Rev. Megan Huston
April 5, 2015
16When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.6But 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.7But 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.”8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
In February we had an elders retreat on a Saturday. I invited a colleague, Reverend Cory Glover, to facilitate our retreat. Cory and I had several phone calls before hand to discuss goals of our time together. I knew the basic outline of what would go on during the retreat, but there was one thing that happened that I found to be both surprising and crucially important in our time together. Cory encouraged our elders to share their faith journeys, a condensed spiritual autobiography, he had us list ideal qualities of an elder and discuss how we could or could not fill those roles, he read scripture aloud to us and encouraged us to envision how our lives met those sacred words, but it wasn’t any of those activities that I found most effective. It was the silence in between. As he challenged us to move outside our comfort zones, he also gave us permission to be still in the midst of silence. If I were to ask you today to stand up and share your faith journey, I think we may encounter silence. It takes a while to get comfortable and settle into such a vulnerable space, but that silence in our time together became sacred.
One reason I found the silence so important is that Cory was modeling to us how we can be present with those we serve. I am not good at silence. I am an extreme extrovert, so you can always count on me to fill any empty space with words- whether they are well thought out or not. But sometimes, we need to allow silence to fill the room to encourage someone else to speak up and share his or her truth.
The writer of Mark, like my friend Cory, was brave enough to be present to a moment of silence. Unlike the other Gospels, Mark does not end the story with shouts of “alleluia!” but instead puts the focus on the women closest to Jesus in a moment of what we read as terror and amazement and what the Greek translates as trauma and ecstasy.
But others just couldn’t stand it and so you find in your Bible a shorter and longer ending to Mark. But scholars will nearly unanimously agree that the original writer of Mark intended to end the story with silence.
It isn’t that the story actually ended with silence. For the writer of Mark to tell it, the women must have said to someone that “He has risen!” But for Mark, the silence had purpose. Joan Mitchel says "...the silence of the last disciple characters surviving in the narrative bring …readers…to their own thresholds of faith, to the limit of words to speak the unspeakable ... In our foremothers' silence, the narrative still calls the disciples of the next generation to speak for themselves, and bring the gospel into dialogue with their lives." The silence of Mark is an invitation to us to share the end of the story.
A couple weeks ago I got a text message from one of my best friends who works in a neighboring community. She was at a board meeting for a nonprofit organization and a woman came up to her and said, “Did you know that First Christian in Bowling Green has hired THREE women ministers? I guess that means they are a pretty liberal church.”
After I stopped laughing at the text, the reality of it sunk in. Now I will admit, I am a pretty liberal person. You should probably know that I vote democrat and some could probably accuse me of having a bleeding heart. But what happens from this pulpit and who we are as a church is beyond liberal and conservative, it transcends being a democrat or a republican. It means more than some political ideology. And shame on us if we become just a group of people who are all exactly the same.
We don’t hire people in order to make a political statement. We call ministers because we have somehow sensed that their God given gifts and ours will work together to build the kingdom of God. And, we happen to not discriminate against people based on their gender. So I guess if that makes us the “liberal” church in town- first of all what a sad statement about church, but I guess I will take that label.
Sometimes following the call of God and living into our faith doesn’t fit into other people’s endings. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better if the church was silent.
But the silence is not the end of the story. While we would be wise to spend more time listening before we speak, carefully crafting our words instead of simply filling empty space, there is still a story to tell. And this story is our story, so we must find words and actions to tell the world that indeed Christ is no longer in the grave. We must find courage even in speechless moments to craft a word of Good News in a world is full of bad news.
But I wonder, if our ending of the story will leave room for others to be who they are or if it will be so absolute that it will label or discriminate against people who are different. Are we so sure of what the Good News looks like that we are closed off the ways it is being made known in new ways in new places? The real question, is what kind of Good News are we going to share?
Recently, we have had two members diagnosed with cancer. They and their families are living through their very own Good Fridays- the situation is bleak and their suffering is real. But you all are bringing soup and fudge cake. You are running errands they can’t do themselves. You are sending cards and prayers. You are sharing that no matter how bad it is now that the story ends with an empty tomb and so even amidst deep pain there are glimpses of grace. Your lives stand as a testament to the end of the story.
This time last year we didn’t know who was sleeping on the streets in Bowling Green but this year we do. Several of our members could name our homeless brothers and sisters because they have taken shelter here and at Crossland and at the Episcopal Church and the Methodist church across the street and countless other local churches. I don’t have time to argue with those who think I shouldn’t be in ministry because I am working with Christians who believe everyone deserves to have a roof over their head. The tomb was empty and this is how not only First Christian, but also our brothers and sisters in Christ are sharing the ending to the story.
This week one of you purchased books for a woman who had come to our food pantry. She had pulled me aside and explained that she was taking courses but the grants she applied for wouldn’t come in for several weeks and she needed to buy books. I called the school and confirmed her story, and her professor said, “if anyone needs just a little help it is her.” Buying books for one of our food pantry clients to go to school so she can make a better life for herself and her family this is the ending to the story about an empty tomb- so tell me who has time for labels? Who wants to waste their breath with an ending that shuts others out instead of inviting them in to the Good News?
Surely, you know what those women felt that day. Traumatized by how ugly this world could be. Amazed by the idea that there could be a different ending to this story. So you tell me, what is the rest of the story?