An Easter Meditation
Sunday, April 4, 2021
Mark 15 – 16
When Joseph rolls that awful stone into the opening of Jesus’ tomb, the story slams shut. The gospel story. The story of radical beatitudes and merciful reunions and fabulous feasts. The story of reparations and redistribution. When Joseph rolls that stone into the opening of the tomb, the story of Jesus slams shut.
And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph and James, her sister, her friend, her accomplice in this project—they see where Jesus’ body is laid to rest. They see where that awful stone is set.
And their pain, which is our pain, the grief of this little beloved community is excruciating and familiar. Empires crucify prophets. Generals carpet bomb peasants. ICE agents pull parents from children. Mass incarceration passes racism and poverty from generation to generation like a virus. And Derek Chauvin kneels on the neck of George Floyd for eight minutes and 46 seconds. So many crosses. And every time, the story slams shut. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph and James, they’re watching all of this. They’ve been watching all along. And they see where the stone is set. The streets of Minneapolis. The opiod crisis in Ohio. And the desert, and the border, and every detention center there.
It’s a gentle, generous voice they’ll never hear again. It’s a brave friend, a bold believer they’ll never touch again. And there can be no memorial service, no funeral, not now, not for this prophet, not for Jesus. Sounds familiar, right? So many of us, so many of our friends have known just this kind of grief, just this kind of deprivation and denial this year. Circumstances are such, protocols are such, that we can’t even gather to tell stories, to laugh hard and long, to give thanks and praise God. On Good Friday, Jesus is taunted by his captors, and abandoned by his brothers. Two days later, he’s dead and buried and his tomb—sealed tight by a terrible stone.
But friends, there’s a moment here, there’s a moment in this story that changes everything. For Mary Magdalene, for her accomplices that morning, and for us. For our own beloved community in New Hampshire. For our world. The gospel says that they “looked again,” and when they looked again, they saw that the stone, which was large and awful and lodged in place, the stone had already been rolled away. Already rolled away.
You can call this a miracle, if you need to. You can call this unusual, if you have to. But this morning, I want to call this the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel of resurrection.
If the power of hatred seems lasting and entrenched, if the wreckage of racism seems catastrophic and complete, the gospel, our gospel says, “Look again!” The power of God is stirring among us. The dream of God is rising again. The gospel! If the community of the brave is scattered for a season, if the sisterhood, the brotherhood of the merciful is demoralized for a bit, the gospel says, “Look again!” The power of God is stirring among us. The dream of God is rising again. The stone has been rolled away. I want to call this the gospel.
Friends of God, the women in our story dare to approach Jesus’ tomb in the holy and irrepressible spirit of their ancestors, in the holy and irrepressible spirit of Isaiah and Ezekiel, and Ruth and Naomi, and Hagar and Ishmael. And undoubtedly, most spectacularly, these sisters dare to approach Jesus’ tomb in the holy and irrepressible spirit of Miriam at the Red Sea: you remember Miriam—who might have turned back, who might have given up, but instead “looked again” and saw the sea opening, the way widening, the path emerging to liberation and new life. Miriam “looked again,” she believed in the defiant God of love and liberation, and then Miriam danced. With her sisters. Into the Red Sea. Miriam danced to freedom. (And the boys, by the way, the boys could only hope to keep up!)
So friends, make no mistake. The master metaphor of Easter, the master metaphor of Mark’s gospel is seeing, is looking, is bravely perceiving God’s hand in the midst of our longing, in the midst of our suffering. Remember. Moving through the streets of Jerusalem, Jesus says to his friends, “Keep watch! Keep watch with me!” Remember. Aching, weeping in the garden, Jesus says to his friends, “Stay awake! Stay awake with me!” From beginning to end, and from that awful ending to a stunning new beginning, the master metaphor of this gospel is seeing. Faith means keeping watch. Discipleship means staying awake. In our uniquely personal spiritual journeys. In our evolving congregational projects. In our many-faceted struggle for justice and peace. We are the lovers who look. We are the siblings who see. And yes! We are the accomplices of God who act together on the visions we see together! Like Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph and James, and like Miriam on the shores of the Red Sea.
The gospel says that our sisters “looked again,” and when they looked again, they saw that the stone, which was large and awful and lodged in place, the stone had already been rolled away. They might have turned back. They might have given up. They might never have come in the first place. But our sisters “looked again” that morning; they did not turn away or turn back or turn cynical either. They “looked again” – in the face of all that sorrow, in the shadow of all that violence, in the solidarity and sisterhood they’ve forged together. To be sure, it’s what Jesus has been preaching all along. Keep watch, sisters. Stay awake, sisters. God is on the move.
Our siblings in the Black church like to say that “our God makes a way out of no way.” Our God makes a way out of no way! And those sisters at the tomb remind us today that it is so. Peter and James and John: they’ve got to believe that the tomb is sealed tight, that the story’s slammed shut, that their despair is final and forever. But those sisters at the tomb look again. And those sisters at the tomb see Love is on the move. Their God makes a way out of no way! And there were a hundred days – just this last year – there were a hundred days when you and I might have given in to the grief. Tombs sealed tight! George Floyd’s murder. Breonna Taylor’s murder. Spikes in infection, and a government disinterested in science. January 6: White supremacists channeling a mad man’s contempt for democracy and decency. There are a lot of reasons to give in to the grief. But those sisters at the tomb, they look again. And they see Love is on the move. Their God, our God makes a way out of no way!
There’s a brother watching online the morning, Antony from Cameroon; or rather, Antony from Greenland (just outside of Portsmouth) by way of Cameroon and a dozen detention cells. He’s a brother to us now, Antony is, a beloved sibling in our little community here in Durham. A year ago, Antony was unknown to us, his bright eyes, his sweet face unfamiliar to us. He was sleeping in a Dover detention cell, a year ago, surrounded by dozens of detainees, lining up for showers and meals, and waiting for calls from lawyers they’d never met. All of them shuttled around the country – from lock-up to lock-up, from California to Mississippi to New Hampshire – seeking a safe place, aching for community, making huge sacrifices for their families in places like Guatemala and Honduras, Congo and Cameroon.
But Antony kept watch. By the grace of God, he kept watch. From his cell, from the cold floors of every detention center, from the holy heart in his own soul. Antony kept watch.
And so did you. You extended Sunday morning worship to include rolling rallies at the jail, circling round and round and round that jail to show detainees you were watching, you were awake to what was happening inside, you were ready to move. You studied up on the broken system, how it worked and didn’t work, and you prepared yourselves to step up, to open up, to do right when the time came. And when the time came, you looked Antony in the eye, you met him face to face, and you’ve kept watch with him ever since. Eleven months of keeping watch. Forty-eight weeks of watchfulness, and wakefulness, and vigilance.
And when ICE came last fall to Greenland, to take Antony away, to ship him off to a terrible fate, you showed up not only to watch, you showed up to say no. You showed up to say Love is on the move here. Love will change the world here. The stone from this tomb has been rolled away. And Antony’s still with us, in Greenland today. The fight’s not over yet, but Love is on the move here. And Love will change the world here. And brother, we know you’re watching, and we love you. You are one of us. The stone from that tomb has been rolled away. That’s the gospel. The gospel of resurrection.
Friends, Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus, to be sure: the unexpected, unreasonable, unmanageable resurrection of a friend and a teacher and a prophet of God’s abundant and holy love. No empire, no tyrant, no cruelty can control him or diminish him or extinguish the light of mercy in his heart. Easter is about his resurrection to be sure—but it’s not a lonely resurrection. And it’s not a privileged and private resurrection, a lottery ticket to some invitation-only heavenly feast. This gospel doesn’t work that way!
Easter is God’s tenaciously tender, bewilderingly bold, radically disruptive commitment to us – to you and me and Antony, and to Barry and Sherry in Greenland; to every detainee standing in every window up there at the Dover jail today; to Breonna Taylor’s family in Louisville and George Floyd’s family in Minneapolis and Black Lives Matter activists from coast to coast; to our new friends at the New Roots Church in Boston and our old friends looking for a break at the Dover Friendly Kitchen or the Waysmeet Food Pantry. Easter is about Jesus rising in us, and for us, and with us. Easter is about Jesus provoking new visions and asking new questions and bringing new friends into this circle. Easter is nothing less than our “extraordinary unity” in the Body of Christ.
So, keep watch, my friends. Stay awake and keep watch together. The world is hungry for the feast you’re making. The planet is aching for the hope you’re brewing. So don’t be afraid to name this hope. And don’t be afraid to claim this gospel. And don’t be afraid to look again when so many others are looking down. This is our faith. This is our hope. This is our song:
LET THE CHURCH WITH GLADNESS
HYMNS OF TRIUMPH SING;
AND TELL IT WITHOUT CEASING:
DEATH HAS LOST ITS STING.
(“YOURS IS THE GLORY,” EASTER HYMN)