Sermon for Year B, Easter Vigil
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
April 4, 2015
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Scholars pretty much concur that what you’ve just heard, in all likelihood,
Is how the Gospel According to Mark actually ended.
“They went out and fled from the tomb,
For terror and amazement had seized them;
And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
And well we might!
You come loaded down with spices so you can deal with this situation.
Anoint the body, get it over with.
You show up at the same place you know you left the body.
The body’s gone. [!!] Oh, to have bene a fly on the wall.
Some well-dressed anonymous kid tells you, He isn’t here; he’s in Galilee.
But do please let everyone know that he’s planning to meet you there.
Terror and amazement aplenty. I mean, I would need smelling salts.
And that’s it. The ending of Mark.
You’ll find 11 or 12 more verses, depending on how you count,
Tacked on to the end,
But those are the artifacts of a subsequent history; they’re not what was there in the first place.
What Mark wrote was something like this, in Greek:
Coming out, swiftly they fled from the tomb;
It had them [in] trembling and amazement;
And to anyone nothing they said; they feared for ––
“They feared FOR” what, exactly?
Did Mark just fall over dead mid-sentence?
Come on, Mark, “they feared for” – for what?
This Gospel is a thriller. It doesn’t need to be high-falutin so much as compelling.
And what do you do when you’re finished reading a thriller
That doesn’t resolve in a neat conclusion? That stops mid-sentence?
You might get so frustrated you throw it across the room and turn out the light.
You might sit down and write a letter to the publisher –
Excuse me, I think I got a bum copy; mine doesn’t end right.
OR, you might turn right back to page one and start all over again.
I know you all to be readers, so c’mon, you can tell me –
Have you ever done that?
Go straight from the last page back to the first and start it up again?
If you have, then you know:
You take the last words on the last page straightaway into the first words on the first page.
They said nothing to anyone;
They were afraid for –
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
“As it is written in the prophet Isaiah.”
“John the baptizer appeared.”
“[John] proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me,’”
And “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
(Were they afraid of a new beginning? Or just plain old afraid?)
Well. Who knows. What we do know is this:
Jesus comes from Galilee, he returns to Galilee, he comes from Galilee.
The story starts at the margins of society and then ends there,
And then starts there, and then ends there, and on and on.
The roots of the Gospel are also the seeds of the Gospel.
The hot fear of his disciples is extinguished in the cool running waters of his baptism.
In The Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot writes –
“We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
The Good News is present at the beginning, returns to its roost, and explodes out from that place.
Every time we find ourselves back in Galilee,
We know it as if for the first time.
This Gospel is the surface of a Möbius strip, infinitely looping back in on itself,
Just like our lives, just like the Christian calendar;
But its margins, our consciousness, expanding with every reading, with every go-round.
Those faithful women may have been seized with terror and amazement,
And been deeply afraid for the moment,
But “the sacred and imperishable” word was just ahead of them in Galilee,
And it was their job to follow it no matter where it took them.
Their reward: to know their homeland, and themselves, and their God, and Jesus, and each other,
As if “for the first time.”
In other words: to be refreshed, to be more aware, to love and understand more deeply.
Note, please, that it was also their job to tell.
They had a specific mandate to communicate these facts to the others in the wider group.
And although fear temporarily had its grasp upon them, we know they did tell eventually;
They must have; they simply must; it was too important; the whole story rests on that.
How else would we even have the story?
Fear calcifies us, slows us down, make us unsuitable for mission;
But the simple phrase “Fear not” is one you will find in the proper context in the Bible
More than eighty times.
Facing and overcoming fear is a major component of a faithful life in God.
So they did.
And they told.
And the story clicked back over, gained traction, and got going.
I would like to have been a fly on the wall, also, when those women came in.
Everyone a complete emotional and psychological mess,
Packed together in a stuffy room for fear of persecution,
Afraid to even step out for a little fresh air.
The women enter; they give their news.
In Luke’s Gospel, the others don’t believe the women;
They think it’s just an “idle tale.”
Sooner or later, though, it starts to sink in.
Can you imagine the mixture of disorientation, joy, confusion,
Lingering tears, the strangeness of it all?
The What-in-the-world? of it?
The He-did-what-and-he’s-gone-where-now? of it.
You see, just like with the longer endings of Mark,
Just as with other Gospels,
It’s only human nature to want to run ahead with the story and speculate about what happened.
All we know is, they were told to tell; and tell they did.
You know, this Gospel was written for your benefit.
You have a specific job.
You have to tell each other the Good News.
You have to keep rehearsing these facts.
They are strange facts; it’s easy to disbelieve them; hard to believe that Jesus is risen.
It can be so easy to forget those things
When you get your head down into some important task –
Even when it’s something that you’re doing on behalf of the church.
Of course, you might not even be doing the task
If it didn’t come out of the truth of this very same story –
That an itinerant rabbi was slaughtered and returned to life two thousand years ago
Because God shows complete and unconditional love and solidarity with our condition,
And finally is uninterested in our sins, but rather forgives them,
And runs to greet us, and longs for us to know our union is already accomplished.
You have to keep rehearsing these details, going over this amazing story,
Dying these thousand daily deaths to sin and self,
Telling each other the Good News,
Upholding one another at all costs,
Moving beyond immobilizing fear over and over and over.
You will do this if you love each other.
This is your common task, now and down the road, with or without a priest.
Move beyond the fear; tell the Good News; love one another.
And finally, go wherever you’re told to go!
Galilee may be the same place every time, but it’s also a moving target.
It’s the catch-all name for the next outpost of mission: “Galilee.”
Is that disorienting? Confusing? Sure. BUT –
To what new place is Jesus compelling you to go?
Do you understand that whether the story continues hinges
On whether you go to the new destination?
How will you know when you’ve arrived?
What will you find when you get there?
What strange new people and energies will you have?
Oh my. To be a fly on the wall.
Finally, my dear sisters and brothers,
In none of these things are you ever alone.
You have the power of God, and the commandment of Jesus to keep moving ahead.
God’s Holy Spirit is with you to inform you in your prayers,
To comfort and cheer you,
And, sometimes, to kick you in the seat a little, when you get stuck.
Which is something we all require at one time or another, eh?
May grace and peace be with each and every one of us on this incredible night.
Thanks be to God for the gift of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of life eternal.