In Terror and Amazement

Mark 16:1-8

Traumatized by the brutal end on Good Friday the disciples and friends of Jesus must have still been overwhelmed by the tragedy and trauma of Friday’s events. This must have felt, not only like an overwhelming end of Jesus’ life but probably even the end of their dreams and hopes.

We are told that some of the women among them somehow found the strength to go do what they could not do on the Sabbath, namely, take care of the body.

On their walk to the tomb their biggest concern was the rock that was blocking the entrance. They did not have the strength to roll it away to get to Jesus’ body.

But when they reached the tomb things got out of hand. The rock had been rolled away and a stranger sitting there told them Jesus had been raised. There was nothing left in the tomb.

It appears that this was just too much for the women and they simply fled in “terror and amazement” according to the Gospel of Mark.

Terror and amazement. Who can fault them for such a reaction?

There are different interpretations as regards the actual crucifixion and resurrection. Was this a historical event? Did it happen the way it is written? Was there a bodily resurrection or is this part of the mythology and metaphor that all religions use to carry its message?

In the 21st century and especially in the United Church of Christ we cannot and do not demand that everyone believe in exactly the same way. People have the option to learn and discern and believe according to their own conscience and I am not here to prescribe to you how to interpret these events but perhaps, together, we can wonder what this event could be saying to us today.

Some among us have experienced moments of terror when your world is shattered by an unexpected event. Some of us have been amazed at how people have the ability to overcome such an experience.

Craig Barnes writes in The Christian Century the following;

“Earlier this week, an old couple received a phone call from their son who lives far away. The son said he was sorry, but he wouldn’t be able to come for a visit over the holidays after all. “The grandkids say hello.” They assured him that they understood, but when they hung up the phone they didn’t dare look at each other.

Earlier this week, a woman was called into her supervisor’s office to hear that times are hard for the company and they had to let her go. “So sorry.” She cleaned out her desk, packed away her hopes for getting ahead, and wondered what she would tell her kids.

Earlier this week, someone received terrible news from a physician.

Someone else heard the words, “I don’t love you any more.”

Earlier this week, someone’s hope was crucified. And the darkness is overwhelming.

No one is ever ready to encounter Easter until he or she has spent time in the dark place where hope cannot be seen. Easter is the last thing we are expecting. And that is why it terrifies us… [Easter is]… about more hope than we can handle.” (Craig Barnes, Savior at Large, article in The Christian Century, March 13-20, 2002 p. 16.)

More hope than we can handle. It sounds like another churchy cliché.

But looking back in history we realize that it was the continuation of the God story who assures us that nothing can separate us from the hope we find in God’s love.

Being in a place of such pain and darkness could have destroyed them and yet…and yet…they overcame this event. Whether the empty tomb was thanks to a bodily resurrection or whether it is part of a story preserved to explain the power and hope that comes from a love so Divine that it can sustain and even bring us back from the verge of hopelessness. This is undeniably a story of love suffering but also of love triumphing over hatred.

Someone once said; “When love and hatred engage in mortal conflict it is love which suffers most; but love has the final victory.” (Bill Wallace, Christinaity.org, March 21, 2015)

There is no question about the suffering not only of Jesus, but of those who loved and followed him. In this case we have to agree; “loved suffered the most.” At the same time we can say, “but love had the final victory.”

The Sanhedrin, the Roman Empire and the Pontius Pilates of that time no longer exist. Yet, the life-affirming story of Jesus still brings hope and the potential for the resurrection of lives and dreams!

The women were amazed by the news that the tomb could not contain Jesus Christ. Question is; what do WE intend to do with this amazing news?

If we encounter trauma we need time to heal, just as Jesus followers needed to recover after the apparent defeat of Good Friday. But part of their healing had to do with taking up the baton Jesus had handed them and running with it.

In so doing, they changed their predicament and the world.

This morning we learned of the events in Sri Lanka where churches and hotels have been attacked with huge loss of life. Today we remember the shootings at Columbine. Its been 20 years and yet the pain and trauma continues.

There are new Roman Empires creating new barriers for God’s justice to thrive. There are new figures that have taken the place of Pontius Pilate and Caesar and new institutions that have replaced the Sanhedrins of that time. Our continuing task is to seek out the resurrection path for our times.

Even when facing the tomb’s of life we hold on to the promise that it is empty—that the love that comes from God, suffers, but always comes out victorious.

Whether this morning fins you in a place of joy and celebration or a place of hurt, know that life lived in the light of God’s loving will sustain you today and always.

And may the God of all of our experiences be with us and guide us through pain to victory, from despair to hope, from darkness to light. Amen.