The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks ; Easter Day—Year B; Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; I Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8 Video
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus. Can you imagine how heavy their hearts must have felt? Bad enough that their beloved Lord had died in a horrible, public, violent way. Bad enough that his closest friends, his disciples, were nowhere to be found at the end. But the burial itself had been a rush job because he had died late in the day, and the sabbath was coming, so Joseph of Arimathea only had time to wrap the body in a linen cloth and lay it in the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of Joses saw where the body had been laid, but now, the sabbath had come, and nobody goes anywhere or sells anything on the sabbath.
They had waited and waited through that long sabbath day, and when the sun set, and the shops opened, Mary and Mary and Salome went and bought the spices. And so very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they made haste for the tomb. These women, they knew how to care for the dead with love and care and tenderness. To be sure, it wouldn’t take away their heartache, but in times of great loss and overwhelming sorrow and grief, there is a certain comfort in immersing ourselves in the rituals. They did have one dilemma to solve, though. “Who will roll away the stone that lay at the entrance to the tomb?” They were strong, but not that strong.
And while their heads were hard at work on that one, they lost all track of where they were until they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. If you’re Mary, Mary, and Salome, what’s the first thing that pops into your head? (pause) “Who did that? And whoever did that, have they taken the body?” And bodies matter. Saying goodbye to bodies matters. So, I’m imagining that they are working on a good dose of adrenalin right about now.
As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side…okay, that’s pretty specific, not a yellow robe or a brown robe, but a white robe, and not sitting on the left side or standing in the corner, but sitting on the right side…and, we’re told, “…And they, [the women], were alarmed.” Ya think?
Oh, the King James translation is so much better; it says, “And they were affrighted.” Try “ekthambeo” in the greek, try “And they were thrown into terror and amazement.” “Alarm” can be a slightly raised eyebrow, which I can’t do, but if I could, that would be “alarm.” But “thrown into terror and amazement” is a full-on, adrenalin-dump, system-on-full-alert, total fight-flight-freeze kind of moment. And then, this white-robed-young-man delivers the message that he came to deliver: “Do not be alarmed, do not be thrown into terror; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
“Do not be alarmed”—that sounds awfully familiar, awfully close to what other otherworldly messengers have consistently proclaimed throughout the scriptures. What is it they say? (pause) That’s right, “Do not be afraid.”
So what do the women do? Do they go tell the disciples? Do they run and get Peter. Do they ditch the whole “go-tell-the-disciple-thing” and hightail it straight to Galilee?
No, they don’t do any of these things, they move into total flight mode. They fled from the tomb, for terror—that trembling, quaking kind of fear—and amazement had seized them, had laid hold of them, had possessed their mind. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid, their fear had put them to flight, compelled them to flee.
We may be all cool and collected sitting here 2,000 years later on this glorious Easter morning, but I am not convinced at all that we have come that far from Mary, Mary, and Salome’s fear-terror-amazement-flight response.
There are four different words in greek that are all used in this passage to get at this fear piece. There is the initial throwing them into terror, there is the trembling and quaking with fear, there is the sheer amazement, there’s the fear that moves to flight. But it is more complicated than that. Isn’t it always?
Let’s go back to the greek for that trembling, quaking kind of fear translated as “terror”—this word in greek is used to describe “the anxiety of one who distrusts his or her ability completely to meet all requirements, but yet, will do their utmost to fulfill their duty.” What was being asked of them? To not look for the Living God among the dead, and I know that’s a split infinitive, but the day demands it! What was being asked of them? To understand that they would meet Christ among the living, and that they would have to leave the well-known, well-worn ritual of this tomb to move into the mindbending, shatteringly unfamiliar experience of resurrection. And, to risk, to risk looking like a fool when you try to explain this experience of the sheer, tangible aliveness of God to those who think the story ended with the death on Friday.
And, oh, it gets better, this word that keeps popping up, “amazement,” listen to what it means: “displacement, a throwing the mind out of its normal state, alienation of the mind.” This is about the “displacement” of the mind because a whole other reality has just crashed in and exceeded the mind’s capacity to process it in any way that makes rational, logical sense.
If you want to understand this empty tomb in any way that is going to make sense to your mind, as they say in Vermont, “You can’t get there from here,” but just because it’s bigger than our minds can grasp doesn’t make what happened 2,000 years ago any less true or real; it means we’re traveling in that wondrous territory of Holy Mystery. All the fear and trembling and amazement they feel is because Life bigger than any life they have ever known before has shattered all that they knew to be safely held in a tomb. The only problem is that what they safely knew was dead, and now, they were being challenged, called to go and meet the Love that has come again.
Now then, their first run at this doesn’t go so well; they go to a total flight response, but God is good, and we can always circle back and try again. And you know, they must have done just that because here we are 2,000 years later celebrating the reality of that empty tomb. They might have fled, and goodness knows, everything in our minds is conspiring to have us do the same, but somewhere, not too far down that path, something grabbed their hearts and said, “Stop. Tell someone what you’ve seen. Tell someone what you’ve heard. You may think you are not up to the task. You may think you are not up to that which is being asked of you, but you are. You don’t have to do this alone; in fact, you can’t do this alone. You’ve got to tell the story, and you’ve got to grab a companion, and together, you’ve got to go meet him back out in the world, in Galilee.”
Our minds shut down when they can’t comprehend something. But today is a day for our hearts to leap. If you have to run away for a bit so your mind can stop its freakout, it’s okay, the resurrection, it already lives in you, and it won’t let you run for long.
Eventually, Jesus’ Life, his Love, his Power, his Energy, his Lifeforce, his Presence, it will start to show up everywhere, and the resonance with your heart and soul will simply be too strong to deny.
I am glad that Mary, and Mary, and Salome do the flight thing. It helps me to know that when I run the other way from the Living God, that I am not the first to do so, and that in the end, Love will come again, even to me when I am terrified, and afraid, and totally out of my right mind, and in this instance, my “right” mind might just be the barrier keeping mine eyes from seeing the glory of the Lord.
Whether we flee, or whether we fight with all the tools of our historical, critical, scientifically honed minds, or whether we freeze, paralyzed, unable to move forward or back—THE TOMB IS STILL EMPTY. He still is not where we left him. He has gone on ahead of us, and he will be waiting for us in Galilee. Fight, flight, or freeze, maybe do all three, but there is another way.
Tell somebody what your heart knows but your mind fights. Let the mystic inside of you have half a chance to breathe and speak what it knows. Then, grab another, and together head for Galilee and look for him. You’ve got absolutely nothing to lose, and your whole resurrected life to gain. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 5, 2015