It’s Just the Beginning

            At a world religions conference several years ago, I chose to attend a meditation class, led by a Buddhist nun. After a brief introduction, she instructed us to hold out our hands, and each of us received a tiny wedge of a red apple. I still remember the way the cool, tender piece felt in my hand. In the class, the nun led us through a mindfulness experiment where we engaged with that bit of apple: first to notice how it felt in our hands, then on our lips, then in our mouth, and after what felt like a long time we were chewing our tiny bits of apple together in silence. She instructed us to notice the texture, the temperature, the taste, and to notice our bodies interacted with this offering from nature. She instructed us to savor it, even though it was a small enough piece that it could have been swallowed whole. This meditation class changed things for me; it changed the way I thought about eating apples, certainly, but more than that, it taught me that when we want to pause to meditate on the good, we must do it slowly.

            Today, we heard Deacon Kellie read to us from the end of gospel according to Mark, and while our Bibles today have a few more verses after what was read, most Biblical scholars believe that the earliest versions of Mark’s gospel stopped here. It isn’t known why there would be a later addition to the manuscripts, but perhaps folks weren’t too keen on the glorious resurrection account ending in terror and amazement and fear as it does. Every gospel account tells the story of Christ’s resurrection, but I think it is a particular gift to get to hear Mark’s version today. Mark’s version often leaves me with more questions than answers, but like every account, the women play a critical role. I love the faithfulness and care of the two Mary’s in this account as they bring spices to anoint the body before the sun has risen without knowing how they will even be able to get into the tomb.

            In Mark’s version of the resurrection, or rather the events that follow it, there is no real ending; Mark leaves us hanging, as many of us would like the story to end by “and they all lived happily ever after.” But that’s not how it ends, it ends with the women leaving the tomb in terror and amazement. Now, we know from the other accounts that the women let the amazement seep into their bones and eventually the terror gives way to joy, but Mark stops the story just before we get to the Easter proclamation – he is risen, but we aren’t quite to the “alleluia!” just yet.

            And this might not sound like good news, to stop the most important story in the world with “and they were afraid,” but we know that the story isn’t over. We know that the story isn’t over for Christ or for the Mary’s or for us. We know that the story isn’t over, because it’s only just the beginning. Christ’s resurrection didn’t depend on the women proclaiming the gospel, it was good on its own account, but of course the resurrection changed the women, it transformed them, and then, how could they not share the Good News, how could they not tell the beginning of the story? Like in many liturgical traditions, we celebrate Easter as a season, not just as a single day. Today isn’t just Easter after a long, difficult Lent, it’s the start of a joyful, hopeful Easter season, and like for the Mary’s, it will be a season of transformation and change.

            In a similar way, for Scarlett who was just baptized this morning and her family, the story of her baptism is not over today. It is just the beginning. For each and every one of us, our baptisms were not moments of salvation, which we can point to on an old calendar and say, “that’s when it happened,” no, our baptisms are renewed each day. Each day we grow and are transformed by the reality of Christ’s resurrection, and we live into our baptism. For Scarlett and for all of us, what matters is not when we were baptized but how we will live out that baptism in the future; how will we, like the Mary’s, share the Good News of the resurrected Christ.

             In a world of instant delivery and immediate transactions, I pray that this will be a slow process for us. And the truth is it might take the whole season of Easter, all the way to Pentecost, to figure out how best to proclaim the good news. We stand today at the beginning of Easter, and right now Mark’s gospel account begs us to linger in the long pause between “He is Risen!” and “Alleluia! Alleluia!” It is what theologian and writer Debie Thomas, whose work I’m deeply indebted to today, calls a slow Easter.

            A slow Easter will allow us to sit with the amazement, and yes, perhaps even the terror, at what it means to hold the real and tangible pain of our world next to the truth of God’s powerful work in the world. A slow Easter will allow the gap between Mark’s ending of the gospel account of “and they were afraid” to where we stand today, as we welcome a new Christian in Christ’s church. A slow easter will allow us to see this as a gift of this year, letting the whole 50 Great Days of Easter be good news, because when we want to meditate on the good, we must do it slowly.

The good news is that God is at work in this painful world, even when it is hard to believe, even when it is hard to hold onto anything other than terror or amazement. Here at Christ Church, we will spend the whole season of Easter phasing back to in-person worship, and all along that time, you better believe we’re going to be shouting, “Alleluia! Alleluia!” but for today, just for this morning, I invite you to sit with the quiet wonder and amazement that Christ is Risen, and it’s only just the beginning.

A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY via livestream for Easter Day 2021 on Mark 16:1-8.

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