Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage (Mark 16:1-20) transports me to the old South plantations where field slaves would sing spirituals, sometimes to ease the burden of the work, sometimes to send coded messages about impending escape plans, and sometimes to inspire hope for deliverance. One of the songs they sang asked the simple question, were you there? and told the story of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. The slaves could certainly identify with the suffering savior and the sun’s refusal to shine. And they had hopes of identifying with the risen Christ who escaped the tomb. The hopes and fears of their lives were captured in the simple response of the song’s refrain, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Mark’s final chapter contains a curious note. The two Mary’s (mother of Jesus and Magdalene) make their way to the tomb and are alarmed to find the stone rolled away. When the angel proclaims the good news of resurrection to them, the two women flee from the scene trembling and bewildered, saying nothing to anyone, because they are afraid. Their initial response to the power of the resurrection reminds me of Marianne Williamson’s quote from her book A Return to Love (often mis-attributed to Nelson Mandela). You might have heard it in the movie Akeelah and the Bee, or Coach Carter. Williamson writes,
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
The two Mary’s were commissioned by the angel to be the first messengers of the gospel of new life. They were powerful witnesses. And yet they trembled, silenced by fear. Were they afraid of the light, of the power given them? Did they shrink in fear of what responses they might get? We see a few verses later that Mary Magdalene overcame her fear, when she encountered not an angel, but the risen Lord himself. She did not shrink from the task of telling the news after she experienced the presence of the risen Christ firsthand. She didn’t tremble, even though her audience didn’t believe a word she said. The eleven had to experience it firsthand, too, before they would get over the shakes and find their voices to go out and tell. They wouldn’t be scared anymore, the signs following them proved this – neither snakes nor poison nor deadly disease would cause them to tremble anymore.
Perhaps we are a lot like the Mary’s and the eleven there on that first Easter morning. Second-hand news accounts of Jesus being alive and well just don’t come across as very credible. They don’t stop the tremors that come with living in a scary world. It’s only when we are personally touched by the power of Jesus, the power of life over death, that we overcome our fears and go out into the world proclaiming love for enemies, welcome to strangers, freedom from materialism. This is the Jesus-gospel we believe in, not as a statement to give intellectual assent to, but as a way of life that we entrust ourselves to, much the way we entrust ourselves to the firmness of the ground when we put one foot in front of another and walk. Those who don’t believe – who don’t trust the radical love and gracious generosity and inclusive welcome of Jesus, are condemned to a life of fear and trembling.
As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.