Reflection on the Easter Vigil, April 3
“And.” A…N…D… That’s the most important word to remember from my reflections this evening. With God, what looks like an ending is always followed by “and.” We see that truth in the broad strokes of God’s presence throughout history as presented in the readings this evening.
- Genesis tells us that the earth was a formless wasteland AND God’s creative energy called forth life and goodness.
- In Exodus, the people of Israel were trapped between the Egyptian troops and the Red Sea AND God parted the waters allowing them to escape.
- Isaiah 54 describes the earth literally shaking on its foundations leaving people “storm-battered and unconsoled” AND God promises that Divine love will never leave us.
- Isaiah 55 depicts a God who is practical and down to earth, One who calls those who are thirsty and poor AND describes a God of mystery whose ways are beyond human understanding.
- Ezekiel writes that God scattered the stony-hearted AND God gathers us back to God’s very self, placing within us a new heart and breathing a new spirit within us.
Our reading from the Gospel of Mark tells what, to us, is a familiar story. Mary Magdalene and Mary went to the tomb with costly spices to anoint Jesus’ body. They were grieving the end of his life and the end of their hopes for the Messiah. In their hearts and minds, there was no “and.” Jesus had been killed and the story was over even though, once at the tomb, they saw that the rock had been rolled back revealing a young man in a white robe who told them Jesus had been raised.
Mary Magdalene and Mary were so sure that death was the end that they couldn’t receive the gift of hope offered by the young man at the tomb. The last verse of the Gospel of Mark is this: “So the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Period. That’s it. No “and.” No “and then” describing what they did next. That’s the end of the original Gospel, an ending not included in the lectionary reading and an ending so unacceptable to second century Christians that they added, not just one, but two additional endings. Like the early Christians who added the additional endings, I find myself wanting to protest. “No! You can’t end the story like that!”
I’ve been pondering what Mark might have been communicating with his abrupt ending. Mark was writing to Messianic Jews who were facing brutal persecution from Rome. The entire Gospel is about strengthening his readers, empowering them to respond to suffering with maturity and faith. Maybe his ending offered his readers a stark choice. Are you going to allow your story to end with fear or are you going to move beyond fear to courage?
While we aren’t facing torture and persecution, we are faced with hard questions around endings. The context of our lives in 2021 is one of individual and societal transition. It’s a confusing, chaotic time as one era ends and a new one begins. I wonder where in our lives, in our Community, in our world, we, like Mary Magdalene and Mary, assume an ending —period — when actually there is more; a more which requires the courage to receive the end as a beginning even when everything in us wants to protect ourselves against disappointment by shrinking back into the safety of the end as the end.
A young man dressed in white was in the empty tomb waiting to assure Mary Magdalene and Mary that there was life beyond what they thought was the end, but they weren’t able to receive his gift of hope. What reassurance is waiting in the tomb of our endings? What allows us to receive it?
This is Holy Saturday night, the night when we affirm that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. May we be strengthened as we receive God’s assurance that there is always something more beyond every ending. And may we receive the gift of a hope so tough and enduring that it empowers us to step forward with courage.