Isaiah 25: 6-10
Mark 16: 1-8
By Rev. Dr. Fritz Ritsch, Pastor
April 8, 2012
St. Stephen Presbyterian Church
Fort Worth, TX
“And the disciples all deserted him,” Mark tells us. First, Jesus told them to watch and pray with him, but they didn’t know how, so they fell asleep. Then the soldiers came and Jesus told them they couldn’t defend him with swords, and they didn’t know what to do, so they ran. The other gospels bear out that the disciples were so frightened that they were hidden away in a locked room. They left their Lord to die on a cross, alone.
But not quite alone: because the women stayed. The women, says Mark—Salome, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and his friend, Mary Magdalene—the women were grieving witnesses to the death of this man they loved. Other Gospels tell us Jesus’ mother Mary was there, and Jesus’ aunt, the wife of Clopas. Unlike the men, they could, at least, watch. So they stood at a distance and watched Jesus die. The Gospel of John takes it further: Jesus’ mother Mary and Mary Magdalene were at the foot of the cross.
Ask the disciples, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” and at least according to Matthew and Mark, the disciples would have to answer a hushed, embarrassed “no.”
Ask the women, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” and according to every single gospel the answer would be “NO. But I was there when they crucified Jesus. I was there when they crucified my son. I was there when they crucified my nephew. I was there when they crucified my best friend in the world.”
Just like women in El Salvador during the revolution, or Mexico during the Drug War now, or in Poland the Nazi occupation, or in the South during Jim Crow. The men may cause atrocity, or they may fight it, or they may run away altogether. The women bear witness—often silent witness. And grieve.
And Sunday morning came, and the time to prepare Jesus’ already entombed body, and the women found themselves, once again, alone. “Who will move the stone?” they wondered. None of those strong, brave fishermen who swore they would never desert Jesus, none of them was around to flex his lats and triceps and quads to move that quarter-ton obstacle; they were still cowering in the upper room.
Who would move the stone? It was not the experience of First Century Palestinian women that stones would be moved for them. Just like women throughout the ages, and especially poor women, or older women, or un-beautiful women, their experience was the opposite: there was always a stone there. There was always an obstacle.
Until today. Today, the stone was moved.
Well, sometimes that’s a trick. Sometimes the way the world works is a lot like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. “Today’s the day, Charlie Brown! This time I won’t pull the football out from in front of you just as you are about to kick it!” But then, of course, good ol’ gullible Charlie Brown would run up, aiming a great kick, and Lucy would pull the football up and BAM Charlie Brown’s on his back again; and that’s what people do with stones sometimes, pretend to move them, but then it turns out to be a trick.
Tentatively, they look inside the tomb. It’s like a horror movie: you know, you absolutely know, that what’s in there is just awful, it will rip your heart out, and your inside is screaming, “Don’t look, you fool! Don’t look!”–but you just have to look. And they looked.
And it was an angel.
Well. But don’t trust that either. Even Satan was an angel, remember, so this could be a trick, too.
And then the angel says, “Don’t be afraid. You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. HE HAS BEEN RAISED. HE HAS BEEN RAISED.”
The women’s heads are spinning. Everything is different. Their world has been turned upside down. They are witnesses to the greatest miracle imaginable, something completely outside not only their realm of experience, but anybody’s realm of experience.
And then the angel says, “Go and tell. Go and tell His disciples. Go and tell the world. Go and tell.”
And they are terrified. Because that’s not what they do. They are silent witnesses—they don’t go and tell. They internalize it. They keep it to themselves. And they are women. Who are they to tell men anything, especially those lousy, good-for-nothing disciples? Luke tells us that when the women report the resurrection to “the Apostles, …these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24: 11). An Old Wives’ Tale, that’s what they’d call it. They’re being “hysterical,” the men would snicker.
Most scholars agree that everything in the Gospel of Mark after verse 8 is a later addition by other writers. So the original version of the Gospel of Mark ends this way: “So [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were terrified” (Mark 16: 8).
In its original ending, the whole future of the Good News of the Gospel of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is dependent on whether these three women can get over their absolute, abject terror and obey the angel’s instructions to “Go and tell.”
Go and tell. The Good News of the Gospel of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely dependent not simply on our believing it, but on our decision to do something about it. The Good News of the Gospel of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ turns the world upside down. It is the Good news that “the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations” has been destroyed and that God has swallowed up death forever (Is. 25:7)”.
It is the good news that we who have always lived in the darkness of dreams deferred and of our own sense of powerlessness and inadequacy are now filled with the light of God’s forgiveness of our sins. It is the good news that we who’ve always felt alone in the world now have fellowship with one another and with God. We aren’t alone.
It is the good news that death isn’t the final answer to life; but that life is abundant, it is eternal, it is a feast, a gigantic, eternal party, with best friends who are literally “best friends forever,” and those friends include God and Jesus Christ.
It is the good news that the gigantic stones that block our pathway, the terrible barriers between us and God and us and other people, the insurmountable obstacles of life, these immovable stones aren’t immovable to God; those impenetrable walls aren’t impenetrable to God. It is the Good News that we can start to live a resurrected, abundant life now, here on earth.
In the resurrected world, for instance, prayer is truly action, because God is here, now, not in some faraway heaven. It’s talking to the one who is most able to act, God. Prayer is an absolute assertion that God is here, now, that this is God’s world. Prayer, says theologian Stacey Johnson, is the Christian response to nihilism. Nihilists believe that life means nothing, unless we make that meaning ourselves. Prayer claims that God gives meaning to the world, to life itself, and that we are participants in that deeper meaning of life.
But the male disciples didn’t believe in the power of prayer. Prayer isn’t action, and that’s what they believe in. When Jesus asked them to pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane, they got bored. They fell asleep.
But when the crowd came to arrest Jesus, the disciples were ready to act. They had their swords out, ready to go. But Jesus said, no. And they didn’t know what to do. Fight or flight were their only options, so they thought, so since they couldn’t fight, they took flight.
The women, on the other hand, understood what it means to bear witness. They understood what it means to watch. Bearing witness is essential. It’s our calling as Christians to see the world as it is, to call attention to things like the incredible disparity between rich and poor in the US today, the awful work hours of the Chinese laborers who put together our i-Phones—all the problems in this community and the world. It took boldness for the women to dare to watch the crucifixion and dare to mourn Christ’s death. It takes boldness to see the world in the starkness of its deepest failings, and not with rose-colored glasses.
But watching can become another form of nihilism unless we take the next step. We have to do something. Unless what we see goads us into action, then watching is another form of nihilism. Watching becomes grieving. It becomes an affirmation of death, not resurrection.
To believe in the resurrection is to believe that God’s new day has arrived. It’s here now. We Christians have no excuse to say, “We can’t do anything about that—that’s just the way the world is.” The ethics of the Kingdom of God are ethics that are meant to be put into action here and now. Jesus taught us that in God’s kingdom the poor, the grieving, the humble, those who are hungry for justice, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and anyone who is persecuted for the sake of God is especially blessed. Those aren’t meant to be platitudes or pie-in-the-sky goals. Those are the Ten Commandments of how we are to live in the Resurrected World.
The women run away from the tomb and the terrible wonderful message of the angel. They are horribly afraid. They have plenty of reasons to keep their mouths shut. They are women! It’s not their place to tell this to men! They watch! They don’t act! How do they even know what to do? This news is unbelievable—this idea that Jesus is raised and God’s Kingdom is in the world here in the present, in the here and now—it’s impossible! Who would believe it?
And if it’s true—then not only do they have to listen and nod and say, “Jesus is right” when he teaches us to follow the Beatitudes and to love our enemies—suddenly they have no choice but to do it! If Jesus is raised from the dead, everything He taught is no longer in the realm of “IF ONLY” OR “WISHING MAKES IT SO.” It’s reality. It’s now.
If Jesus is raised from the dead, I no longer have a reason to avoid responsibility. Every reason I have—it isn’t my place, the world can’t change, no one will listen to me any way, I’ll be treated bad—every reason becomes an excuse. If Jesus is raised from the dead, I NEED TO CHANGE.
At some point, these powerless, terrified women stopped running. At some point they came to this shared realization. If Jesus is raised from the dead, the Kingdom of God is here, now, and no matter what excuse I want to make, no matter how powerless or terrified or unimportant I think I am, I have no choice, no choice at all, but to GO AND TELL.
And so they did.
And so the world was changed.