world—and the women knew this as well as we do—it is just not possible that a corpse already stinking should come back to life. And if it did, who knew what it would be like? A walking dead? A zombie? Of course the women are terrified. Who wouldn’t be?

We don’t like terror. We have a war on Terror. In recent years the word “terror” has come to have a technical political meaning. Every morning we read another report of some act of terror somewhere. When an airplane is smashed into an Alpine mountainside and 148 people are killed, the first thing asked is, Was it Terrorism? And after the investigation we can say No, it wasn’t Terrorism.

But of course it was. In the larger sense. That great sense of grievance, whether personal in the case of the pilot, or corporate in the case of Al Qaeda. “We have been wronged, the world has done us wrong, America has done us wrong, the West has done us wrong, we have been wronged and we will make them pay.” Suicide bombers give evidence that often it’s less about wanting to win as wanting to make us pay. It’s revenge. It’s an anger that claims to be justified, to be righteous anger, seeking justice in revenge. We regard them as terrorists. They regard themselves as aggrieved.

And here is an end to all our grievances. The tomb is empty. You came here to grieve. He is not here. You came here with preservatives, to hang on a little longer to what you lost. One more loss in a life of constant losing, one more death in a culture that kills the innocent, cutting down your best and brightest in its jealousy.

You came here in your grievances, you came looking for the one who was crucified, but he is not here any more. He’s done with that. He has left behind your grievances. He has gone on ahead of you, and you must go there too. Where? Into what strange new world? Of course it is fearful, and you have to fear it before you can receive it. You have first to fear the loss of your life in order to receive the gift of your new life. It might not be nice news but it’s good news.

Now that I’ve spoken about terrorism, let me speak about my marriage. I would say that over the six decades of my life, the greatest fact in my life, the greatest gift, has been the love of my wife Melody. The thing about her love is that I cannot control it, it’s outside of my control. As she reminds me, I cannot see inside her head, I cannot read her thoughts. She habitually disagrees with me on certain things and I can’t convince her. Her love for me is real, a real force in my life, again every day, and yet I can’t explain it. I have learned that her love for me does not depend on me. Her love of me is independent of me. I live in it but I never really possess it. I admit I’m a little afraid of it. You know: if I can’t control her love, then can I count on it? I have to believe in her. I have to faith in her. Well, she is more than deserving of my faith.

I offer this to you as a metaphor for the resurrection life of Christ. It is something so good for you and yet so independent of you and outside of your control that it’s no wonder that you fear it. It is a reality which is also such a mystery that of course you find it alarming. You cannot make it fit. It will not fit. To want it explained is to want to posses it. The Bible never tries to prove it, because it can’t be made to fit inside your current categories, it rather challenges your categories. The only way to choose this life is to receive it as a gift, and to receive it every day again.

The resurrection of Jesus is not the solution the disciples would have chosen for their problems. The resurrection of Jesus is not the answer the children of Israel would choose for their grievances. The resurrection of Jesus is not what any philosopher would have proposed to solve the greatest problems of the world. As the solution to your personal problems you would not choose the rising again of Jesus. But it’s what God offers us.

The personal problem that St. Mark addresses is the problem of your fear. It’s in fear that he ends his part of the story so that it’s in your fear that you take up your part of the story. It’s one of your besetting problems. Your fear for your future, your fear that your needs will not be met, that your place will not be kept, your losses not paid for, your interests discredited, your story discounted, your grievances disregarded. You fear that this resurrection story might not be true and that all things will just get worse and never better.

There, in your fear, is where you must start, but your fear does not predict the solution to your fear. Your fear does not determine its own resolution, and you must not let your fear control how it gets answered. Let your honest fear be judged and die with Christ in order to receive God’s answer and plant your identity upon God’s promises.

You came looking for the one who was crucified so you could grieve your losses. You won’t find him here. He’s gone ahead of you. He has gone beyond your grievances. He doesn’t make your life so far add up. He doesn’t give you that satisfaction. If anything, when you look back on your life, he shows you how much more you have to repent of then you knew of. But that repentance is not required for you to receive the gift he gives you. The only thing you need to receive the gift he offers you is that you want that love, that love that you cannot possess, that love that you cannot deserve but still receive, that love for you which does not depend on you.

So all of you are doing women’s work today. Whatever your grief and grievances you did come here for love, because even deeper than your fear in you is your desire to love. And I know you want his kind of love, you want to believe in his kind of self-giving love. That kind of love is doubted and feared and even hated but it is vindicated by the resurrection and offered for your desire and belief. And just in your believing it begins to work its power in the world. You can believe it. When I say “Christ is risen,” it is your desire that the universe be run by love that lets you answer, “He is risen indeed, Alleluia.”

Copyright © 2015, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

No comments: