women at the empty tomb

Sunday, April 4, 2021

The women were focused on practical matters.  Buying the right combination of spices to anoint the body.  Getting up early in the morning.  Worrying about how to move a heavy stone.

That’s a kind of faith in and of itself – attending to what has to be done, even if you’re not sure how to remove the obstacles in your path.  But you get up early in the morning and you do the next task that’s in front of you because it’s all you know to do.  It’s all you cando.

We’ve done so much of that this past year.  We’ve dealt with so many practical matters.  We figured out Zoom.  We learned to wear masks.  We washed our hands again and again.  We navigated grocery stores that were not built for social distancing. We figured out how to get a vaccine appointment.  We did online school.  Online work.  Online worship.  Online everything.

It’s what we do when we’re not sure what else to do.  We focus on the practical matters. 

There was a meme that circulated a lot early in the pandemic.  I taped it to my wall for several weeks because I found it helpful.  It sorted things into two categories: “Things I can control” and “Things I cannot control.”  “Things I cannot control” included: the amount of toilet paper in the store, the actions of others, predicting what will happen, how long this will last.  “Things I can control,” which the graphic encouraged me to focus on, included turning off the news, my own social distancing, finding things to do at home, and my kindness and grace.

I imagine a version of this diagram for the women who head to the tomb as the sun rises.  They cannot control the violent death of their beloved friend and teacher.  They cannot control their grief.  They can control getting the spices, getting up early, getting to the graveyard to anoint the body.

And that’s when everything is thrown into turmoil.  They show up, and nothing that they thought was in their control actually is.  The big stone has been rolled away.  But there’s nothing to anoint.  No body.  No sign of Jesus anywhere.

The young man dressed in the white robe says the right things – “Do not be alarmed.  Jesus is not here.  He has been raised.”  But it’s so confusing.

And of course the one thing that in this strange moment is within their control to do – to go and tell the others – they don’t do.  They’re afraid.  They are filled with terror and amazement.

Other writers tried to add a more happy, more tidy conclusion to the Gospel of Mark.  But scholars agree that the original ending is what we heard this morning.  I’ve always loved this messy, open-ended ending, but I especially love it this year.  This account of resurrection is so fitting for the time we are in.  We understand what it feels like not to get the ending we expect.  We know what it feels like to keep searching for hope in the midst of confusion.

The women feel both terror andamazement.  And so do we.

We are many centuries beyond that moment in the empty tomb, and yet we feel that strange mix of emotions.  Terror and amazement.

We’re terrified that things might never go back to normal.

We’re amazed at what we used to consider normal.

We’re terrified that we’ve forgotten how to be around people.

We’re amazed by the time we’ve had with our closest people.

We’re terrified that the variants of the virus will outpace the vaccine.

We’re amazed how quickly the vaccines have been developed.

We’re terrified that this year might change us forever.

We terrified that it won’t change us at all.

We’re amazed that we’ve been able to adapt.

We’re amazed that we’re still here.

We, like the women at the tomb, have come to realize that we can control much less than we thought we could.

We hold so many things swirling in our hearts that we don’t know how we can contain it all.  Confusion and curiosity. Despair and hope.  Grief and love.  It’s all there, and it’s all messy, and it’s what makes us human.  We can only hold it with and for one another and trust that God is with us as we live it.

Because when you can’t control much of anything, you have to focus on what you know.

What we know is that eventually the women told someone.  That’s why we have this story at the heart of our faith.

We know that God is a God who brings life out of death…peace out of chaos…justice out of oppression…promise out of a pandemic.

We know that nothing can prevail against a God who makes resurrection possible.

We know that it’s our turn to add our part to the story, to go and tell what God has done…even if our voices are shaking with terror and amazement.

There’s an Easter blessing by Jan Richardson that I love.  It seems to me to be addressed both to those women standing in the empty tomb and also addressed to us standing in the emptiness of this moment.  So, as I read it, imagine it speaking to the women and speaking to you.

Seen: A Blessing for Easter Day by Jan Richardson

You had not imagined

that something so empty

could fill you

to overflowing,

and now you carry

the knowledge

like an awful treasure

or like a child

that roots itself

beneath your heart:

how the emptiness

will bear forth

a new world

that you cannot fathom

but on whose edge

you stand.

So why do you linger?

You have seen,

and so you are

already blessed.

You have been seen,

and so you are

the blessing.

There is no other word

you need.

There is simply

to go

and tell.

There is simply

to begin.

She’s right.  We stand on the edge of a new world, one we can’t yet fathom.  What will be our story of this time?  What will be our story of faith?  How will we carry that blessing into the next season?

It’s time to go and tell.  It’s time to begin.  Amen.

S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ

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