Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD
Romans 6.3-11 - Psalm 114 - Mark 16.1-8
CHRIST IS RISEN, ALLELUIA! HE IS RISEN INDEED, ALLELUIA!
Today we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ – the climax of the Incarnation.
The incarnation you say? I thought that happened at Christmas! But the Incarnation encompasses the whole of the gospel narrative, which taken together begins while Jesus is still in Mary’s womb, and does not end until the Ascension.
In fact, we can go even further and say that the Incarnation begins in the heart of God at the creation of the world, and does not reach its completion until the second coming of Christ, with the fulfilment of God’s purpose. That is why, at the Easter Vigil, we begin our readings with the creation story from Genesis and end with the glorious prophecy from Zephaniah about the final gathering together of God’s people.
At the climax of all those readings we encounter the gospel – the high point of our celebration and the climax of the mystery of the Incarnation.
However, Mark’s account of the resurrection of Jesus seems like a distinct anti-climax. Mary Magdalene and the other women run away and say nothing. It does not seem to convey the power and joy and enthusiasm that we like to associate with Easter. Instead, it sounds more like the spiritual experiences of many of us, or of most of us at one time or another – full of fear and doubt and confusion.
The women had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, and on their way asked each other, “who will roll away the stone from the tomb for us?” They are worried – they have a service to perform for Jesus, both required by Jewish burial custom and even more important, an act of love for this man who had been both an intimate friend and a spiritual leader. And they don’t know how they’re going to do it.
Well, as we often do, they have worried for nothing. The stone is already rolled away. They have asked, “how will we ever accomplish this?” and they find it is done for them. This in itself would have unsettled them. But then when they see a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting in the tomb, they would have been not only confused, but terrified – or as Mark puts it in his typically understated way, “alarmed.”
“Don’t be alarmed,” he says. “Don’t be afraid,” the angel said to Mary when she was told she was going to bear the Messiah. “Don’t be afraid,” the angel said to Joseph when he heard that Mary was going to have a baby. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled or afraid,” Jesus said to the disciples.
How many times have you heard someone say to you, “don’t be afraid”? In the psychologically sophisticated culture we live in, we might be prone to say, “Don’t tell me not to feel my feelings,” or “Don’t tell me there is something wrong with my feeling afraid. I’m afraid, period.” And this is often valid.
Jesus never belittled or discounted peoples’ feelings. But he did challenge them; he often challenged the false thinking that leads to fear. That is what the angel is doing here. “Don’t be afraid,” he says, “there is truth here you don’t know yet – he has been raised . . . and he is going ahead of you to Galilee, and you will see him there.”
However, instead of joyfully running to tell the disciples what they have discovered, Mark tells us, “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.”
Happily for us, this is not the end of the story. As Mark himself and the other gospel writers tell us, the women and the other disciples do meet Jesus, in a number of ways and circumstances over the next weeks. Their encounters with Jesus are so powerful, and so compelling, that they could not stop telling the story. And so the Christian church is born.
The experience of the women is a lot like our own lives. We are so often clueless about what is really going on, not seeing the truth, overcome with fear and uncertainty. And then there are other times when we have clarity and confidence in God, ourselves, our sense of mission in the world. For each of us, this may differ from year to year, from season to season of our lives.
But the liturgical year is not always in synch with our personal rhythms. Right now some among us may be experiencing the joy of Easter, a sense of renewed hope and creative expectations. “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” may be just exactly what you feel like saying.
Others may be experiencing a great grief, or illness or unhappiness, and no amount of saying “Christ is risen” is going to make you feel better today. But the resurrection is about more than feelings, more than our current situations.
The promise of the resurrection is that in the body of Christ, the Christian community, we care for each other, mourn together, and rejoice together. If the resurrection means anything, it means that Christ lives in each one of us, and that we are called to be Christ for each other. Together we can remove obstacles for each other, and walk with each other through the darkness until we come to our moment of light and life.
Paul says in the letter to the Romans: “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” And this union with Christ takes place within the body of Christ itself. It is the whole body that suffers with Jesus through his passion, and it is the whole body of Christ that celebrates his resurrection. We don’t each do it on our own.
And that is the significance of that great hymn, the Exultet, which was sung this morning. It is the church, indeed the whole creation and the very cosmos, which celebrates the resurrection of Christ. You personally, at this moment, may not feel resurrected. You may be going through your own passion. But the body of Christ is celebrating the truth of the Resurrection, which in turn gives hope to each one who cannot experience personal resurrection at this time.
And so we are called to be messengers – angels of life, proclaiming what the angel said to the three women: “I know he is raised. You may not know yet. But in saying ‘Don’t be afraid,’ I am saying to you, ‘this is the truth, and some day you will know too.’”
And some day you will be the angel in the tomb, proclaiming to someone else, “He has risen, and has gone ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
– Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD