Awe-fully Afraid, Mark 16:1-8
In the depths of a limestone cave under sinkholes pock-marking Tennessee hills, I crawled. Disrespectful of dark’s danger, I turned the flashlight off. Within the womb of night, I drank from the dread of mystery, not knowing what lurked before me, not seeing my way, and not able to anticipate what was next, I crawled. I drank from imagination’s dreams -- maybe, a new world would be revealed when I switched the flashlight on again, maybe stalactites would become stars and stalagmites mountains and trees. Possibly, in the cave’s new world, I would be transformed. For a few moments I trembled crawling.
Was it a twisted relief felt by Mary, Mary and Salome -- a relief combating their grief? May they have thought? “At least it’s over.” “At least they cannot hurt Jesus anymore.” Perhaps grieving sorrow was more bearable than the trembling anxiety they felt after Jesus was captured in Jerusalem. “At least it’s over now.” Maybe, the sorrow was more bearable than the weeks of exhilaration, the weeks of walking, hearing, and healing with Jesus -- the weeks of partnering with him in transforming the world.
Maybe they thought, “Now, we can’t disappoint him any longer. No longer feel eager expectations that we become like him, that we transform the world with him.” “Once we finish anointing his remnant, his body, we can retreat home, to a semblance of normal life.” “It’s over.”
They had daily trembled with fearful excitement living with son and Rabbi Jesus. He was a dangerously kind man. As blind folk saw, mute folk spoke, hemorrhaging folk were whole, and outcast folk found home, Jesus drew attention, a dangerous attention. As he reformed the teachings of Torah, he challenged the settled boundaries of who was in and who was out. As he re-taught the prophets words, he challenged their culture’s apathy and its sinfully acceptable injustices. As he called and confronted the disciples, he transformed them into newer people. They must have been awe-fully afraid following the rambunctious, miracle-making, breaking down, building up, transformative Jesus.
Tear-streaked Mary, Mary and Salome were miserably grieved and dreadfully ashamed. Jesus said he would be resurrected after three days. But, no one believed him. No disciples camped out at his tomb. No one danced with resurrection hope. None of his beloved watched to see if he could be trusted with the promise of resurrection. They carried the final spices of death.
Through an interpreter, Elena, tear-fully explained how she had lived in terror. During the civil war in El Salvador, the minions of government abducted her husband, her father-in-law, and her son. She had lived in terror worried that they were suffering. She had lived for years with a terrible heartache that she could not find them. She shared the incredible sadness and relief she felt when she learned that her husband and father-in-law had been killed the very day of their abduction. She shared the blossom of hope that they did not find her son’s body with his dad’s. Surely, he was alive. She searches for her son. She builds with other mother’s of El Salvador a country of peace. She dances with resurrection hope.
As sun brightened horizon, Mary, the mother of James, Mary Magdalene and Salome, went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. They worried about opening the tomb, that no one would help them. The heavy stone had already been turned. Ducking their heads they left the morning brightness to crawl into the darkening cave.
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank,… when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her. There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, `Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!'…but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet,… and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge. … down went Alice after it… she found herself falling down a very deep well. … she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything: then she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book-shelves…
Alice fell into Wonderland. Surely, she was awe-fully afraid trembling with the dangerous promise of a brave new world
Looking into the inside, she saw several coats hanging up … She immediately stepped into the wardrobe … It was almost quite dark in there … She took a step further in – then two or three steps … she found she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air. Lucy felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well.
Lucy walked into Narnia. Surely, she was awe-fully afraid trembling with the dangerous promise of a brave new world
It was very dark, and the wind howled horribly around her…After the first few whirls around, and one other time when the house tipped badly, she felt as if she were being rocked gently, like a baby in a cradle. Toto did not like it…Hour after hour passed away, and slowly Dorothy got over her fright…In spite of the swaying of the house and the wailing of the wind, Dorothy soon closed her eyes and fell fast asleep…
She was awakened by a shock…Dorothy sat up and noticed that the house was not moving; nor was it dark, for the bright sunshine came in at the window, flooding the little room…The cyclone had set the house down…in the midst of a country of marvelous beauty.
Dorothy twirled into Oz. Surely, she was awe-fully afraid trembling with the dangerous promise of a brave new world.
Mary, Mary and Salome went into the dark tomb, rather than continuing in darkness, light reflected off a young man’s white robe. The angel of God, spoke and they heard through their trembling, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. … 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.” Christ is risen. Risen indeed.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell explored the powerful patterns of myths and how many cultural stories are rooted in central motifs.
Resurrection’s core myth may be rooted in the mysterious near death experiences of so many who perceive travelling through dark tunnels ending in light. Experiencing new worlds of light, they return to life transformed.
Alice, Lucy and Dorothy, follow a similar mythical pattern rooted in the narrative of Mary, Mary and Salome’s entrance into the tomb and their encounter with resurrection. All of the women travel through tunnels of darkness. They fear. They encounter new worlds, worlds of grand color, extravagant adventure, and serious danger. And they return forever changed. They dance resurrection’s hope.
Mary, Mary and Salome encountered the power of resurrection. Jesus was indeed the Son of God. They encountered the awesome reality that everything Jesus taught and preached was true. It was true that God ushered in a new world. Life should not return to its regular shapes: the division of haves and have nots should not continue to grow, the walls between in-crowd and outcast should not rise, the imperialism of Rome or its successor empires should not exploit.
They encountered resurrection. They encountered the power that created the world and called it good. They encountered the power that divided the Red Sea. They encountered the power that came into the world as Immanuel, God with us. They encountered the power that calmed the raging storm. They encountered the power that crushed South Africa’s Apartheid. Christ is risen, risen indeed.
No wonder the Gospel of Mark ends with fearful silence. They were blown away. Its earliest editions end: “So the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, they were afraid for…” Great fear and excitement animated them. They say nothing to anyone. The passion of God’s resurrection brightness was so powerful it left them tongue-tied. They were not the first to be shocked to silenced. Abraham and Sarah were speechless with laughter when promised a child and descendants like the stars of the sky. Elizabeth’s Zachariah was silenced until his son, John’s, naming ceremony.
The Gospel of Mark ends with the preposition “for.” “So the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, they were afraid for…” The Gospel ends an ellipsis. The story continues. Lucy, Dorothy, and Alice go on to great adventures. Mary, Mary and Salome go on to dance in a brave new world of resurrection. The unnecessary tragedy of Jesus’ assassination did not vanquish God’s ever flowing transformative love. Jesus’s resurrection means the beauty of life’s belovedness continues. Healing continues. Breaking down separating walls continues. Welcoming continues. Peace-making continues.
Be afraid, be very afraid. Be very excited and afraid for we are the children of Easter. We are Easter Children. When we encounter the brave new world of God’s resurrection power, when we encounter the power of the angel’s words, when we encounter the truth of Jesus Christ’s life, we will be shocked, we will tremble and our trembling will shake us into dancing.
With amazement we will dance with Elena finding her son, dance ending violence between Palestine and Israel, in Syria, in Anacostia, dance healing our country of racism and classism, healing rifts in our families, welcoming all people, uplifting the downtrodden. Friends, dance resurrection. Be resurrection. Be transformed. Christ is risen. Risen indeed. He waits for us, he waits for us, he waits for us in the world, bringing to us a fantastic, better than Oz, better than Narnia, better than Wonderland, new world. “Dance Then Wherever you May Be, I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.” Amen.