The story of Easter does not begin on a Sunday morning.
A few days earlier, Jesus was executed. He was tortured by Roman soldiers, shouted to death by the lynch mob. He was betrayed by his closest friends. See Jesus had been preaching the promise of the Kingdom of God. It is not like the kingdoms of this world. The Kingdom of God is a generosity of life, a reign of compassion. Instead, the kingdoms and powers of this world hunted down Jesus and killed him dead. On Palm Sunday, the people shouted, “God save us!” When God tried to save us, we turned and killed God.
When this was happening to Jesus, some of the disciples hid in the house. You know they were bereft, ashamed, afraid, and who can blame them! But some of the disciples went to the cross; the women were there when they crucified our Lord. Another disciple, Joseph of Arimathea, demanded an audience with Pilate and convinced him to release the body. That’s when these disciples got to work. They prepared Jesus’s body for burial and divvied up who was going to buy which spice and what time they would meet to come back.
Here they had just seen the man whom they love get executed. Their world got turned upside down. Their reason for believing in the Kingdom of God got shattered into a thousand pieces, and they don’t miss a beat! They keep coming back, as though coming back is the work of our faith. We know these disciples. We might be these disciples.
When your whole world gets turned upside down, a resilience you never knew you had rises up and takes charge. You find yourself arranging emergency childcare, calling the insurance company, all while organizing the medicine for the baby, and getting dinner on the table. Nobody told you you’d have to do this! Nobody taught you how. There’s something splendid in your spirit that rises up and powers through.
You make a plan. And a back-up plan. And a back-up plan for the back-up plan. You install Zoom, and figure out how to homeschool. You commission a team of kitchen table artists to make construction paper hearts, and you send an envelope of hearts to your father in assisted living. You know he is deeply afraid of dying alone. And why does the six-year-old have a cough. And you disinfect every faucet, every soap bottle, every surface. Later when you can’t fall asleep, you make face masks. Yeah, we know these disciples! We might be these disciples.
The whole world gets turned upside down. Now even though we’re afraid, even though if we stop moving we’ll shatter into a thousand pieces, we’ll keep doing the work. We will keep coming back. After the sabbath, we’ll come back to the tomb in the morning. You’ll bring the ointment, I’ll bring the spices. We’ll do the work that needs to get done.
There is a whole holy moment. Very early before you wake up, the sleep is still in your bones. There’s a whole holy moment that holds open the universe between sleeping and waking. In the first pulse, you don’t remember what happened. Next, it slowly begins to come back to you, but there’s still a chance, that maybe, really it was all a dream. There’s a whole holy moment between sleeping and waking in which anything is possible. You’re not in charge and nobody needs you to be.
Then the women got out of bed and headed back to the tomb. On the way, we see the first fracture in their control. Now remember, these women are super planners. They had a plan, and a back-up plan, and a back-up plan for the back-up plan, and yet —nobody thought about the stone blocking the entrance? How did they miss this! As it turns out, the stone wasn’t the problem. The problem was much worse.
Right away, the women were greeted by an angel who had all the disposition of a pleasant Applebee’s manager. He informed them, they would have to leave: You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has been raised; he’s not here… But go tell the others, he will meet you in Galilee.
When the women heard this, I’m pretty sure they lost it. Could be that Salome dropped the jar of ointment; it shattered into pieces. The Bible says they fled from the tomb, but I’m guessing once they did, Mary crumbled into a ball. Mary Magdalene is hemorrhaging tears. All the trauma from the past few days, all the grief they had been expertly managing suddenly began gushing out of them. It seeped into the ground.
The heart of the LORD our God was broken at the cross. God was overcome with sorrow too. He lost his mind. She tore her clothes in anguish. She tore the curtain of the temple dividing heaven and earth! Now these women have been seized by the sorrow of the LORD our God. They just shattered into a thousand pieces.
And here’s the thing. If it could happen to them, it could happen to us. In case no one has warned you, somebody should: You could entirely fall apart.
Death can always find us. No matter how many plans or back-up plans, this much is true: We come from dust and to dust we shall return…
Kate Braestrup is an author and a chaplain with the Maine [Game] Warden Service. Some years ago, she gave an interview with Krista Tippett on the NPR program On Being. Part of Braestrup’s work involved accompanying the warden to deliver death notifications to families. This means she was there when people received the worst news of their lives. Braestrup explains it like this:
“What I find is, people know how to do this. They know how to absorb that, the impact of that blow. It knocks them down. And all I do [as a chaplain] is I go down with them, and sit on the floor, and be there with them, and hold them if they want to be held.”
She continues, “And after about twenty minutes — and I was just talking to some wardens about this and we all agreed, it’s almost never more than twenty minutes — they will come up. They will come back to themselves, and they will ask a very sensible question, which is usually, “’Where is he? When can I see him?’”1https://onbeing.org/programs/kate-braestrup-a-presence-in-the-wild/
After the women hear the angel manager tell them: Jesus is not here; go find him in Galilee, they run away from the tomb. Terror and amazement had seized them and they said nothing to anyone. And that’s it! That’s how the whole Gospel ends.
Now in our Bibles, there are several extra endings the Bible editors have added later. And come on, nobody can blame them for trying to fix the ending! There’s the crash that sends the disciples running then knocks them down in despair. After the crash is the silence. Here in the Gospel of Mark, the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God, leaves us in the silence.
There is a whole holy moment. Early before you wake up, the sleep is still in your bones, and there’s a whole holy moment that holds the universe between sleeping and waking. First, you don’t even remember what happened. When it begins to come back to you, there’s still a chance, that maybe, really it was all a dream. You’re not in charge and nobody needs you to be. Anything is possible. There’s a whole holy moment between sleeping and waking. There’s a whole moment after the silence.
I wish I could tell you how it happens, and I can’t. I wish there was something we could do to induce it, but there’s not. All I can tell you is when terror seizes you, and you find yourself fallen apart, and you’re the one sitting down beside the sorrow in the silence, know that you’re in precisely the right spot to see the turning.
In case no one has warned you, somebody should: You might come back to life.
There’s something splendid in your spirit, and it’s not your job to muster that right now. It’s just, well, it might come back to you. You might hear somebody else’s Hallelujah —some singing off in the distance you can’t even believe, until you do.
There’s no plan for this, no back-up plan. All the good plans we’ve made lately are just shattered pieces. We’re all out of plans. That doesn’t faze the Holy Spirit for a minute.
You might be stuck at home. Now sure it’s great that people can drive around hunting down hearts on all the house windows, but that’s their joy, not yours. You can’t do that! You’re stuck here where there are no blessings of solitude, only the shame of imposed isolation, and what’s that in the stack of mail? There’s an envelope of construction paper hearts somebody made for you. The hearts have hunted you down, and they found you! And Hallelujahs will do this too.
Somebody will write a poem, and somebody will post it on Facebook, now somebody else’s telling the truth will find you and save your life. This is the work of God.
The LORD our God gets up from the dead, she comes to sit down beside us in the silence, then he wipes away every tear from every face, and you’ll be there and I’ll be there too when the silence turns into singing.
This much is true: We come from dust and to dust we shall return. We come from love, and to love we shall return. We come from life, and life will come back too. The story of Easter doesn’t begin on Sunday; it doesn’t end on Sunday either. Coming back is the work of our faith, so you know, we will keep coming back. You will come back to life; life will come back to you. Oh Hallelujah! Amen.
Footnotes [ + ]