See! (Don’t) Touch! Tell!
Mark 16:1-8, John 20:1-14
©2021 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones
I confess that I’ve been
sitting on this lectionary conundrum for days now.
If I hadn’t committed weeks ago to the video production
with some of our youth,
I most likely would have left John’s mystically confident resurrection
in favour of Mark’s wary, unfinished, fearful tale instead.
(Where, very quickly,
there is no risen Jesus,
only an empty tomb, and a not-even angelic figure saying
“Jesus has gone to Galilee”
– he’s not even hung around for a verifiable sighting,
and the women who hear and see this absence,
according to Mark, tell no-one because they are too afraid.)
Why would I choose that one, over John’s beautiful certainty?
I have reasons:
Because, here we are again,
our second pandemic Easter, a third wave,
variants of concern, and the likelihood of lockdown for weeks,
if not months to come.
Because in recent days, the outright violence against Asians
hits too damn close to my home, my family,
my Burnaby grandchildren, and I’m mad.
Because eight Canadian women in eight weeks,
120 last year, dead because of conjugal violence.
Because Joyce and Jocelyne,
Because Mamadi Camara, because, George Floyd.
Because so much ugly, so much death, so much systemic intransigence…
so much blaming, cynicism, scapegoating,
and we are all caught up in it, guilty and innocent,
like birds and fish in the toxic sludge of an oil spill,
and it’s killing us,
killing our hope, killing our faith in humanity,
and yes, for some of us,
killing our faith in God’s ability to do anything about any of it,
killing our faith in the truth of this day,
this Easter, this Resurrection thing.
I think our world right now is so like Mark the Gospeller’s world.
He wrote his Gospel of Jesus Christ not in a pandemic,
but in the thick of the violent, final showdown
between almighty Rome and piddly Judea.
The oppressive omnipresence of armed brute squads
invades in this final episode of his Gospel,
as does the existential uncertainty about any future at all.
I guess I’m resonating with Mark, this year, right now,
more than with John’s whimsical, mystical confidence.
Except…. Mark’s ending, that the women were terrified to silence;
that’s not true, is it?
If it were true, we wouldn’t be here.
John’s Gospel wouldn’t have been written
by a later generation.
So what’s happened in the two or three decades
between Mark’s stunned silence
and John’s mystical confidence?
John and his generation are living the far side of disaster.
What has still looming and frightening for Mark has happened.
And it was terrible;
Jerusalem had fallen and the Temple had been obliterated,
and the people dispersed like seeds on the wind.
Now, to be absolutely clear,
when I say that John was writing to a generation
who are living the far side of disaster,
they were not living in utopia either.
John’s world was still full of ugly,
still full of needless death,
and racial bigotry (heck John is even guilty of it himself),
still as prone as our pandemic, climate critical,
racially riven world,
to all the natural and the human disasters
that try to convince us life is hopeless, that death wins.
But…. but this story of the empty tomb,
the declaration that
“He has risen and gone ahead of you,
back to Galilee” has also spread like dandelions in May,
as one after another, people, whole communities of people,
from Jerusalem, and Judea, and across the Easter Mediterranean,
were telling their own personal stories of the truth
known in their bones
of this ridiculous mystery,
that the crucifixion of Jesus was not the end,
that death did not win,
that the tomb did not constrain him,
nor his Gospel of the Dream of God for a redeemed world,
and that the stunned silence of Easter morning’s
was only temporary.
They did speak up.
They spoke out,
and because they did,
there’s a confidence in John’s story
a generation in the making.
His story is not rushed and lean,
but mystical, quiet, assured, dramatic and yet calm,
as in a story that invites us
to feel its truth in our own bodies.
It happens in a garden, as dawn breaks;
when dew unlocks the perfume of grass and olive leaves,
when birds prophesy the breaking day,
when shadows lose their inky blackness to resurrecting colour.
Mary’s determination, tinged with fear.
(Oh my we know what sensation in our gut,
don’t we, facing into horrors we must face, for the sake of love?)
The salt-teared blindness of her grief and distraction,
that leads her,
as it does us too,
to mistake the known one for a stranger.
Then there’s the tone and inflection in a voice,
as the supposed gardener utters her name
as only one person ever could.
Now, there’s the wide-eyesight of recognition
that burns away all doubt,
and as John tells it, there’s that instant
when Mary reaches out to touch, to embrace,
as all of us are aching to do..
And on cue for 2021, John’s Jesus tells her,
“No. Not Yet!”
Instead Jesus appoints her,
Mary, woman, as apostle to the world,
“Go and tell.”
Now, I want to be with Mary Magdalene,
I want to barge through the door,
and like she did, I want to loudly insist
“He is Risen! I have seen! It is true!”
I want to be able to push back against
all the tired, anguished doubt that has built
up in our world in this past year, and longer.
I want the mere sound of my voice
to roll back racism, pandemic,
climate crisis, economic injustice
with a tsunami of apostolic confidence
in God’s resilient power to call dead things back to life….
But I’m with Mark’s mourning women.
I know as they did,
it’s not ever that simple,
the task of resurrection
(not mere restoration)
is going to involve long, hard,
lonely, often misunderstood, frequently undermined,
work to bend that arc another degree back
towards the true north of God’s Dream for our world.
But if I’m with them,
it’s okay, because I know
that they did speak up, and speak out,
they got on with the work of resurrection.
As shall I.