Silence, Mystery, Imagination Mark 16:1-8

We are more than bystanders in God's possibilities.

Silence, Mystery, Imagination Mark 16:1-8
Photo by Manuel Sardo on Unsplash

There are occasions in every life where words fail us. It might be an experience of awe, such as seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. It might be an incredibly emotional event, such as getting married or watching a baby come into the world. Or it could be a time of overwhelming grief, like sitting at the bedside of a loved one at the moment of their death.

Whatever the case, we all get gobsmacked at some point. What is happening to us is too big or too incomprehensible to put into words. It outruns our ability to make sense of it because our experience has suddenly taken us beyond any kind of familiarity or comfort.

And so there we are, struck dumb, hoping that our language will catch up to our history at some point.

(If this isn't an experience you've had as an adult, think about being a child and not knowing what to say or how to experience yourself.)

You might suspect that I am going to apply this to Mark's account of Easter morning. You're not wrong! If you look right at the end of the lesson, Mark says the two Marys and Salome flee in terror and amazement. "They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid."

Be not afraid — but don't say a word

I'd like to say they were just overwhelmed. But, no. If I met an angel telling me my friend had risen from the dead, I'd be afraid as well. Mark actually may have included this detail to give the story some authenticity. What's the first thing an angel always says when they show up in the Bible? Right: Be not afraid. Because the natural reaction to encountering the power of God is to be terrified. So if the women fled in terror instead of arguing with the young man, you have to know God was behind this.

In any case, as much as we love words in Western tradition, there are some moments where the most appropriate response is to remain silent, because nothing you say can be adequate to the situation. This is one of those moments.

In some ways, only silence, or something next to it, is the most appropriate thing here. I'd invite you to review the story with quiet in mind:

  • Very early in the morning, as the world is still waking up, the women set out for the tomb.
  • They are no doubt overwhelmed with grief, and they speak to one another tersely, wondering who will roll the stone back for them.
  • The angel doesn't shout at them in a booming voice. He talks in a conversational tone. "I know you're looking for Jesus, but he's not here, because he's alive again. Go tell Peter that he'll meet you all in Galilee."
  • And the women are so terrified that they turn on their heels and flee back to the other disciples, with only their heavy breath to hear as they run.

Enter Mystery

You don't need a Dolby surround-sound system to feel the drama. In fact, it seems more tense without shouting or swelling music. It seems more mysterious.

That's appropriate. The word "mystery," after all, derives from a Greek expression for a closed mouth. It originally referred to the secret rituals of various religions that the faithful weren't supposed to talk about with outsiders. The Masonic rituals are modeled on this kind of mystery.

Over time, the language crept, as language does. Mystery moved from something you shouldn't talk about to the things you couldn't talk about, things that were inexpressible. When we say during a communion service "Great is the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again," it's that sense of the word. It's a tacit admission that the faith we proclaim is actually far too great, far too complex, far too filled with awe and wonder and terror, for us to actually wrap our minds around. And yet, we go ahead with it.

We experience mystery most fully exactly when we get to the limits of our experience. Our understandings and explanations are no longer adequate, we sense a uncontrollable and infinite depth to the world. To put it another way, we discover that we are in way over our heads. We have no explanations, only more questions. We experience mystery most, in other words, when we are forced into silence.

You think this might apply to Easter morning?

I don't mean to suggest that the story of Jesus' resurrection is an unsolvable mystery that we will never be able to fully understand or explain. That's all very true, but it's not what we're talking about here.

Χριστός Ανέστη!

First of all, the mystery here is not exactly that Jesus died and lived again. It's that he emptied himself for us, and that through that self-emptying, he made it possible for God to "swallow up death forever" and "wipe every tear from every eye." His actions have spoken louder than words. They have established a promise that death and loss and grief will be no more some day.

It's God's creative initiative that will make this possible. Our efforts only ever run us into a brick wall of sin and death. But God makes things possible that are impossible for us. It is out of those possibilities that the promise will be fulfilled. The empty tomb and Christ's resurrection are the first of those possibilities entering into the world.

We are more than bystanders in God's possibilities. When we come smack up against the things we can't talk about, except to ask questions, the questions lead us to use our imagination. We start to fill in meaning as best we can, and we do this in a number of ways.

We make images in art, music, dance, poetry. Or we find new ways of seeing and understanding the world not limited to our usual ways of talking about things.

We rework our old ideas and refit them to the new world.

We connect with others, put ourselves in their shoes, widen the scope of our empathy and mercy.

We find ways to tell stories, old and new. We preach sermons from them.

It is our faith that the resurrection makes this work of imagination possible. The mystery of Jesus' death and rising sets to work God's possibilities in the ways we see, understand, and talk about the world.

There is no final way to explain the meaning of the mystery of the resurrection, and the promise made to the world in it, except to live it.

Because of the resurrection, we can imagine the world in a way that includes those at its margins: the poor, the sick, the lonely, the despised. We can have authentic conversations with the world, rather than speak from pre-approved talking points. We can let God's possibilities grow wild and free, taking us where they will. We are free to overcome our fear and live in connection with the world and its inhabitants.1

Most of all, we are empowered to imagine the world differently in our lives. There is no final way to explain the meaning of the mystery of the resurrection, and the promise made to the world in it, except to live it.

How do we do that? Unfortunately, I can't tell you. Neither could Mark, actually. Our lesson for today may very well have been the original end to his gospel, abruptly leaving the disciples in terror and confusion. It's not that there is no answer, it's that the answer can only be found through living it for yourself.

So I am not going to tell you how to live your lives in light of Easter. Instead, I am going to leave you with some questions to get yourselves started. Find one impossible thing in your life, or your life together as the church, one thing that you cannot change. Then ask: Jesus emptied himself to the point of death for us. God raised him from the tomb to give us eternal life. What does that mean for us, right here, right now? Where is the new life? Where do we find the promise of God for us in this situation?

Ask those questions, live with imagination, give thanks to God for making it all possible, and you'll be halfway to answer. Amen.


1Mental note: develop this as a reconnection not just to humanity, but the entire creation.