By Catherine Clark-Nance
Date Delivered: April 16, 2006
Whew! I feel like we’re in a hurry, a big rush; not only because we’ve got three services back to back, but because we’re reading the resurrection story from Mark’s gospel and Mark is in a hurry. Not a lot of conversation in Mark, just a lot of action. Not a lot of description and editorial – just the facts. And if you’ve read Mark’s gospel, you know that his gospel is full of “immediately.” Jesus “immediately” went and did this. The disciples “immediately” went there. People are moving abruptly it seems. Mark even ends his gospel abruptly; so abruptly, in fact, that folks added to it later. That’s why there’s a space in your Bible between verses 8 and 9 or there are brackets starting at verse 9 and an explanation saying that these verses were not found in the earliest manuscripts. We could read the longer ending, but somehow, it wouldn’t sound like Mark. It doesn’t have the same urgency and immediacy. Mark’s ending leaves his listeners hanging.
Art Pickle just read the story to you. I love the way he reads; takes his time, speaks very carefully. Art will not let us rush through this text and I appreciate that, because if we read it too quickly, we always see the women scurrying, hurrying, rushing to the tomb. But we hear something in their conversation this morning that is not immediately,but a foreboding. When I thought of Art reading this scripture, I couldn’t help but think of Art’s knowing how the women would be walking. You see, Art is a funeral director and we so appreciate the way he ministers to people at a time of loss with his deliberate calmness and comfort. Art is used to seeing people coming to the funeral home to see the body – just as these women were doing – and voices are not animated and people are not rushing in. There is a sadness. There is a slowness.
I can imagine these women walking toward the tomb with their spices and ointments, saying “Who will roll away the stone for us?” It dawns on them that what their doing is futile. There’s no point. Here they are, prepared to do something, to see Jesus’ body, and there’s no way on earth it’s going to happen. As they ask the question, “Who will roll away the stone for us?”, they know there will be no one to help. Who would help them? But they continue walking with their task at hand, knowing that it’s useless.
I think of other women walking toward something and yet knowing at the same time that it is pointless; overwhelmed with the utter futility of their actions, yet having no other choice but to keep going. A mother in Africa carrying her baby who is HIV-positive in her arms, walking to the makeshift clinic where there might be some medicine. A woman walking in circles around a refugee camp in Darfur – most of her family dead and yet here she is. A man standing in line at the FEMA office, again …. waiting on more verification for something. A woman dropping her child off at school and then hurrying to get to work, sighing, putting her makeup on in the car, thinking, “Here we go again. Another day.”
People who are without hope, without anything, going on about their tasks. Doing the best they can on their own.
We who have already heard Mark’s story are thankful that he doesn’t spend time at all describing the women and sharing more of the conversation, because we want them to hurry up and get to the tomb. Look! Your question about the stone – it’s irrelevant! Look! Jesus is not here. He is risen! We almost chuckle to ourselves when we hear them ask the question. Leaning over to the person who hasn’t seen the movie yet – pay attention. This is important.
Resurrection makes their question irrelevant. Resurrection turns their futility into hope and joy.
But what about these other women? What about other women, men and children who are just walking toward something because there is no where else to walk and nothing else to do. What does resurrection mean to them?
I was at ministers’ meeting this past week where we watched a video of a conversation between theologians discussing resurrection and what it means for us. A man with a British accent, a woman who is a Lutheran, and another man who kept talking about sin. (not a very exciting video) I was thinking, “This is good of Ken (our district superintendent) to help us think about resurrection on Thursday before Easter; but we’ll say what we always say – Jesus died and was raised; therefore when we die we will be raised also. Then I heard Tom Wright, (the British accent guy), who is bishop of Durham in the Church of England, say “For those of you who are preaching Easter Sunday, please note that the resurrection stories in the Gospels do not say Jesus is raised, therefore we’re going to heaven or therefore we’re going to be raised.” (My ears perked up) Bishop Wright continued…. “They say Jesus is raised, therefore God’s new creation has begun and we’ve got a job to do.”
A job? What? Can’t we just say, “Jesus died and therefore we’re going to heaven?”
But it says it plain as day in Mark’s gospel. Mark is a master storyteller. We know that the first hearers of his gospel were just that. Hearers – not readers. Sometimes we read too fast to get it. Mark frames his whole gospel: what he says at the beginning connects to the end. The story he tells second will connect with the story next to the end, and so on. It’s a way to help listeners remember what they’ve heard. Mark doesn’t say “Jesus is raised from the dead, now go home and have personal devotion time.” Mark says, “Jesus is raised – go to Galilee.” What? Galilee? We remember that from the very beginning of Marks’ gospel. That’s where Jesus arrived on the scene and announced that the Kingdom of God is near. Now we’re at the end of the story and he reminds us of Galilee – and can it be, the Kingdom of God is HERE? Has God indeed done a new thing?
Last week I attended an event in Johnson City – “Healthy Congregations”. It was worth 6/10 of a continuing education credit; Elaine was going; I’m interested in health care – so I went. Not sure what I was expecting – but it wasn’t what I was expecting. An exhibit hall was filled with displays of churches across Holston conference and the programs and ministries they were involved in. One church picks up women who are living below the poverty level – picks them up with their dirty laundry and takes them to the Laundromat, helps them fold their clean clothes, and takes them home. There were displays from Habitat for Humanity and the American Cancer Society, Mental Health networks. All kinds of agencies.
There were doctors and parish nurses and directors of county health departments and epidemiologists, social workers and church volunteers and clergy. And our Bishop was there. (Always good to be somewhere the Bishop is. Be seen, you know.)
The first man that spoke teaches at the Rollins School of Public health of Emory University. He is Gary Gunderson. And he works with the Center for Disease Control; he’s the director of Interfaith Health Program. He talked about new ways for churches to talk about health. He talked about the epidemiologists who are always tracking disease, and got us to think about looking for patterns of health. This man is also a UM minister. He knew his medical facts; knew his theology. Good stuff. I was writing furiously. (feeling good about my granola bar I had for lunch). This would be good for a small group study. Our church is pretty healthy. We could get into this.
Then the next speaker was Dr. Kenneth Robinson, our own Commissioner for the Tennessee Dept of Health. He got his MD from Harvard, a very knowledgeable man. So happens he is a minister also, in the AME church in Memphis. He got to preaching about how we need to do more for our people and people in our community, about health education and disease prevention. I was nodding my head. Yeah, those are some scary statistics – children who don’t make it to their first birthday because of poor pre-natal health. Glad our church isn’t in an area affected by all of that. Poverty and all. He got to preaching. I wished some of my fellow clergy from the poorer ends of the Oak Ridge District could have been there to hear him. There’s a lot to be done. Glad everybody at our church has health insurance.
Then Bishop Swanson got up. “We’ve got work to do.” (Don’t make eye contact with the bishop). We’ve got work to do. Oh bishop, please don’t look at me. I just want to go back and do a small group study on the semantics of health care.
What was it that Bishop Wright said about preaching on Easter Sunday? “Jesus is raised, therefore God’s new creation has begun and we’ve got a job to do.” Oh, it would be so much easier just to preach about heaven. But Mark calls us to Galilee. Calls us to those places where people have not heard Good News – not just about personal salvation but about the new earth that God has ushered in.
We as a church have got to preach good news – not just about personal salvation and Jesus loves me – but the good news of what God has done in this resurrection. In Resurrection, God said “NO” to death; God said, The principalities and kingdoms and powers and dominions that you think rule this earth do not rule. My kingdom will prevail and does prevail.” God said the way you think things have always been – aren’t going to be that way anymore. What we learn about God in resurrection is that God says, “This is a day of new beginnings! Life triumphs over death! Hope triumphs over despair! Justice and mercy are the rule of the day and not inequity and greed!” So we send money and people and ideas and challenges to Africa where a woman stands in line with her sick baby. We send money and prayers and people and Frisbees to refugee camps in the Sudan and challenge the governments who allow genocide. We send people and supplies and prayers to Biloxi. We minister to people who are just trying to get through each day. Resurrection has happened and we’ve got a job to do.
We need to hurry up and sing this last hymn – we’ve got to get to Galilee!