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"Fear and Trembling/Say Something" by Claire Helton

Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought perfumed oils so that they could anoint Jesus. Very early, just after sunrise on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked, they found that the huge stone had been rolled back. On entering the tomb, they saw a young person sitting at the right, dressed in a white robe. They were very frightened, but the youth reassured them: “Do not be amazed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the One who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. Now go and tell the disciples and Peter, ‘Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see him just as he told you.’” They made their way out and fled from the tomb bewildered and trembling; but they said nothing to anyone, because they were so afraid.


This is our most sacred story,

Thanks be to God.


Sermon

They said nothing to anyone,

because they were so afraid.

This is one of our sacred stories;

Thanks be to God.

They said nothing to anyone,

because they were so afraid.

This is our most sacred story.

Alleluia. Amen?

When the Sabbath was over,

the women brought spices

because that was what they knew to do.

They arrived at the tomb,

uncertain how they would even

approach the task,

knowing a boulder stood, sturdy and sure,

between

their willing hands

and the sacred work

they came to do:

the tending of the scarred

and lifeless body

of the one

who had showed them

how to live.

They were looking for

many things,

closure,

a chance to feel they’d

fulfilled an obligation,

a few more moments

in his presence

or the presence of what

used to be him,

a chance to think

with their hands occupied,

a break from the men

who’d been thrown into a

whirlwind

of questions about their own

roles, now,

and who all of a sudden

weren’t quite so sure

as Jesus had been

about these women

and what their role would be now

(they never would be again)

They walked in the darkness

preceding the dawn

arm in arm,

for the pain was still raw,

each holding the other up

from one step

to the next

until they could finish

the work.

Afraid of the darkness

that surrounded them

three women, alone,

out among the tombs;

afraid of the political pushback

that awaited the more zealous

disciples

who had spent the day before

raving about revenge;

afraid of the emptiness

ravaging their spirits,

the gaping hole that was now laid bare

where vision

and purpose

used to live

These women had much cause

to fear

long before they laid eyes

on the stone:

the stone,

out of place

the stone,

rolled away

the stone which no longer contained

the Stone the builders had rejected

the stone which was not where it should be

turning their expectations

upside down

the stone

which marked

this moment

holy

They said nothing to anyone,

because they were so afraid.

This is one of our sacred stories;

Thanks be to God.

They said nothing to anyone,

because they were so afraid.

This is our most sacred story.

Alleluia. Amen.

I’m not sure what it means

that Mark’s story

ends here:

they were afraid,

and did not open their mouths.

Not sure

what Mark meant us to hear

in the void

where proclamation

might have been

but I do know this:

it feels true.

I’ve been

more afraid

of the hopeful unknown

than of the certainty

even of death,

at times,

I have known what it is

to feel more afraid

of this

mystery

than the full force

of his death

what I mean is

sometimes it costs more

to acknowledge

that this isn’t over

that the work goes on,

that it will require more of me,

sometimes it

requires so much

that the pain

of saying goodbye

seems an easier price to pay

The finality of a cross is hard

but then it’s over

This empty tomb is less

an exclamation point

than a perpetual blank

waiting to be filled in.

What this empty tomb tells me

is that the story isn’t finished

and while that’s good news

it also puts me back on the hook

and if I buy that

it won’t be easy

it will require something of me

it will require everything of me

It might even require me

to say something

for if this gospel has nothing

to say

to the world

then it is no gospel at all

for generations crying out

for the church to

say something

for their peers to

say something

do something

do anything

other than cover our eyes

and ears

and move along

as if nothing is wrong

the good news

in order to be good

must have

something to say

to the poor

to the outcast

to the ones who are hurting

to the ones who are

under someone’s thumb

under someone’s knee

under anyone’s power but their own

if the church has nothing

to say

when we see

the abuse of power

at the expense of the powerless

then we have left Jesus

up on the cross

So when we tell his story

when we talk about Jesus

let's agree not to

crucify him

over

and over

to emphasize

Christ crucified

to the point that

the living Christ

can’t get a word in

edgewise,[i]

the Christ who lived

and breathed

and taught about

banquets for lepers

and unseating

the powerful

from their thrones

He had plenty to say

about the upside-down

kingdom of God

about the last

being first

(and it wasn’t a metaphor)

He had plenty to say

about releasing the prisoners

and feeding the hungry

and loving the stranger

He had plenty to say

about those who

avoided these clarion calls

in favor of

a more traditional,

respectable faith.

When we tell this story

may we open ourselves

to be drawn

like the women

on that early Easter morning

toward the emptiness

of the tomb

toward that pulsing

blinking

cursor

waiting for us

to enter

and finish the story

to fill in the blank

for isn’t that what Mark’s ending

to his gospel

truly invites?

They said nothing to anyone,

because they were afraid.

Clearly it can’t be so,

or else, why are we here?

They said something

to someone

eventually.

And whatever it was

it was powerful enough

that we are here

talking about it

today.

May the church today,

likewise,

find

something to say

before those who need

its all-encompassing grace

most deeply

lose heart

and walk away.

And if we don’t know

what to say

may we let our lives speak

listening deeply

to the places we’ve been wounded

to the hurts that have shaped us

listening now

not only for the sake

of our own healing

but for the healing

of the world

They said nothing to anyone,

because they were so afraid.

This is one of our sacred stories;

They said nothing to anyone,

because they were so afraid.

This is our most sacred story.

Alleluia. Amen.

Thanks be to God,

who encompasses our fear

who stands

alongside us

staring down

the abyss

of what

darkness surrounds us

for there is

much

to fear,

and yet we are not

overcome.

Thanks be to God

Who bears with us

in the face of

our sorrow

who bears us up

as we reach for the words

we do not know yet

how to speak,

the words

that bring

fullness of life

from the emptiness

of a tomb.

Amen.

[i] Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed (New York: Henry Holt, 2001), 68-69.

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