I had the incredible privilege of being in Jerusalem last summer, and visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which contains both the historically acknowledged site of the crucifixion and the site of the resurrection.
I lined up to get my few seconds in the Edicule, the place of resurrection, where I would be able to see and touch the tomb of Jesus. I was ready to commit as much time as necessary to do this. It may not be the actual tomb of Jesus—but it is certainly near it, as there are more recently discovered other 1st Century tombs just behind and below it, and it has been hallowed by so many centuries of adoration. I wanted to be there like Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses and Salome… I would come to see the miracle—not as surprising or frightening to me as it was to them that first Easter morning—of the empty tomb. What would God reveal to me in such a holy place?
But a weird thing happened in line. There I was, with Christians speaking all sorts of different languages, all focused on the holiest place in our tradition. And people were pushing. I was getting elbowed. And some people were cutting in line. I was filled with righteous anger, feeling like there should be a special place in hell for all those people who would cut in line to see the tomb of Jesus. In my mind, I called them some not nice names. And I angrily thought, “Jesus died for these people?!?”
And that’s what caught me. The voice, as if from God, said, “Yes, Jennifer, Jesus died for these people.”
As obnoxious as they were—and some of them were pretty obnoxious, I got elbowed a bunch of times—Jesus died and rose for them. And as arrogant and obnoxious as I was and am—standing in line to see the empty tomb and mentally raining down nasty names on my neighbors?--Jesus died and rose for me, too. Jesus rose and died for all of us, no matter our sins and imperfections and frailty.
And so all of us get to go today with Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, and come to that empty tomb and discover something unexpected. That was my divine revelation at Christ’s tomb. And when I was a few spaces from the front, and two women desperately asked me if they could go ahead of me because they had a flight to catch and they didn’t know it would take so long and didn’t want to leave Jerusalem without seeing Jesus’ tomb…. I let them. The divine revelation of compassion for my neighbors landed and stuck and bore a little bit of fruit before I ever even got to the tomb.
We don’t see the resurrected Jesus today. The Gospel of Mark, in its original form, has no resurrection; it ends with the passage we just heard today, where the women come upon an empty tomb, and discover a young man in white—we’re probably supposed to understand him as an angel—who tells them three things:
1) Don’t be afraid
2) Jesus has been raised
3) The women have a job to do: tell Peter and the others that Jesus will meet them in Galilee
And then the women are terrified—immediately disobeying point one; and they tell no one, disobeying point three. No word on whether they understood or believed point two.
The last words of Mark’s gospel are “ephobounto gar”—they were afraid. Fear literally has the last word in Mark’s Gospel, with no satisfying glimpse of the resurrected Jesus. We just have to take the young man’s word for it.
The stories of the resurrected Jesus in Matthew and Luke and John are so lovely and speak to what must have been a transformative experience for all Jesus’ followers who saw him. But I think Mark may speak best to our own time. The tomb is empty; we are left in fear; we experience it as a community; and if we want to meet Jesus, we are going to have to take a journey on faith.
Where do you feel fear? What are the things in life that make you want to run away and flee in terror?
Where can you find the faith to make your way to Galilee anyway? Because while fear has the last word in Mark’s gospel, it doesn’t have the last action. The women didn’t stay silent. They did tell what they had seen, and they did go to Galilee and see Jesus. Or we wouldn’t be here.
How did they do that? How were they so afraid, and yet able to not be paralyzed by their fear, but still speak and move?
Mark says today that the women at the tomb were seized with “terror and amazement” at the message of that man in white. A better translation than “terror and amazement” might be “trembling and ecstasy”. The Greek is tromos kai ekstasis. Maybe it was the trembling and ecstasy that pushed the women beyond their fear and their first flight into heeding the angel’s good news.
You know that feeling when you start to see seeds of hope after a long period of despair?or start a new job you’re excited about? Or take on a project that you know will challenge every fiber of your being? That merging of excitement and fear might be “trembling and ecstasy” and that’s the place we are called to be today. God is starting a new thing for every one of us—not just those who are holy, but all of us, no matter how much we push or how much we may find our neighbors irritating. God is starting this new ecstatic community of resurrection, and turning our fear into action.
And it begins here, at Epiphany.
A community that trembles with ecstasy. A community that knows deeply what it is to be afraid—that doesn’t wear rose colored glasses, and sees the daunting reality ahead of us. But also a community that embodies joy from head to toe. A courageous, ecstatic community, continuing the tradition of the Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, by living the gospel, practicing compassion, and loving one another as he loved us. And when we encourage one another like that, it is then that we can proclaim with confidence that Christ is risen… not absent. Because he is here, in our midst, in every one of you, in me, and in all the space in between. So Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!