Rev. Sarah Buteux
Mark 16:1-8, Easter Sunday, Year B
This story I am about to share with you is a mystery.
Year’s ago, I worked as a dorm parent in a girl’s private high school in Connecticut. Andrew and I had an apartment on the third floor where we lived with the juniors and seniors. My primary job was to be around in the evenings: to be a presence on the corridor between dinner and bedtime, oversee 2 hours of quiet study, and then relax and catch up with the girls before putting them to bed at a reasonable hour.
Well one night, between dinner and study hall, while my door was open and girls were flitting in and out of my apartment, the phone rang. It was the school nurse calling to tell me that a student from a nearby school had been diagnosed with a very serious case of meningitis.
There was a chance that some of my girls had come into contact with the student at a dance over the weekend and I was to give her a call if any one reported any symptoms. However, I was not to talk about it otherwise because we didn’t want to freak out the students.
I hung up a bit shaken and realized that two of my girls had overheard enough of the conversation that keeping this a secret from them would only do more harm then good, so I told them what was up. I carefully explained that there was probably nothing to worry about and that they were not to talk about it with anyone.
I swore then to secrecy and then ushered them off to their rooms because it was now time for study hall – which at the school meant that each girl was to be at work in her room in absolute silence for the next two hours. Two hours without any physical, verbal or visual contact with anyone else so everyone could focus.
But wouldn’t you know it, about an hour and fifteen minutes into study hall my phone rang again. It was my colleague Alison, who lived one floor down on the far side of the dormitory with the first years and sophomores. She wanted to know if it was true that a student had died of meningitis and that some of our girls were going to die too.
To this day, I don’t know how it was even physically possible for the students to communicate such distressing news that quickly across corridors and through floors during a time when they were forbidden to communicate anything at all.
I know some of you are probably thinking they must have texted or e-mailed one another, but this was way before smart phones. Heck this was before wifi. Which means that yes, I am old.
No this news traveled the old fashioned way: we’re talking whispers exchanged in the bathrooms they weren’t even supposed to be in, lips read across the hallway, possibly a paper airplane that made it from a third story bedroom window down to someone on the second floor. I don’t know how they communicated. The mechanics remain a mystery.
All I know is that news travels fast, and bad news, disturbing news, that kind of news travels the fastest of all. Because as hard as it is to talk about the things that frighten us, the truth is that it’s even harder for us not to.
I want you to think about the last time you heard something really disturbing. How long did it take you to reach out to another person? A minute? In this day and age when we text one another to say we’re bored or change our status update because we’re hungry, it’s hard to imagine anyone keeping anything to themselves anymore.
I mean, how many of you are carrying smart phones right now? Raise your hand. And how many of you have managed to get this far into the service without checking them at least once? No, it’s ok, you don’t have to publicly confess. After all, Lent is over. Alleluia? Alleluia! Christ is risen and you’re forgiven.
My point is simply this: given the opportunity, people can’t help but communicate. People talk. We’re terrible at keeping secrets and the more terrible the secret the harder it is to keep.
It may be hard to talk about the things that frighten us, but it’s even harder for us not to.
And thank God, because if it weren’t, I don’t think we’d be here today. If it weren’t, I don’t know that we’d have a gospel of Mark. In fact we might not even have the gospel at all, because when those women arrived at the tomb and found it empty, Mark tells us that they “fled in terror and amazement.”
Mark ends his gospel by telling us the women were so scared, “they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.”
Which is a curious way to end a gospel for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it is simply not true.
The truth is that they were so scared that someone did say something to someone. I don’t know who – the mechanics remain a mystery. But somebody said something or Mark wouldn’t have had a story to tell.
But it’s also curious because if we know anything about these women- all these Marys and Salome – it is that they do not scare easily. After all, these are the women who stayed by Jesus’ side even after all of his disciples has failed him and fled.
These are the women who followed Jesus all the way from his sham of a trial to the horror of the cross. These are the women who bore witness to his death, who shadowed him to the tomb where they laid him, and who dared to come out at dawn by themselves to anoint his dead body.
With that curious last time it’s as if Mark is grabbing us all by the collars of our Easter Sunday best, spinning us around and saying: Look at these women! Really see them! Remember who they are.
In the face of Pilot’s soldiers, the high priest’s minions, and Jesus’ crucifixion nevertheless these women persisted.
These women were brave.
Emboldened by love and fueled by faith, these women remained.
But the empty tomb…
The possibility that he might somehow still be alive…
The hope that he might really have gone ahead to Galilee…
that he would meet them there just as he said…
It is the empty tomb that undoes them.
It is the resurrection that scares them into silence.
It is the resurrection that sets them to flight, because if it is true, really true, then this Jesus changes everything and there’s nothing more frightening than that.
For if he is risen just as he said, then death is not the end. Amen?
If he who was crucified has been raised then the kingdoms of this world can now become the kin-dom of God, Alleluia?
If he has gone ahead to Galilee to wait for them all, even Peter – Peter who denied him, Peter who disowned him, Peter who failed him worst of all – if he has gone ahead to Galilee to wait for them all – even Peter- then you know what that means?
It means that grace gets the last word, not sin.
It means that hope gets the last word, not fear.
Love gets the last word, not hate.
It means God gets the last word, world without end, amen? Amen.
God get’s the last word not Caesar. Not Satan. Not even us in all our fickleness and faithlessness.
If the resurrection is true, really true, it means that these women don’t have to be afraid of anything anymore…and that kind of freedom is not just amazing…it’s terrifying. That kind of freedom can lead people to do crazy, wonderful, life altering, world changing things.
You tell people they’re free from death and before you know it they’re off getting themselves killed. That kind of freedom is terrifying…so terrifying that it’s no wonder that someone finally said something to somebody. I mean, how could you not?
You know, I think on some level that’s why churches fill up on Easter Sunday. Not because people love bunnies and butterflies and the occasional brass band. Not because we all want to please our mothers or because sometimes an hour in church is the price you must pay for a nice lamb dinner. You know who you are…
But because on some level we are all terrified and amazed by the possibility of “this one wild and precious life,” we’ve been given.
Terrified and amazed by the awful secret that the only thing standing between the world as it is and the world as God would have it be is our willingness to live into it.
Terrified and amazed for if the tomb is empty, then so are all of our excuses, and what can you say to that?
What can you say to that?
“Do not be afraid,” that’s what.
“Do not be afraid… because Jesus is not here…” that’s what you say to yourself and anyone who will listen.
“Do not be afraid, but go, tell his disciples – even the Peters – that he is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he said.”
Friends, that’s the gospel of Easter! That’s what we’re here to proclaim and affirm and be reminded of: the good news that God has seen us at our very worst and chosen to love us anyway.
The good news that no matter how badly we screw all this up – and my God do we all screw this up – God has not given up on us because God will never give up on us, but will always be waiting, just ahead of us… waiting for us to pull ourselves together and follow.
This story of resurrection, this Jesus, this faith, this life, it’s all a mystery, both terrifying and amazing. I don’t know how it all works. I don’t know how God can continue to love us the way we are and place such great faith in who we might yet be.
The mechanics remain a mystery.
All I know is that this story of a love that will not let us go is a story worth telling. And I pray that someone here would find the courage to say something to somebody.…
to spread the good news of this Jesus who changes everything…
this tomb that is empty because he has gone ahead of us just as he said…
this Jesus who is not here because he is risen.
Alleluia and Amen.