As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe sitting to the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you. So they went out and fled the tomb, for terror and amazement has seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
- Mark 16:5-7
There are times when the language of the atmosphere speaks to the deepest conundrums of our lives. The language of the atmosphere is music, and there is a song, "God is Good," that has carried me through the past few weeks. It is a simple song, but the message is an instructive invitation to live our faith out loud. The lyrics by Jonathan McReynolds are:
"May your struggles keep you near the cross,
May your troubles show that you need God,
And may your battles end the way they should,
And may your bad days prove that God is good,
And may your whole life prove that God is good."
The song speaks of the battles, struggles, and bad days life often brings, and yet it also invites us to live through them, proclaiming that God is good – that God is good. Those lyrics move me significantly in this season because there is no way to pretend that we are not still living in difficult times. Every day brings news of more loss. Each week opens the door to a greater distortion of the truth. Each month chronicles more delay, another postponement, another expectation unfulfilled. The pain is real and unrelenting at times and there is no veneer that will offer a Hollywood ending.
The events of the tomb, as told in the Gospel of Mark, do not provide a very satisfying ending, either. The narrative begins in concert with the other resurrection stories as we see the women approaching the tomb to care for Jesus’s body. They arrive and find the heavy lifting literally accomplished and they are greeted by an angelic figure who offers comfort for their fear and an answer for their unasked question.
“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”
But, unlike the narrative in Matthew, the women do not leave the tomb with joy after encountering the risen Christ. In the Markan telling, they flee “for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” In the shorter version of Mark, which scholars believe is the most accurate ending of this synoptic Gospel, fear seems to have the final word.
And yet, this Easter story is perhaps exactly what we need at this moment. Easter was not a triumphal moment in the lives of the early followers. Easter was a faith-testing, fear-inducing cataclysmic encounter. Easter is not a quaint service filled with lilies and new patent leather sandals and hallelujah choruses. Easter is a revolutionary belief in a scandalous Savior who breaks into human history and redeems it despite present circumstances. The women flee, which is a very human response, and they do not encounter another event that will transform their consternation to celebration. The only means available to them is their faith in God. The God who brought Jesus into their midst against the plans of the empire; the God who empowered Jesus to perform miracles; the God whom Jesus testified to is the God they must now trust. The only antidote to their fear is faith.
We have yet to emerge fully from the grips of the coronavirus. The toll it is taking on families, communities, and the economy is still palpable. Our faith communities continue to wrestle with the complexities of in-person worship. Violence is still prevalent in our streets, whether that is evidenced through random gun violence, attacks on Asian-Americans, or the conflicts gripping the globe. The pandemic of racial unrest and injustice is yet before us, most significantly as Derek Chauvin stands trial for the death of George Floyd. The denomination continues to postpone our global and jurisdictional gatherings, further frustrating our quadrennial calendars. As much as we would like for there to be an event that brings all of this to a pleasant conclusion, no such event is coming. And many stand afraid.
Our faith in God, the God who has never left nor forsaken us, the God who has proven faithful in every circumstance heretofore, the God who has continually made a way out of no way, will once again make a way for us. We stand on the promises of God – not human events. As Father Richard Rohr teaches, “Suffering, of course, can lead us in one of two directions. It can make us very bitter and close us down, or it can make us wise, compassionate, and utterly open. Our hearts open either because they have been softened, or perhaps because suffering makes us feel like we have nothing more to lose. It often takes us to the edge of our inner resources where we 'fall into the hands of the living God'." (Hebrews 10:31). In the words of the song, our struggles keep us near the cross.
Even as the cancer diagnosis continues, we know that God is with us.
Even as the job offer has not yet come, we know that God is with us.
Even as the marriage ends in divorce, we know that God is with us.
Even as the date for the vaccination continues to be pushed back, we know that God is with us.
Even as we are not able to gather in our sanctuaries for another Easter celebration, we know that God is with us and that God is good.
Even as the vicissitudes of life continue to be what they will always be, may we yet extol and proclaim that God is good. May our faithfulness never waver, and may even our bad days prove that God is good, and may our whole lives prove that God is good.
Christ is risen, Christ is risen, indeed!
God is good!
Blessings and peace,