"Witness to the Resurrection"
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
April 1, 2018—Easter B
“He has been raised, he is not here. Go … and tell!”
But they don’t tell. At least, in the oldest version of Mark’s story that we have, they don’t. And the best explanation we have for the fact that they don’t tell, the fact that they don’t run out and proclaim this good news for three more wonderful chapters, is that Mark wants to make it perfectly clear that the task actually belongs to US.
We behold the empty tomb. We catch sight of new beginnings where we thought there was only tragic ending. We are presented with the miracle of the risen Christ, and we are told: Go and tell! Be the witness. Carry good news to a world that needs it so very desperately. Go … and tell!
This is the sacred task that God places in our hands: to see and to tell. But, like the women, we are afraid. Like them, perhaps, we aren’t always so sure what it is that we’ve seen … or what it could all possibly mean.
Because witnessing things is harder than it sounds. Our brains and emotions get jumbled up in all sorts of ways. My favorite example of this has always been my priest friend Elizabeth going into a store with her husband Mac. She’s wearing her clergy collar, and he’s just dressed in regular clothes. The salesperson looks from one to the other of them a couple times … stops a minute … and then asks Mac, “Are you a priest?”
There’s what our eyes behold, and what our brain allows us to see. We have difficulty processing things that run counter to our experience and expectation. So the task of bearing witness to an empty tomb is no small thing. Because first, we have to allow ourselves to see it; have to be able to recognize a flare of hope arising in the cold, dark stones of despair.
And then, we actually have to believe it. Because we’ll be terrible witnesses otherwise. Reading someone else’s script about what resurrection is, what it means, what it looks like? The jury will discount us immediately. So we have to see it, and we have to be able to truly believe in it. Have to be able to proclaim its power, even if others scoff at our tale.
And they might. Because the sorrows of this world loom so large. And even if we ourselves are not overcome by despair, it can feel a little glib to proclaim the ultimate victory of life over death into so much, well, into so much death. Just the other day in our bible study, we were discussing a loved one who has suffered from acute depression for years and years and years. Decades, actually: so much emotional pain, lifting for just short periods before descending again. And in the face of such things, we should all be very cautious about reassurances that come too easy. The reality is, this might well be a life-long struggle. The reality is, there are people destroyed by war, disease, and addiction. The reality is that some of us are criminals, some of us are betrayers, some of us are abusers. Which is to say that very bad things happen. Which is to say that some of us make very bad choices. And we can’t just wave a magic wand and assure everyone that this is passing, that this doesn’t matter, doesn’t hurt, isn’t unfair. It might not pass. It does matter. It hurts. It might well be unfair.
And yet. And yet … that is not the only story. Life breaks through. Life is determined to break through, in some way, in some form. Sometimes in very small ways, of course. Sometimes resurrection is so unbearably small that we can hardly see it, hardly recognize it. But it is there, declaring that death and despair are not the only players on the field.
Like the haunting music described by British author Terry Pratchett in his book Soul Music: It was “… sad music. But it waved the sadness like a battle flag. It said the universe had done all it could but you were still alive.”
Sometimes, that’s just about what resurrection looks like: that death does its worst, but life is still standing. Still pushing up shoots. Still flickering in the darkness and thawing the edges of the frozen ground.
That much, perhaps, we can see. That much, we can see and proclaim without glibness, without brushing away the very real presence of suffering in this world. That, we can perhaps bear witness to with conviction. Because, small as it is, it’s actually incredible. And if it doesn’t seem incredible to you, then perhaps you have never lived in a world that seems so messed up that even a glimmer of hope blazes like an eternal flame.
But that’s not possible. Because the world has always looked like it’s going to hell in a handbasket. The world has always provided enough death and suffering and depravity within your sights to make you ache. To make you weep. To make you despair.
So, even if you don’t have to suffer through the Black Death, or civil war, or slavery, or grinding poverty … even if you live in a world with indoor plumbing, and antibiotics, and the right to vote (which we do, and dear Lord, we should rejoice in that good fortune!) … the truth is, we can still only encounter the world through our own lived experience. And so we still see and feel the death, the suffering, the injustice of OUR world. And it makes us ache and weep and despair.
But if we are willing, we can also see the life. We can see the kindness. We can see the myriad ways people are fighting for justice, for fairness, for opportunity and prosperity and innovation. We can see the ways in which the world is continually being reborn and remade and renewed.
We can look into what we had thought was solely a place of death and despair, and know that life will spring forth. Against all odds. Against all expectation.
Which is to say, we see Jesus, walking out of that tomb. We see it, just as the disciples saw it. The disciples, who weren’t actually there to see it either. But they knew. They knew. Because we all know resurrection when we see it. We just have to be bold enough to proclaim it, crazy enough to proclaim it, hopeful enough to proclaim it, even in a reality that seems to deny it.
Jesus walked out of that tomb. God raised Jesus from the dead. To proclaim that death and destruction do not have the last word. To insist that violence and despair do not have the last word. To proclaim that fear and self-preservation do not have the last word; limits and endings and defeat do not have the last word. To proclaim that the last word belongs to GOD, and that word is LIFE. That word is regeneration. That word is resurrection.
Learn to see. Be brave enough to proclaim. Go forth as a witness, and give the good news as a gift to the world. Alleluia, May it be so. Amen!