Easter Vigil March 31, 2018, Saint Luke’s Birmingham

Mark 16:1-8

Of all the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, Mark’s can feel the least satisfying.  It ends with the women at the tomb running away, trembling and bewildered, too frightened to talk. No account of the risen Christ speaking to Mary Magdalene; no risen Christ walking down the road to Emmaus; no fish fry on the beach. 

Listen again to how the earliest Gospel account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ ends, “So 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.”

Is it any wonder that centuries later, others tried to tidy things up and amend the ending of this Gospel?

As a reminder, Mark’s was the first Gospel to be recorded.  Of course Paul’s letters precede this Gospel account, but for nearly a generation, this was the only Gospel account of the resurrection.  Shards of light streaking into an empty tomb, but for a man in a white robe, and women running, seized by terror and amazement.

Recently I spent a week on Tortola, one of the British Virgin Islands.  What do you think of when you imagine the Virgin Islands?  Azure blue/green seas, lush white beaches, yachts filled with champagne flute holding passengers. gliding across the water.

That is still a portion of the Tortola experience, but ever since Hurricane Irma devastated the island last September 6th, there is a pile of twisted metal where a high school used to be, restaurants operating on ground floors, with rebar sticking up where the second floor used to be, gritty dust that sticks to the cars and your skin swirls around from roads that have been ripped up by 200 mph winds. 

Most cars still have plastic over where the windows used to be. Luxury villas swamped with water and infested with rats.  You see, it is hard to get insurance claims finalized and materials and labor are scarce on the island.

For six months, the people of Tortola have been clawing their way back from the destruction.  Everything takes more effort than before.  There is electricity in most places, but no land lines.  Seven of the fourteen schools in Tortola  were either destroyed or made uninhabitable.

Elementary age children who should be snuggling up with their parents at night have been sent far away so they can receive an education. Extended families have packed in together for months. 

You would imagine that the people of Tortola would be beleaguered and angry and exhausted. And many of them are— rightly so.  Yet, during my time there,

I heard more laughter than lamentation.

I saw my joy than tears.

I heard fervent prayers of thanksgiving.

I experienced community and generosity rather than scarcity and selfishness. 

Oh, AND I SAW RESILIENCE. 

I saw resilience in the octogenarian patriarch of St. Paul’s Mission Church showing up early and staying late for every service—serving as an acolyte and a Lay Eucharistic Minister.  Standing in love he was a stalwart symbol of survival for his family and community.

I saw resilience in my host family who generously shared their space with me and another visitor.  was relegated to a 2-bedroom apartment below their gorgeous home which remained open to the elements.

I saw resilience in the principals and guidance counselors who showed up in support of the children who had seen their roofs blow off and their toys and clothes sucked out of their homes.

All the while, these very same principals and guidance counselors where struggling to repair their own homes, and managing on an island where the simplest of tasks had been made complex by those violent winds. 

I heard resilience in the voices of the participants of the retreat I facilitated as they chanted “be still and know that I am god”

Although I was sent by the diocese to bring them hope—it was I who was renewed. It was my faith that was restored.

I do not want to romanticize the experience of this tragedy—people lost their lives and their homes and the closeness of their children. They are tired and some remain traumatized.  Yet, the storm does not get the last say.

Just before I returned home, I toured the Ebeneezer Primary School on the island. My guide was their principal, Ms Sybil Hodge a member of St. Paul’s, the church I went to visit. 

The students at Ebeneezer Primary School had been hit hard—in addition to experiencing loss or damage to their homes, portions of their school had to be rebuilt.  Half of the roof is still not repaired and their library lost most of its books.  By the way—we are going to take care of rebuilding their library. 

They miss their classmates who have left the island.

Yet they show up every day.  They squeal on the playground running races. They tussle with one another over who gets to help the teacher.  Every time we entered a classroom, the children would stand up at their desks and say in unison, “Good morning Ms Hodge.  Good Morning Reverend Bea.  Welcome to our classroom.”

At the end of my visit, I sat with leaders of the school and asked, “What sustains you?”

One of the woman leaned very close to me, as if she wanted to make sure not a word from her mouth got away on its journey to my ear.

“Hope,”  She said, “Hope, that is the secret that gets us through the day.  We go to church on Saturday or Sunday to get our fill and it carries us through the week.

We hold on to a hope that is different; one that knows that a better life is coming. We knew how to do that before the storms.  Our faith taught us that.  How to see that the outer world is one way, but …we know a secret, our secret is the hope that God is preparing a better place for us. 

We hope in community coming back together and taking care of one another.  We don’t (give up)on Friday, because Sunday is coming to remind us of the hope in Jesus Christ.”

Time and again I heard people refer to their faith in God as a motivating factor to get out of bed, to care for one another, to give THANKS for life and love. And to laugh—there was an abundance of laughter and joy. 

That’s a messy kind of hope.  All of our resurrections bear the marks of the cross.

ALL OF OUR RESURRECTIONS BEAR THE MARKS OF THE CROSS

There are flowers blooming on the island this spring that have not bloomed there in decades or ever—seeds stirred up from the storms, traveled from surrounding islands or exposed from deep, deep soil, bearing fruit once more.

My friends, we have dedicated ourselves this Lenten season to fasting and prayer and sacrificial generosity to prepare our hearts for the hope of the resurrection; the hope of new life.

Where have the shards of light shown in the tomb of your heart? 

Resurrection is not a one-time event, it is a never-ending promise. We are invited to participate in the resurrection with the messy hope that bears the marks of the cross.

We hope in God’s promise to be our God even when we feel abandoned.

We hope that we are forgiven, even when we feel deep shame.

We hope for peace in our hearts, and our homes, and our world even when pundits sound like verbal terrorists

We believe in the hope in things unseen—the hope of restored relationships, the hope of healing—in the deepest sense of that word, the hope of living lives of meaning and purpose. 

It’s a messy kind of hope, because the outer manifestation of the world frequently does not support that hope.  All of our resurrections bear the marks of the cross

The first funeral I ever officiated was for a beautiful young girl who died tragically.  Her mother INSISTED that the Paschal candle be taken from our little Episcopal Church and marched down the center aisle of the large Methodist where the funeral would be held.

“Mary Bea,” she said to me, “I want you to tell everyone what that candle means. I want you to explain that it is the symbol that we are united with Christ in his life, death, and resurrection.”  Knowing there would be hundreds of grief-stricken teenagers at the service she compelled me, “Tell those kids about the resurrection!”

That’s a messy kind of hope.  All of our resurrections bear the marks of the cross.

Here’s what I love about Mark’s Gospel account—it is so real.  We are no different than the women at the tomb, when we experience divine manifestations, we too experience great awe and trembling.

Hope and fear are cousins because it takes such courage to hope when the outer manifestation of the world cries despair.

We are a resurrection people.  We are a people of HOPE. 

A generation of Christians were satisfied to have no appearance of Jesus in their understanding of the resurrection.  It was faith that spread the Gospel like wildfire.

It was hope that kept them running from town to town, ultimately someone must have been spreading that  Good News 

We want tidy—we want to know they saw Jesus and chatted with him after the resurrection.  We want everyone to think like us and act like us and want a world free of divisiveness.  We want a sign.

Here’s our sign—it’s you, it’s us sitting in these pews praising, reverencing, and worshipping the risen Christ…we are the hope of the resurrection. 

We are the inheritors of fear-filled, awestruck faith.  We are the bearers of the Good News.  This is our moment, this is our time to ring in the resurrection with awe and trembling to proclaim, “

Alleluia Alleluia  Jesus Christ is Risen today .  The Lord is Risen Indeed Alleluia Alleluia!

 

Notes:

“Great awe and trembling and fear are characteristic of human responses to divine manifestations.”   (Harper Collins Study Bible, 1732)

A generation of Christians were satisfied to have no appearance of Jesus in their understanding of the resurrection.  (James Tabor Bible History Daily)

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