A few years back, I remember sitting in a clergy meeting hearing Reverend Kuenning tell the origin story of the Community Caring Conference. Some of you might remember what was happening here in the seventies. Our neighborhood was changing. (Our neighborhood is still changing.) We were a predominantly white congregation in a predominantly black neighborhood, and Church of Peace voted to stay here instead of moving to the suburbs. There was great economic need; (there still is). There was crime; (it’s not like it was, and there’s still crime.) There were challenges that come from navigating differences in culture and encountering racism, sometimes encountering our own racism.
In the seventies, Reverend Kuenning was quoted saying this: “Need was all around us. Neighbors lived in fear and that fear caused isolation. What we needed most was to know and care about each other and our neighborhood. The West End had a bad image and our church members were afraid to attend night meetings…”1This quote appears in a brochure produced by the Northern Association of the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ from the late 1970s.
Now in this clergy meeting a few years ago, Reverend Kuenning said something I will not forget. He convicted me. Part of it was because he said this so matter-of-factly. Part of it was because there is nothing matter-of-fact about what he said. The gist was this: We discovered, the problem in our neighborhood was fear. People don’t trust each other. But if fear is the problem, then the Church needs to respond; the Church knows how to answer fear.
I mean, it’s right there in the Bible. According to First John four, verse eighteen: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” So matter-of-fact! And there’s nothing matter-of-fact about this.
Look at the world; underneath poverty, and crime, and racism, there is an undercurrent of fear — we see that. But look at our world and see, we’re not exactly accustomed to answering fear with love… Increased security? Yes. Political posturing? Of course. Some deliberate ignoring? You bet.
But to look directly into fear and say, we have come here with love… Really? I mean, what if we are among those who are afraid?
First fear is a feeling, then it’s a choice. And what if we still can choose which power to put our faith in? Beloved in Christ, what if Reverend Kuenning was right…
Today the Gospel story begins at dawn. The sabbath was over, so Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so they might anoint the body of Jesus who had been executed a few days ago. The writer of Mark states that as a fact, like of course they did, what else would they be doing? But this means the women just lived through one of the worst traumas they have experienced, then they got up, and bought the spices, and went to do what needs to be done.
If there’s something about this that seems familiar, that’s because, as a church, we share a kinship with these women. We do this too. We experience crises, absorb the shock, then we get up the next day and visit the person who’s in the ICU, or make the salad for the funeral lunch, or give someone a ride to their appointment. Why aren’t these women falling apart? someone might ask. Well, maybe they are, still they can’t stay home. Their help is needed.
It seems like they have things under control. You can tell, anointing a body is something they have done before. They have the spices; they’re on their way, and that’s when it hits them. Oh no. The stone! Here we’ve been so methodical about making the arrangements, and oh my gosh, not once did I think about how we’re going to get in. You think we should we go back and find someone with tools who can help us? No, let’s go on and see what we’re up against; then we can come back…
As it turns out, the stone was not their biggest problem. Not only was it rolled away, but a man dressed in white was sitting inside the tomb. He looks at the women and tells them this: Do not be afraid. Jesus has been raised; he is not here. Go tell the disciples and Peter that he is going on to Galilee. You will see him there.
The women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them —literally trauma and ecstasy—had seized them.2https://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-kay-lundblad/mark-16-1-8-beyond-fear-and-silence_b_1402710.html They said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.
Here ends the Gospel of Mark. Now our Bibles includes additional endings that were added centuries later because everybody can see, this can’t be how it ends! What about, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!” Where’s the Hallelujah? What about a scene where he appears to the disciples and they don’t recognize him until they do, and he eats with them, and we get to watch their fear turn into love…
But this is not the story Mark tells. The women are terrified, and the answer to their trauma is long, loud-ringing silence.
And the thing is, we can understand this. We get this, just like we know how the women got up to go do what needs to be done. You know these days our world is reeling from trauma. If you have not had your own experience of trauma, know that you are sitting near someone who has. And we feel it. All of us. Living in this world involves regularly absorbing the shock of violence, then moving on with our day. So it makes sense. Fear gets in us —deep into the cells of our body and the soul of our being.
One problem with fear is it can narrow our perception of available options. It makes us desperate for an immediate, decisive response. Something tangible, and measurable, and unmistakably strong.
Now they say, when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Okay, but when we’re afraid, just give us the hammer, right? What choice do we have?! It may be that violence leads to more violence, then at least we’ll know what to expect. So of course we will give military weapons to police officers. We will build a wall if we have to. We will harden our schools. Anyone can see there’s no way to harden our schools without hardening our hearts, but come on. What choice do we have… We want to put our faith in something certain!
And the thing about God, she is not moved by our demand for certainty.
Oh God, there’s no way, whispered the women. What are we going to do? We can’t move that stone. It is impossible! And the LORD our God, answers them matter-of-factly: Really. Are you quite sure you have a grasp on what’s impossible? Because well, April Fools.
Maybe we don’t even realize it, but here we human people have been moving through the world putting our faith in the promise that the dead will stay dead. Then a man goes and gets up from the dead. As though maybe you could too… As though maybe we still have a choice about where to put our faith.
Look I know fear is a ferocious flash in the pan. It is the source of hate; it fuels evil in the world. It is powerful and can do great harm. Fear kills people. But it is not the only option. Anyone who can see the cracks in fear, the edges where fear starts to tremble, anyone who can see —fear doesn’t have what it takes to last, this person is seeing some of God. God is always more; love is the part of us that knows that.
The longer I live the more I know for sure: the universe is not moving toward fear. It’s just not. The moral arc of the universe is long, and creation keeps unfolding into love. Life keeps stumbling and surging into love, and more love, and greater love…
And I’m not talking about love as a tender feeling in our hearts. That’s fine, but that’s not all. Choosing to put our faith in love is dangerous. It means looking right into the terror, then hearing all the silence that follows, then asking, What if there is something more than this? Violence can turn into healing; hate can turn into understanding. Love is the impulse that becomes the insistence to go watch for this turning. Love brought the women to the cross on Friday and to the tomb this morning; it is the something in us that has to go and see.
Here in this neighborhood, you and I could make a list of reasons why people might be afraid. People are afraid of violence, especially violence in retaliation. There is fear of the cameras and the police. There is fear of being forgotten; refugees are thrown into these houses with not enough support, people who have lived here forever are dealing with poverty and illness, and what if we can’t make it, and what choice do we have…
And what if our purpose here is not just to dig in our heels and stay at all costs, but to keep asking: What if there is something more? More than safety, there is beauty. More than kids not causing trouble, there are children who play in the front yards of the houses on Glenhurst Court. More than surviving, there’s a way to live here and love living because what if God’s dream for us is not over?
But somebody’s got to see this and say it.
Somebody’s got to go meet those women who were seized in terror and ran away. Somebody’s got to hear their silence, then answer them, because you know, there is more. We have something more than a hammer, more than a gun, more than a cross — see Christ the Lord is risen today. So let all the world understand, we are not afraid. We have come here to love you. We have come here to sing you back to life, so we can live too. O Hallelujah! Amen.