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April 4, 2010
Mark 16: 1-8
And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome went to the tomb. Even though they each had a thousand questions about the events of the last few days, I imagine them not saying much to one another... but walking quietly, diligently... holding their spices in one hand and with the other, shielding their eyes against the early morning sun. Even with one hand held to their brow, I imagine they still found themselves squinting a bit... squinting to see what lay ahead... squinting in an effort to muster one last bit of inner strength... squinting to find some sense of hope and faith amid the heartache and turmoil of all that had come to pass.
This wasn't the first time these women had felt like this. No... anyone who followed Jesus for any length of time had learned long ago how to squint. Perhaps, on this day, as they squinted against the early morning sun and against the fear and heartache welling up inside of them, they thought about all the other times they had screwed up their eyes in an attempt to see... to really see what was happening and to make sense of it all.
Perhaps Mary the mother of James remembered her son and his friends telling and retelling how Jesus calmed the wind and the waves. I imagine Salome almost chuckling as she remembered Jesus feeding thousands of people with five loaves and two fish. And Mary Magdalene... perhaps she was lost in thought about the day Jesus raised Lazarus from death and the grave. As she squinted against the early morning sun, she realized that Lazarus must have also squinted against the sudden sunlight as he emerged from three days of death and darkness. Yes, that was certainly one thing that Jesus had given them; he had given them the ability to squint... not only against the morning sun but against believing that storms and hunger and death would have the final word.
Of course, none of them imagined as they walked how they would need this strange way of seeing that Jesus had taught. None of them imagined that, when they got to the tomb the stone would be rolled away. None of them imagined seeing not the body of their crucified Lord, but a young man dressed in a white robe who said to them, "You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth? He is not here-he's gone ahead of you to Galilee."
Whether the ability to squint suddenly failed them... or this was simply too much to bear... all three women "went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." That, says the Gospel of Mark, is where the story ends.
I know. There's more than one of you wondering why we're here again... no, not here in Waukegan... not here at the empty tomb... (not here at 6:30 am, though that is a source of wonderment). You're wondering why we're here in Mark's Gospel, where there is no glimpse of the resurrected Christ... no assurance that these women will ever get things right... no happy ending anywhere in sight. Why are we here again?
I suppose we're here because, of all the Christian stories ever told, this is the one that challenges us to squint... to cast a second glance... to screw up our eyes in an effort to make sense of it all. Mark's Easter story is the one that encourages us to see something that's there... just not the first place our vision takes us. In other words, Mark's Easter story is the one that teaches us the most about faith.
Those of us who frequent a place like this... we get used to that word and this way of looking at things. We surround ourselves with people who learned long ago that faith isn't something magical... something just beyond our reach. Faith is simply a way of seeing... it's a way of seeing something that's there... just not the first place our vision takes us.
Places like this are the best places to practice this way of seeing... to be reminded of stories like the women remembered on their way to the tomb... stories that teach us that our God has a way of bringing hope out of despair and life out of death.
But this isn't the only place we practice living by faith... far from it. Those of you who don't come here often... who don't consider yourself very good at this way of living... at this way of seeing the world... you may be better at it than you think. After all, anyone who has raised a child knows something about seeing beyond the mess and the heartache and the turmoil. In this part of the world, those of us who will fix ourselves to a radio or TV for baseball's opening day tomorrow know something about hope springing eternal, too. You may think those things are entirely separate from the way we learn to see things in this place, but they're not. They all have to do with living by faith; they all have to do with seeing things that are there... just not the first place our vision takes us.
Of course, regardless of how much practice we get at this sort of thing... regardless of how well we surround ourselves with people who remind us to focus our glance and take a second look... Sometimes the pain and fear that we all experience from time to time can become too much for us. If we sit in darkness too long, we can forget how to squint.
But just when the darkness seems eternal... just when we've nearly lost the drive to live by faith... Easter rolls around again. Along with Mary and Mary and Salome, we find ourselves walking quietly, diligently, on our way to find some sense of hope and faith amid everything that has come to pass. Along with these women, what will it take for you to muster one last bit of inner strength? What will it take for you to find one last bit of faith?
At first glance, it doesn't seem that these women had much faith in anything on that first Easter morning. But maybe we should cast a second glance... maybe we should look for something that's there... just not the first place our vision takes us.
Mark doesn't tell us what happened to these women after they fled from the tomb. But the fact that we're all here this morning means that somewhere along the way, they must have stopped, turned around, and, with eyes once again facing the morning sun, they must have found themselves squinting. That familiar way of looking must have brought it all back... they must have found themselves chuckling... then laughing... then out and out giggling as they realized that Jesus wasn't there because, like the man said, he was out ahead of them again. Squinting against the early morning sun they knew that what Jesus had taught them all along was true: storms and hunger and death do not have the final word. The night is past. The darkness is over. Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed!) Alleluia!
That's our confession this morning, too. Not because we've actually seen the risen Christ... not because our world is much different today than it was last week... but because we follow the way of seeing that Jesus taught. It's a way of seeing that allows us to look at one another... as imperfect as we are... and see the face of Christ. It's a way of seeing that looks at the world around us... such as it is... and sees that storms and hunger and death don't have the final word. It's a way of seeing that allows us to look at the empty tomb and see that Jesus is out ahead of us again. He's not only here because... Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed!) Alleluia!
That's good news. Even in the Gospel of Mark.