Terror and amazement
By Charles Qualls
Jesus Christ has risen indeed! That is some of the happiest news I ever get to deliver. What a privilege it is to stand behind the sacred desk and remind all of us.
What is a moment when you have felt the most “alive”? I can think of several times like that as I look back. The night I proposed to my wife, the gravity of what I was asking of her, and actually committing myself to, was fully visited on me. I was scared to death and felt so alive. The day I stood in Franklin’s pulpit for the first time and preached here in view of a call was one of those times. I was caught up in pondering the possibility of a move, and had no choice about feeling alive. Every second, and every little thing, had my full attention.
Preachers feel particularly alive on Easter Sunday. And not always for the best of reasons. One now retired preacher says that for most of his career, he felt as though on a Sunday like Easter he had to hit the ball out of the park. Pastors across the world would echo his sentiment because of the pressure to try to be perfect on this day.
Then again, the Easter story may well be one that most of us know thoroughly. So today, I want to call on you to remember with me what you know. Easter is a powerful story. If you hear this narrative and can feel terror and amazement, like these women did in all the mystery and confusion of finding the Tomb open and empty, you are alive.
This year for Easter, our text was Mark 16:1-8. In the oldest biblical manuscript sources, Mark’s gospel ends with verse 8. The ending is abrupt, with the women having been counseled to not be afraid. Instead, they are instructed to go and tell the disciples where the risen Jesus will meet them. If this text ended with verse 8, they tell no one and depart in terror and amazement. I can’t say I blame them.
We are disciples proclaiming the resurrection in our time. What we know is that the word did get to Peter and the other disciples. We know that someone told what happened. Other gospels indicate that the women did go and proclaim the good news. But here in Mark, it just appears that the gospel gets out despite them.
You know, sometimes the Gospel gets out despite me, too. Sometimes you or I are what limits the message that gets out, yet God speaks into other peoples’ lives. The Holy Spirit moves. There are times when I am as much a hearer as anyone.
Because what I know isn’t all there is to know. Might be true for you, too. There is more here for us than what I know and what you know. Thank goodness. In fact, the Easter victory is richer because of some things that exceed all our reaches. Today, we proclaim the victory of Easter. We are living in the post-resurrection reality, the part that happened after Mark’s original ending.
If we are alive in spirit and wonder how to respond, one of the things we could do is go back to the beginning of Mark and read through again. We could read about the Jesus who has not yet been crucified, knowing what we know now. We could observe his power, his compassion, his standard of ethics and justice. We are always disciples who are reading, hearing this story out of a post-resurrection experience.
The post-resurrection Christ speaks into our loss of loved-ones. He weeps with us, stands with us, and yes maybe even laughs with us. He sits with us as we accompany each other when we are not well. He walks with us and listens as we don’t understand. He calls us to action when something needs to be done.
David Bartlett has pointed out that “Mark also began his gospel with an incomplete sentence. It’s symbolic of this unfinished reality in which we continue to live. Our task is to help each other to see where the resurrected Christ is alive today, because our very lives and our faith are also unfinished!”