Easter 2020

April 12, 2020

I always hate it when the Christmas creche has both the shepherds and magi (sometimes with the Little Drummer Boy thrown in for good measure) gathered around the infant Jesus. No, I am not really the Christmas grinch. Of the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) only Matthew and Luke mention any birth narratives. These two gospels were most likely composed at least half a century after the birth of Jesus, thus the supposed “Matthew” and “Luke” were pseudonyms for later evangelists. And they each had their own unique spin on this story.

“Luke” is considered the gospel of the poor, so it is not surprising to see the shepherds, poorest of the poor, walking in from the distant fields, probably with sheep dung still on their sandals. “Matthew” was trying to convince fellow Jews to accept Jesus as the Christ, as he saw in the Hebrew Scriptures. So he had some magi from a far distant land, of a different religion, come to do obeisance and worship the new-born babe. So when we mash them all together we end up with theological baby pablum, rather than the rich theological stew flavored by different and rich perspectives.

It is the same with, the Easter narratives, where all four of the canonical evangelists have accounts. In “Matthew”, we witness Mary Magdalene and the other Mary coming to the tomb to witness an earthquake, an angel rolling away the stone to proclaim that Jesus is risen, and then Jesus himself shows up in person. This is ready for Cecil B. De Mille on the big movie screen.

“Luke”, contemporaneous with “Matthew,” (around 80CE) shows the stone already rolled away, the body gone, and two men in brilliant clothes announcing the resurrection.

“John”, the latest canonical gospel to make the cut, written possibly as late is 100 CE, has the stone rolled away and the tomb empty.

“Mark”, however, is the one I want to turn to today, even though, for liturgical purists, it is not the one for Cycle A in the lectionary. The longer amended version that was written much later and is the one in the official canon has Jesus revealing himself to the women, the Eleven apostles still in hiding, telling them all to go out into the whole world to preach the good news. And they did.

I am, however, especially today when the whole world is in turmoil, in the grip of failing leadership and an ever-encroaching pandemic whose power is seemingly unstoppable, more interested in the original ending of Mark’s gospel, as the almost-unanimous voice of biblical scholars affirm:

“And the women came out and ran away from the tomb because they were frightened out of their wits and they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” (Mk. 16:8, New Jerusalem Bible).

Isn’t this where many of us are today? Hopefully, most of us are sheltering in place, wearing masks and gloves if we dare to go out for an increasingly shorter list of essential tasks, hoarding food and toilet paper, obsessively checking in many times a day with friends and family, watching the stock market fall almost every day if we are fortunate enough to have extra money invested, many wondering if we will have the promised money from the federal government as many of us are laid off or fired, worrying if we might be evicted for non-payment of rent or mortgages, horrified at the lack of desperately needed medical equipment and hospital beds, wondering if a cough or slight fever signals the beginning of our end…and the list keeps lengthening.

In “John”s first pastoral letter, he proclaims “In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18, New Jerusalem Bible). I have struggled with that verse, now more than ever. Because, like the women in the original end of Mark’s gospel I stand at the empty tomb and I am both confused and scared out of my wits and do not know what to preach, or to simply run away. I am not like John. I am finding that my love is not “perfect” enough to drive out my doubt and fear. And yet, when I see and feel and am impacted personally by the disordered and chaotic and deadly state of the world, I still stand there, proclaiming through my doubt and fear that love will win.

So, let us not be crippled or sidelined by our own anxieties, doubts fears, but, in the midst of them keep standing at the empty tomb, still scared out of our wits perhaps (who could blame us?) and, maybe even in whispered or mumbled words, quavering with hesitation, proclaim that somehow, somewhere, everywhere, in any and all circumstances, love always wins.


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