Resurrection of the Lord — April 4, 2021

Mark 16:1-8
Easter Sunday
Year B

Naomi Wadler was only 11 years old when she spoke at the “March for Our Lives” rally — the student-led rally against gun violence in Washington, D.C. in 2018.

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But by all accounts, she seemed much older — some even said she seemed like future presidential material. If so, then Americans have a bright future to look forward to. Naomi was born in Ethiopia; her father is Black and her mother white. While attending school in Alexandria, Virginia, a community where the majority are white, she would ask her parents questions — such as why the news identified the race of Black people but not white people. With questions like this on her mind, she appeared on the big stage to speak at the rally in D.C. “I am here today,” she said, “to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead the evening news. … I represent the African American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls that fill a potential.” Naomi then honored the words of Toni Morrison: ” ‘If there’s a book that you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.’ … I urge everyone here and everyone who hears my voice to join me in telling the stories that aren’t told. To honor the girls, the women of color who are murdered at disproportionate rates in this nation. I urge each of you to help me write the narrative for this world and understand, so that these girls and women are never forgotten.”

Naomi’s eloquent entreaty, inviting our participation in the writing of this narrative – a yet unfinished story – resonated deeply with me as I absorbed the news of a mass killing of Asian American women in Atlanta, the mass shooting at a supermarket in Colorado and pondered another unfinished story: Mark’s odd Easter narrative. As Mark’s story opens, three women make their way to the tomb — the only followers who have remained faithful to Jesus to the end. They come early, bearing spices, to render to him one last act of loving service and devotion. But when they arrive at the tomb, they find that the large stone that had sealed it had been rolled back and they meet there a young man dressed in a white robe who bears astonishing news: “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

And how do they respond to this announcement?  Mark tells us: “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.” Period. The end! Is that any way to end a Gospel? This question has been debated endlessly, but most scholars have generally come around to the view that Mark’s Gospel really did end at 16:8, and that what we have here is an unfinished story – intentionally so – because an unfinished story will not let us go. It works powerfully upon us, drawing us in to ponder what happened next, and perhaps even to be a part of what unfolds — to finish the story.

As we ponder this possibility, it is important to attend carefully to the words of the young man at the tomb: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised … . He is going ahead of you into Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So where will Jesus meet them, and us? Galilee is the everyday world of Jesus’ disciples — the place where they lived and worked, along with others: some wealthy and elite, but far more destitute, living at subsistence level. Some were immigrants or refugees. Galilee, you see, is the place where we, too, will encounter the crucified and risen Christ who goes before us into our own everyday worlds. It is there that we are to work out the ending to Mark’s Easter story. Galilee is a place where the crucified of the earth live their everyday lives, along with their crucifiers. It is a place of fear and violence. It is a place of partisan enmities. The shock of Easter is that it is also the place where the crucified Christ, raised from the dead, goes before us — there we will meet him. This is indescribably good news, truly earthshaking news, because it means that the hate and fear and violence of our world does not have the last word. The resurrected Christ, who goes before us, bears witness to a God who seeks to bring resurrection, new creation, out of our death-tending realities. This astonishing news inspires hope, but also action. The good news of resurrection empowers us, by the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, to live into the story as it continues to unfold — to finish the story in our everyday lives!

I find it striking that children have often led the way to those places most in need of resurrection and new life. The “March for Our Lives,” at which Naomi Wadler spoke, was by no means the first march led by children at a seismic point in our national history.  Another children’s march was critical to the civil rights movement, largely inspired by children from Black churches. At a crucial moment in the Birmingham campaign in 1963, a children’s march changed the face of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr., and other leaders of the movement in Birmingham, were criticized for even thinking about engaging children and youth in the struggle. In response, King noted that no one showed concern for these children when they were consigned to poor, racially segregated schools and other indignities imposed by Jim Crow laws. Besides, children were taking the initiative, showing up for nonviolent resistance workshops. They were full of bravado and ready to march, even if it meant going to jail. Make no mistake about it: the children knew what they are doing — more importantly, the people who cared the most for these children, their parents, also were showing up in solidarity with the movement. Students were allowed to join the march on the grounds that if they were old enough to join the church, they were old enough to march — and in Baptist churches many allowed youth as young as age 6 to join the church! But no one was certain about what would happen if children were in fact allowed to march and to go to jail protesting the brutal inhumanity of Jim Crow.

On Thursday May 2, 1963, Birmingham police put up extra barricades, and a court ordered injunction against demonstrations was in place warning that arrests, dogs and fire hoses would be ready for use in the event of demonstrations. What happened? Fifty teenagers emerged from the front doors of the 16th Street Baptist Church, two abreast, singing and clapping, transforming the gospel song “We Shall Overcome” into a protest song and ragtime march. The police halted the line, gave notice of arrest and directed the teens to the patrol wagons. But another line of marchers, and then another and another, spilled out of the church’s front doors, each moving in a different direction, thereby confounding and confusing the police. Police radios crackled with demands for more police vehicles while marchers kept pouring out of the church, outnumbering and enveloping the officers (eventually, they had to bring in school buses to transport those who were arrested). One group of marchers slipped through the police lines and headed to city hall. One anxious police officer yelled to Fred Shuttlesworth, a leader of the movement, “Hey Fred, how many more you got?” Fred said: “At least a thousand.” “God Almighty,” the officer replied.

Reporters said they had never seen anything like it. George Wall, a tough police captain, confronted a group of elementary school children, doing his best to intimidate them, but they all said they knew what they were doing. As she stepped into a patrol wagon, one girl was asked her age. She said she was 6. Children filled the Birmingham jails to overflowing. The event made national news and helped turn the tide the civil rights movement — it was deemed the children’s miracle. (See Presbyterian elder Taylor Branch’s masterful volume, “Parting the Waters,” to learn more.) These children, you see, wrote an ending to Mark’s Easter story in their time and place. They finished it in the streets of their Galilee, their everyday world in Birmingham, Alabama.

Let me be clear: I do not think children should be required to bear adult burdens, but in fact, they do bear our burdens.And on the great feast day of Easter when we are invited to partake of bread and cup representing the body and the blood of Christ, thereby ingesting the life of the crucified and risen Jesus so that it shapes us from within, we are empowered to stand in solidarity with crucified people in our midst, including their children. Let us attune our ears, perhaps especially, to the voices of children, of Easter youth, directing us to places most in need of resurrection and new life — including the young man at an empty tomb on Easter morning, the youth of Birmingham, the youth who showed up en masse in D.C. to “March for Our Lives,” the youth around the country and world now insisting that “Black Lives Matter” and Asian American and Pacific Islander youth marching to protest racialized injustice at our current moment in time. Their voices summon our participation in God’s great work of resurrection, of new creation, of bringing life out of death. Listen, and let’s each imagine one act of solidarity we could take in the midst of our own daily lives that might break the dike of injustice so that God’s justice might roll down on earth like a mighty flowing stream.

This week:

  1. Author Toni Morrison says this: “If there’s a book that you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, you must write it.” What do you think of this contention?
  2. Mark’s Easter story ends not with an appearance of the risen Lord, but with an empty tomb. How does this strike you, and what do you make of this?
  3. Mark’s Gospel ends very abruptly, with these final words: “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.” What do you make of this ending? What questions does it raise for you?
  4. Ponder the young man’s announcement at the empty tomb: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised … . He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Galilee is the everyday world of Jesus’ disciples, the place where they lived and worked, and the place where the story began. In your own everyday world, where have you encountered the risen Christ?
  5. The resurrected Christ goes before us in our everyday lives, bearing witness to the God who seeks to bring resurrection and new life out of own death-tending realities. In what ways does this promise inspire and/or terrify you?
  6. On Easter Sunday, image one act of solidarity that will help you participate in the writing of an ending for Mark’s story of Jesus in your own time and place. What might that act of solidarity be?

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