Easter Sunday April 8, 2012 the shocking truth of it all
Emily Dickinson wrote, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant/ […] as lightening to the children eased with explanation kind/ the Truth must dazzle gradually or every man go blind.” You can be sure the poet meant women too – anyone who sees the Truth not slant, but straight on in all its blinding radiance. The women who arrived at the tomb in the early morning light that first Easter morning are fine examples why Dickinson’s wryly cautioned us to tell the truth slant.
In Mark’s gospel, these women get the Truth – Jesus is alive! – in their face full bore, not slant, and they are terrified. Well, I guess so! That the news came from the lips of a young man dressed in white as angel might, sitting in the tomb, didn’t reduce the terror one bit. “Don’t be amazed.” He says calmly.
Right. The One who was crucified, whose broken, battered, blood drenched body we saw with our own eyes, and whose wounds we are here to tend, is not in this tomb but alive in this world? And, you are telling us so calmly, “don’t be amazed?” Maybe that’s the way they do things where you come from buster, but not here. Don’t be amazed? Who are you kidding? Our knees are buckling, our hands trembling, not to mention our hearts beating wildly trying to keep pace with our brains straining to comprehend what is on the edge of our understanding. He is risen from the dead! What do we do with our spices? We might as well explode here and now. No, that won’t help – so let’s just run away from here as fast possible and figure it out later.
Let the scholars debate over this strange ending of Mark’s gospel, with the women racing away afraid to say a word to anyone. They can puzzle over the various endings that later editors attached to the original to make matters conform with joyous evangelists. I, for one, take comfort in Mark’s original ending because it tells a very human response when confronted, straight on, not slant, by something so astonishing as the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. As our translation put it, the first witnesses left in a state of shock. The traditional translation says they were trembling with astonishment.
Trembling with astonishment. How about that for a honest appraisal of how to live with the news of the resurrection? It is, in fact, something that I can’t comprehend as calmly as the white robed man suggests. Everything about the resurrection fills my life with amazement, wonder and renewed hope that things are possible in this mortal life that I can neither control nor predict or even imagine. The resurrection of Jesus tells me that while the sting of death is real and the powers of death will crucify love, death is not the only story to be told. The resurrection of Jesus invites me to believe that life, God’s life, rises up even in the places of death, that crucified love is still God’s love and it will find a way overturn hatred, enmity and bitter despair. It’s this news of Life Eternal that I cling to in the face of my parishioners and friends who battle with cancer.
Don’t be amazed, said the white robed young man to the women. What? I am constantly amazed by the power of the resurrection that leads believers to practice mercy for the merciless, forgive those who have harmed them, offer hospitality to strangers and immigrants, and generally behave in a way that causes hard boiled cynics to grind their teeth at such foolish, random acts of love and kindness.
Nor do I believe the resurrection of Jesus is merely another fact that we must reduce in size to fit into a scientific paradigm that insists everything in our experience conform to it. Insisting on the scientific facticity of the resurrection is only one way to approach the Christian faith and not necessarily the best way. These are things Emily Dickinson said we must tell slant or they will blind us with their light. The resurrection of Jesus is one of them. It is a fact that will not lie down on the examining table long enough for you, or me or anyone else to do an autopsy.
We can forgive the women at the tomb for being reduced to silence and fear, trembling with astonishment on the edge of the impossible. They were the first to hear it and adjust to a whole new reality.
Today, you have heard the news again, and probably not for the first time.
Let me conclude with short video that may speak to you in a fresh way.
Christ is risen! I dare you to be astonished today.