The Empty Places

IMG_6257As I thought about the gospel reading this week, last week’s Lenten Study came to mind.

It was focused on Fear and Courage.

Janice MacLean, a United Church minister, with an on-line ministry called The Prayer Bench, encourages us to make a friend of fear.

In one of the Practices of Releasing sessions, She writes this: I know I wear the shawl of fear. Fear takes shape for me in the way it can leap out of the present and imagine the most terrible future about to happen. Every headache could be a brain tumour, you know! Every road trip could end in catastrophe. Every new project a failure. It wasn’t last time but it could be this time! Its not just me. I think we live in a culture that is increasingly steeped in fear. Our 24 news cycle bring home terrifying images so constantly that we can barely escape feeling that danger lurks in every corner. We are afraid.”

She goes on to say, “What have I learned from fear? I learned that there is always a threshold. I just have to find it.” And that threshold most often leads to “the present.” The better rooted I am in the present, the more grounded I am, the tamer fear is. Fear and courage are not opposites. Courage is fear transformed.”

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the refusal to let the fear have control of your life.

This is Easter Sunday. The most important day in the Christian church. Christ is risen. How do we know that? We certainly wouldn’t know it from our gospel reading this morning. All we know from our gospel reading is that Jesus is not in the tomb.

I want you to imagine for a few moments that morning 2000 years ago. It was dawn. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome were bringing spices to anoint Jesus body. Can you picture it, the early morning chill. Their bodies tired, with that grief laden tiredness that is unlike any other. Their eyes swollen and red from sorrow. They have come to perform this last ritual for Jesus and as they approach the tomb they are worried about who will roll away the stone. It was a very large stone. But when they arrive at the tomb the stone has already been rolled away.

I want to stop right there for a moment and think of the many things that are stones in our lives. The things which block us from God’s love. Things like fear. Things like anger. Things like fatigue. And how can we roll them away?

They enter the tomb, I don’t know about you but I would probably be afraid. We are more separated from the rituals of death than perhaps those women were. But they enter the tomb to find Jesus’ body is gone. And then there is a young man sitting inside the tomb and he tells them not to be afraid. That he knows they are looking for Jesus, but that he was not in the tomb, that he had been raised from the dead. And to GO and tell the disciples.

The word, ‘GO’ strikes a chord within me. It tells me that in the same way that Jesus could not be confined in a tomb of death, neither must we enshrine him in our churches. Because he does not stay here. We can meet him here and learn about him here, but he and we cannot stay here. If we try to keep him confined to Sunday, we surely kill him again and again.

So GO, tell the world. Go tell your friends. Go tell your family. Go tell your stories. I am sure each of you had a story of meeting the risen Christ. I can tell you a couple stories.

I heard a story of the risen Christ from a friend whose mother lay dying and how all she and her sisters gathered around her one night in her hospital bed and they sang her into heaven.

I have seen the Risen Christ in the faces of those who come to the Food Bank and I have seen him in the way that Rena and the rest of the volunteers respond to them.

I have experienced the Risen Christ in hands held at a hospital bed.

And I have met the risen Christ in the faces of the people who love me and whom I love.

We all have our stories of the risen Christ.

Those women who ran from the tomb that day were afraid. According to Mark, they said nothing, because of that fear. But we, with 2000 years of history of Christian faith behind us, know differently now. We know that they spread the news. Because without them, we would not be here this Easter morning.

There are empty tombs in all of our lives. There are empty places. But the empty places can be filled with God’s grace. Filled with compassion. Filled with enthusiasm for the good news. The good news of the risen Christ.

We cannot have the church without the empty tomb. The man in the tomb said, “Go to Galilee, there you will see him.”

I’ve always thought he was saying, “Go home–go back to your life–that’s where you’ll meet the Christ”–where you live, where you work, where you play, with the people you know.” Hopefully, we hear the good news during worship! It would be great if we were to meet Christ here, too, but he doesn’t stay here. We’re at least as likely to meet him at home, in familiar places, if we but recognize him, if we but look for him.

Mark begins his book by telling us that his gospel is ‘the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.’Mark’s gospel is a cliff-hanger. Our hero has risen but what will become of his followers? Will the women break their silence? Will they all go to meet Jesus in Galilee? Or will the good news die with them?

We know the answer now. But the next episode is us. We will write the sequel. Even in the face of our fear, we must not be silent. So go, because Christ is risen.

Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity! Amen.

© Catherine MacDonald 2015

Mark 16: 1-8
April 5, 2015
Easter – St. Paul’s

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