And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:8
Fear makes you do funny things.
A man was walking in the mountains just enjoying the scenery when he stepped too close to the edge of the mountain and started to fall. In desperation he reached out and grabbed a limb of a gnarly old tree hanging onto the side of the cliff. Full of fear he assessed his situation. He was about 100 feet down a shear cliff and about 900 feet from the floor of the canyon below. If he should slip again he’d plummet to his death. Full of fear, he cried out, “Help me!” But there was no answer. Again and again he cried out but to no avail. Finally he yelled, “Is anybody up there?”
A voice replied, “Yes, I’m up here.”
“Who is it?”
“It’s the Lord.”
“Can you help me?”
“Yes, I can help. Have faith in me.”
God says, “Let go.”
Looking around, the man panics. “What?!?!”
“Have faith in me. Let go. I will catch you.”
The man thinks for a minute, then asks, “Uh… Is there anybody else up there?”
Hanging between fear and faith.
Like the man hanging from the limb, the women at the tomb are also hanging between fear and faith. They face the terror of the unfathomable reality, a drop into the unknown, and they run away. Because truly, that first moment of that first Easter was a potential horror story.
Mark’s account is so unsettling. There is no earthquake, no angel, no guard as in Matthew’s gospel. No two men in dazzling apparel, no running to get Peter as in Luke. No gardener to confuse and to reveal as in John. In fact, there is no appearance of Jesus at all in Mark. If you had only Mark’s gospel, you would be left at the tomb only with a proclamation of the possible. Perhaps that is all we ever get.
Expecting to honor the dead, the two Marys and Salome confront the unfathomable: what was dead is no longer in the tomb and the corpse is gone.
A man who they knew is replaced by a boy who they don’t know at all. The woman are terrified and tongue-tied, they run away and the Gospel of Mark ends.
Sure, if you look at most bibles, there are alternative endings that have been added. We are not the first to notice that Mark left out some “details” – but the additions are really subtractions.
Mark leaves us with three women in a stupor. There are no words for what they are confronted with. They have no language for it. There is a complete destruction of meaning and a whole new reordering of what is what; dead is no longer dead.
I love Mark’s gospel – the honesty, the absolute bare bones vulnerability which has the ring of authenticity, not only for then but for now.
The path that leads to an encounter with the risen Lord goes through fear.
The proclamation that Jesus is alive may come in time, but first comes paralysis.
Confidence in your faith will follows confusion of a close encounter.
Mark’s gospel takes fear seriously. It doesn’t cover it up, doesn’t gloss it over. It seems as if fear has the final word.
But sometimes I wonder if you and I don’t need to be shocked in order to wake up, or if the inability to speak is precisely where God wants you first. At the point of vulnerability, face to face with your greatest fear as you realize that all that you thought was true may not be – this is where Mark places us, with the women.
It is only as you face your greatest fear that you know what you really believe. It is only facing the horror that you learn your own capacities, who you really are.
I remember the now deceased Bishop of Chicago who, after being diagnosed with incurable cancer said: “Well, now I have the opportunity to live out what I have always told others about how to live and how to die.”
Only when the rug of expectation has been yanked from under you and you are lying flat on your back in that moment of stunned realization, open eyed and open-mouthed, is there an instant of recognition. So let’s not fool ourselves.
I believe in the resurrection of Jesus. It is the hope upon which I stand because I can do no other, really. But as I look at the world I often feel as though I am hanging between fear and faith. “Is there somebody else up there?” As I scan the headlines, I dangle and wonder, “Where is Jesus? Who is the kid in the white dress?”
I have so much to be thankful for, but I live often in fear of it being taken away – and what then? I feel the words of the French poet Rene Maran:
I am one of the troubled hearts
Fearing the night, fearing the day.
It is constricting.
It is my faith beyond my fear that Jesus lives that gives meaning to my narrative, my life, my choices; a hope that there is something larger than this into which my story has context.
Fear is all out there – fear of losing jobs, fear of the one who is different, fear of some unknown person going off as in Binghamton, N.Y. Or that fearful man in Pittsburgh who believed in a Zionist conspiracy and was afraid that his guns were going to be taken away so he opened fire and killed three policemen. We are still haunted by the possibility of another terrorist attack.
I know that this isn’t very Easter-type news but if Easter doesn’t speak to these matters, what good is it? Always behind the gaiety and the glorious proclamation stands the shadow of doubt, the hint of despair, the worry, the emptiness.
I just believe that Jesus wants us to keep it real – deeply real – and offer everything; both the confidence and the despair. Then you might actually have an encounter on Jesus’ terms, not yours. You might actually bump into the risen Lord beyond the grave.
Just consider this for a moment – Easter shatters the expected and the status quo. The resurrection is a cosmic reordering of all that we have ever believed. Nothing was more certain than death and taxes (which are due on Wednesday!), except now.
We get locked in ways of doing things, thinking and perceiving, but Easter blows all that to hell. (And, of course, I use that term theologically!) Easter doesn’t confirm that which we already know; it places everything in the precariousness of being. The house of cards that we have so meticulously constructed has been blown down. Even our theological house of cards.
As REM sings “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine!” Because from the tomb of fear something else happens. St. Paul tells us in Romans (10:17) “Faith comes from what is heard.” And we have the testimony of Peter as we read in the Book of Acts (10:36) Just a few months after the women ran away in stunned silence, somehow the word got out and Peter, yes, THAT Peter, who was also scared to death and so had himself doubted, had himself denied, had himself deserted, had himself departed – is now preaching something powerful and new: “but God raised him on the third day” and allowed him to appear… I truly understand that God shows no partiality.
God’s love is open to all! Even to gay people? Even to Muslims? Even to non-believers? Even to me? You? That is pretty scary. A rather precarious and radical way of looking at the world, don’t you think?
Moving from fear to faith in the risen Jesus means an opening of yourself to see the world in a completely re-ordered way. Faith presses you away from the past and pushes you into the future.
Faith forces you to face your fear, which often causes us to cling to the past, pushing you beyond it. We know that this is true deep down in our spiritual DNA :
Fear destroys but faith builds up.
Fear denies but faith extends the promise.
Fear limits but faith expands.
Fear kills but faith gives life.
As Marcus Garvey once said: “We have allowed cowardice and fear to take possession of us for a long time, but that will never take us anywhere.”
Way back in the Hebrew scripture the children of Israel came to a Jesus moment, before there was a Jesus. They were faced with a crisis and Moses stepped up before the people and said: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” (Deut 30:19)
The good news is that God has already chosen you for life, no one is outside of God’s graciousness, no one – this I believe.
But there are times when it does feel like we are hanging from a limb and crying out “Is anybody up there?” or we are standing, like the women, before the great unknown and asking ourselves; “Where are you, Jesus?”
But you can’t go back into the shadows. Your heart won’t let you go there. And the Christ beyond the tomb invites you towards the light, always towards the light of the possible, towards the glow of faith, towards the glimmer of hope and love, towards the upward call, to letting go – trusting that nothing separates you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So Mark’s Gospel of that first Easter Sunday brings you and me to the tomb, to the chasm, the empty place of our greatest fears. It is all right if you run away speechless, for really what can be said?
However, of this I am sure – you will never be able to run far enough away from God’s love for you and sooner or later you won’t be able to be quiet: So let go!
Name the fear and claim the faith.
“Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”
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