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Are You Kidding- Be Brave?

As a child and young teenager, I was afraid of everything, all the time. Looking back, I think maybe I spent too much time in my formative childhood years watching those hit 90s shows- Rescue 911 and Unsolved Mysteries. (Anyone else? What were they thinking of letting kids watch that?)  Whatever the reason was, I was pretty afraid of a lot of things. So when I would go on trips with my school or youth group to amusement parks, I would wait in line for the roller coasters with my friends, and then hold their bags while they rode. When we went on our annual youth group ski trip, I would comfortably sit in the lodge and watch over everyone’s bags and help keep track of everyone. When opportunities like white water rafting, a ropes course, or ziplining presented themselves… well, those all received firm noes from me. I had a catch phrase- “We’re all going to die!” And I’d say it half in jest, half in actual fear.

My mom, however, is a bit of a daredevil. She would drag me on the rides at the fair, ignoring my very reasonable questions and concerns about how quickly fair rides get set up and are they adequately inspected? She would make me ride with her and the whole time she would tell me, yelling over the rushing wind of the ride to “just laugh” because “we’re having fun.” She was almost always right- it was fun and scary. It was terrifying and amazing. But I missed out on so much of that fun because I hadn’t yet learned to be brave enough to try.

I’ve worked through a lot of that anxiety, and now I’m up for trying a lot of things that I previously had determined would be the source of my impending death. I love a good roller coaster! But sometimes that anxiety makes a return visit.. Ask my husband how brave I am when he’s driving! Even in my bravest moments now though, I can very much remember the clammy, sticky, heart-in-my-throat feelings of fear that would wash over me. And so I can understand and respect the experience of the women who find an empty tomb and receive the call to go and tell. They’re terrified, and it makes perfect sense to me.

As I’ve said several times in the last few weeks, the Gospel of Mark sometimes does things a little differently, and the resurrection story is no exception. If you have your Bible in front of you, you may have noticed that there is a shorter and longer ending tacked on to the end of the book. These are the creations of ancient scribes who felt that the original ending of Mark was lacking something. They wanted to tell a bit more of the story. But the reality is that the original ending of Mark stops right there where our reading ended today. Mark stops with the women wracked with terror and amazement, keeping the story of what they saw in that empty tomb to themselves because they were so afraid.

Now, we could see it as a strange place to end the story, and maybe it is. Scholars have analyzed for centuries. But we could also see this abrupt ending as our invitation. We know that the women didn’t stay in their silent fear; we know that they decided to be brave because… well, the church was founded and we are here right this minute. So we know what they ultimately chose. So then the question, the invitation, for us is this: will we be brave as well? Will we find the courage to go and tell and do and be? Will we go on to Galilee with the disciples to meet Jesus? Could we still be brave enough to follow? I think there are some good reasons to give it a try.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (and Jesus), and Salome came to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning. They were trying to do the right thing- to anoint Jesus properly, to restore some of the dignity that had been so violently taken from him in the days before. It appears that they went without any kind of a plan because on the way, they are fretting about who would roll away the stone that covered the entrance to the tomb. But, verse 4 tells us, when they looked up, or looked again, depending on how you translate it, they discover that the stone had already been rolled back.

I wonder how many of us have been like those women, frantic and worried, stewing in our situation, trying to fix a problem and haven’t noticed that the stone has already been rolled away? The solution is right there in front of us. God has made a way out of no way. We just hadn’t looked again to see it. These women who had been faithful to Jesus throughout his ministry were faithful now, even in death. But they couldn’t see it at first. They didn’t realize. God had heard their cry, and God had already made a way. There was no big, beautiful scene here, just God hearing their prayer and moving that stone. And so too, has God made a way past the thing you are afraid of. It doesn’t have to hold you back. God is making the impossible possible.

This week I was reminded of one of my favorite ee cummings poems- [i thank you god for most this amazing]. It’s a beautiful poem and a glorious song of worship and life and resurrection. This is the end of it: “how should tasting touching hearing seeing/ breathing any—lifted from the no/ of all nothing—human merely being/ doubt unimaginable You? /(now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)” When they eyes of our eyes are opened, we begin to see that while the whole world is a giant anxiety machine, we have nothing to fear. We have been “lifted from the no of all nothing.” We can trust. 

W.P. Lemon says “Easter is not a passport to another world; it is a duality of perception for this one.” Through Easter eyes, we can begin to see all that God is doing in the world, all that we are being invited to do, all that is alive and thriving, despite it all. Through Easter eyes, we see the stone has been moved. And so, we can be brave as we answer the call to discipleship because God has already rolled away the stone.

When the women enter the tomb, they see a young man inside. They’re alarmed, of course. He is dressed all in white and sitting on the right side of the tomb. It’s easy to skip over this young man as just something of a prop or to dismiss him as just an angel. But the text clearly says, “young man.” And in fact, there is only one other time in Mark that this word is used. It is in Mark 14:51-52, back in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had been praying, preparing himself for what was to come, and the disciples had been sleeping, when Judas and a crowd with swords and clubs come and arrest Jesus. And everyone who was there with Jesus deserted him. And we read, “A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.”

There’s no way to know, of course. But could it be that this is the same young man? He was there in the garden, fearfully watching as weapons swung through the air and Jesus was arrested, he ran away naked because he was so afraid. But could it be that now he sits here on the right hand side- the side reserved for authority and clothed in white- the same color that dazzled the eyes at Jesus’ transfiguration, the same color in which the heavenly choir is dressed in Revelation? Could it be that that through bearing witness to Jesus’ death and resurrection this young man is transformed from his shame and fear into a position of power and holiness? And could it be that Jesus is transforming us as well?

Friends, we can be brave because in Jesus’ resurrection, we too find new life. We could choose to stay behind in our shame and fear, or we could accept the transformative power of grace. We can be brave as we answer the call to discipleship because Jesus can transform our fear into power.

It is that young man who tells the women to not “be alarmed; [Jesus] has been raised; he is not here.” He has been raised. Throughout this year so far, we have been moving through the Gospel of Mark. And whether or not you realized it, we have been collecting stories of people being raised. Peter’s mother-in-law was healed and raised and began serving others. The paralyzed man was raised up to walk. The tax collector, Levi, was rose up from his work to follow Jesus. A man with a withered hand was raised up in his community. Sleepers rise, Jesus rises up to calm the storm, Jairus’s daughter was raised to new life, a possessed boy was raised up into freedom from the demons that harmed him. Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, rose up to receive Jesus’ healing. All of these, and more, have been raised through the power of Jesus. Jesus has been raising people through it all.  And has not Jesus raised you too? Have you not been brought through every hard thing you have ever faced? Have you not risen up this very morning to hear the good news that Jesus Christ lives? Has the glory of God not raised you up to walk in the newness of life?

So what then shall we fear? Karl Barth, the great Reformed theologian writes, “The Easter message tells us that our enemies, sin, the curse and death, are beaten. Ultimately they can no longer start mischief. They still behave as though the game were not decided, the battle not fought; we must still reckon with them, but fundamentally we must cease to fear them any more.” Jesus has always been raising people up, over and over again. We can be brave as we answer the call to discipleship because we, too, have been raised to new life.

The young man isn’t quite finished though. He tells the women that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee, and that they should tell the disciples, because there they would see Jesus, just as he told them. Ched Meyers says that this direction to go and tell and to go to Galilee is a “terrible ultimatum” and that even for us, here in this decision “our discipleship journey either truly ends or truly begins.”[1] Will we count the cost and go home in silence and fear? Or will we be brave?

The SALT commentary says this: For those who despair that death-dealing powers have the upper hand — fear not. Easter means God ultimately is and will be victorious over the powers of death. For those who feel isolated and lonely — fear not. Easter means we are all together in the risen Body of Christ, even if we’re separated in time or space. For those who despair that our guilt is too great for God to forgive — fear not. Easter means God has cleared all accounts, liberating humanity from shame, reconciling us to God and each other as God’s children. For those who despair in the midst of pain or anguish — take heart. You are not alone: Jesus suffers with you in solidarity and companionship, and Easter means you will rise with him. [2]

To state the obvious- Jesus is not present in these verses. He has been risen and he is on the loose! And we can stay here at this tomb and be afraid, or we can go out into the world and experience the risen Christ. He is not here! Fear will keep us among the tombs. Courage and faith and hope and love and everything else Jesus has taught us will lead us to rise up and go. Rise up and follow. Rise up and live as Easter people! Be brave. Christ has risen! And so too have we! Amen!

[1] Meyers et al. Say to this Mountain, p. 208-209.

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