Easter, Reflectionary

Don’t Let Go

I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD. 
(Psalm 118:17)

Instead of the countdown of extra services and bulletins to be printed, we are living Holy Week in much the same condition as Jesus’ friends and followers. We don’t know what the coming days hold, and plans we made have been upended. Yet the stories we will explore and proclaim in the coming days have not changed. 

Consider the particularities of the telling in Matthew’s gospel. The guards in this version, posted by religious leaders who fear that Jesus’ body will be stolen, stand frozen in terror of an angel of the Lord who uses an earthquake to roll away the stone sealing the tomb. It is the second earthquake in the gospel, the first having opened the graves of the faithful in chapter 27. It feels almost too on-the-nose to read the gospel of Zombies and bodysnatchers when the news carries images of refrigerated morgue trucks parked outside urban hospitals. 

I am struck by the image of the women in Matthew 28:9. After a detailed speech from the angel, “with fear and great joy,” they hurry away to tell the disciples. The sudden appearance of Jesus is the culmination of the preceding suspense. “Greetings!” is the word the NRSV puts into his mouth, but the Greek chairete really means “Rejoice!” Perhaps it is understandable that they end up on the ground, holding his feet as they worship him. He is tangible, corporeal, claspable.

In contrast to the telling in John’s gospel, Jesus does not tell the women to unhand him. While they must let go in order to follow his instructions, I imagine them retelling the story to each other as they walked, looking at their hands with wonder. It must be true, because they held onto his feet. 

What a word for today! When my wife offers the benediction to her congregation, she often uses the one with the phrase, “Hold on to what is good,” and as she says it, she pulls the fingers of her upraised right hand in toward her palm. My hand involuntarily clasps every time I see her do it. In the midst of this pandemic, I confess I veer between fear for those I love, worry about my own high-risk health conditions, and anger over how response to medical recommendations divides us further along political lines.

At my house we try to counter these feelings by asking, again and again, “What’s good?” What is good in your life, your community, your congregation? How is care being shown; how are resources being shared; how are the people you serve showing love of neighbor? Recount these deeds, for they are the work we do in service of and thanksgiving to the God we love.

Hold on to what is good, my friends, as you tell the story of the first Easter, as you offer comfort to the grieving, hope to the anxious, and courage to the fearful. The words we need are right there. Rejoice! Do not be afraid. Hold on to what is good, and don’t let go.

Easter, Liturgy

Call to Worship for Easter Sunday

Early on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb.

They went to perform a service, out of love for one they had lost.
They went to fulfill their obligations, the expectations of their faith.
They never expected what they would find: an empty tomb.
They never expected an earthquake, or angels, or Christ himself.

We come with our expectations, our emptiness and our hopes.
We come with the crosses we have carried, the stones that block our way.
We come to meet the Christ and to hear his greeting.

We come to remind each other that nothing
Absolutely nothing!
Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!

You are welcome to use the prayer and image for worship or in whatever ways they might be useful this week. If you are following John’s gospel, feel free to substitute “Mary” for “the women.”

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Easter, Gospel of Mark

In which we try to put a bow on it (Mark 16:9ff)

“Endings Added Later”

That’s what scholars call Mark 16:9-19.

The very unsatisfying ending, in which the women run away in fear and tell no one, could not be left alone.

The one verse version turns them right around, saying

They promptly reported all of the young man’s instructions to those who were with Peter. Afterward, through the work of his disciples, Jesus sent out, from the east to the west, the sacred and undying message of eternal salvation. Amen.

Convincing, but not very detailed.

The longer version skips over that version of verse 9 and recapitulates stories from the other gospels:

  • Mary Magdalene alone sees him, as in John, and tells the disciples, but they do not believe her, as in Luke.
  • There is an abbreviated Road to Emmaus story.
  • Jesus appears to the disciples and tells them some things we would expect and some others that have inspired – well, practices, including snake-handling.
  • Jesus ascends.

My guess is that the average listener would hear enough of what sounds familiar not to be taken aback if hearing the adding endings read aloud, if not reading along in a Bible with that headline, “Endings Added Later.”

Those women must have told someone. Right? Otherwise, how did the disciples know to go and find him in Galilee?

I said in my last post that I think it’s valuable to sit in the fear and uncertainty and shock of the resurrection. Accepting it too readily, speaking about it glibly, does not do it justice. But neither does grabbing these tidbits from other sources to “complete” Mark. He told the story in his own particular way for his own specific reasons.

You may have played the parlor game where this question is asked, “If you could have dinner with any person from history, who would it be?” Jesus is a popular answer, and so is Shakespeare. I know I’ve answered with Jane Austen. But wouldn’t it be fascinating to have a meal with the person who wrote down these stories in the oldest form we have them, who told them with elaborate economy?

It’s Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary, so there is more Mark to come. I’ll hear it preached, and I’m working on a sermon to include one of my favorite stories, to preach for Day1 in a few weeks. Without working too hard to put my bow on it, I will say this. Mark leaves us asking who Jesus is and needing to look back to find the answer. The story continues, even now.

Happy Easter! I’ve been reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. You can find links to earlier posts here.