“Something That Doesn’t Compute” – Easter – 4/8/12 – Mark 16:1-8

Christ is Risen!  Christ is Risen Indeed!

There’s a joke I heard a while back about the difference between a lawyer and a preacher.  The difference between a lawyer and a preacher is that a lawyer spends all day looking at a stack of papers trying to condense it down to a few paragraphs, while a preacher spends all day looking at a few paragraphs trying to expand it into a stack of papers.

This is probably one of the very few jokes where the lawyer comes out looking pretty good.

After reading the last few paragraphs of Mark’s gospel, especially the last verse, chapter 16, verse 8, one wonders whether there is anything at all to be said on Easter Sunday.  “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.”

What is there to say?  How do you describe, analyze, illustrate, signify, something as terrifying and amazing as resurrection?

It was well over a century later that some scribes, pondering this unlikely ending, added what is now known as the shorter and longer endings to Mark, the bracketed verses 9-20 of our Bibles.

Perhaps we can only begin to speak of resurrection after 100 years of silence.  Joining with these women in our unarticulated amazement.

Once the silence is broken, what we have are these dense phrases that we proclaim to one another and read about as they were proclaimed to others.

“Christ is risen.”

“He is not here.”

“He is going ahead of you, to Galilee.”

“You will see him, just as he told you.”

These are words about which many stacks of pages and many books could be written and have been.  These are the words that seized the women from the empty tomb, with terror and amazement.

For them, news of the resurrection was something akin to losing their mind, a thought echoed in that most inspired of Easter poems, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, by Wendell Berry which ends by saying:

As soon as the generals and politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

This losing of one’s mind that the practice of resurrection brings about is the beginning of going sane in a mad world.  When the power of domination is believed to be the only ruling force, when crucifixion becomes the norm, when death feels like an engulfing reality…when you get a glimpse that there could be another way; that another, deeper, more enduring, more all encompassing power might be at the heart of reality – love, forgiveness, life – when you let yourself start to even think about believing that, you’ve started to go sane in a mad world.  Terror and amazement seizing you.

There’s a great freedom that comes with being encouraged to be like the fox, who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction.  Thank God.  There are tracks and footprints crisscrossing throughout this gospel story, going every direction.

The male disciples have already laid down tracks all over the scene.  Starting with Jesus in Galilee, traipsing with him throughout the countryside, following him to Jerusalem.  By his side until the final night of Jesus’ life, when, Mark says plainly: “All of them deserted him and fled.”  In the hours that followed, perhaps they were retracing their steps in their minds, trying to figure out where they went wrong.  Shouldn’t have followed him from the beginning.  Shouldn’t have abandoned him in his hour of greatest need.

Toward the end, at the crucifixion, we are given what feels like unexpected news.  Along with the dutiful centurion standing by Jesus, Mark informs us: “There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.  These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.” (NRSV Mark 15:40-41).  Although rarely named or narrated throughout, we are now challenged to reimagine Jesus’ ministry recognizing that these women, and many other women, have been by his side his whole time, making tracks, leaving their imprint on the story of the coming of the kingdom of God which Jesus preached.  Luke’s gospel notes that they were even some of his key financial supporters, providing for him out of their own means.

At least three of the women see where Jesus’ body is laid after he dies.  These feel like bold and dangerous tracks to be making, perhaps trying to erase as they go every trace of their presence as they follow the body of the convicted criminal, keeping it within sight.

Their next course of action is a pious, compassionate act, but not unusual, as they prepare to anoint Jesus’ body in the tomb.  Scholars tell us that “charitable guilds of Jerusalem women were known to be present after executions in order to assure proper burial.”  (Say To This Mountain, Ched Myers et. al, p. 205)  This is a path trod by other women of Jerusalem.  A path already trod by that one woman before Jesus was convicted, who, uninvited, came into the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany and broke open her life savings, that jar and its expensive ointment, anointing Jesus head.  “She has done a good service for me,” Jesus had said.  “She has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.”

These women have followed, have watched, and now have observed Sabbath rest, a commandment so important that it trumped even the duties of a proper, respectful burial for one who has just died.  Even that can wait.  They wait until the Sabbath is over, purchase their appropriate spices and head out early, just as the sun is rising.  On the way, they have their mind on practical concerns.  Who will role away the large stone from the entrance of the tomb?  Perhaps they are brainstorming ways of moving it, rigging up some kind of lever on a fulcrum, some kind of simple machine to multiply their efforts.  Mary and Salome bear down on the lever while the other Mary pushes on the stone to nudge it along.  The basic laws of gravity and mass and limited physical strength are not in their favor.  If these were guys, this could be a pretty exciting challenge.  A competition to see whose idea will be the one that works best.  Back and forth banter about who is the strongest and who needs to hit the gym.  Since we’re already going the route of gender stereotypes, how about one more example?  In John’s gospel, after hearing word from Mary of the empty tomb, Peter and the one called the beloved disciple have a footrace to the tomb.  John gives us the detail that the beloved disciple outran Peter, the first to cross the finish line, bragging rights for years to come.  But this is before that, and the guys have all fled, at whatever speed they were able to achieve.  They’ll be welcomed back into the story, but not yet.  The women are most likely not terribly excited about this massive barrier between them and Jesus.  Perhaps they are making tracks in the wrong direction.

But the stone has been rolled away, and they hear these words:

“Christ is risen.”

“He is not here.”

“Go, tell his disciples.”

“He is going ahead of you, to Galilee.”

“You will see him, just as he told you.”

They are seized with terror and amazement and flee from the tomb, telling nothing to anyone.  Is this the wrong direction or the right direction?  He is not here, not in the tomb.

These women of Lent and Easter remind me of the women of Advent and Christmas.  Like Mary and Elizabeth, pregnant, holding new worlds within them, staying by one another’s side, hoping against hope for the new creation that turns the world upside down, uncertain what the next steps might be to get there.

Be like the fox, who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction.

Jesus had said earlier: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so, be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  You’ve got to be losing you mind to go out like a sheep among wolves.  You’ve got to be going sane in a mad world to be as wise as a serpent, and innocent as a dove.  A new mind.  Opening up unchartered neurological pathways within oneself that lead God-knows-where.  Sheep, wolf, serpent, dove, fox.  It’s a wild world.

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, will cite the different resurrection appearances that he was aware of.  Christ had appeared to Peter and the twelve, and 500 others.  Paul will then say that Christ also appeared to him, not in any bodily way, but in a vision.  Paul, the lead sheep of the flock of the good shepherd, had formerly been a wolf, hunting and imprisoning and even killing those who claimed to follow Jesus.  How many steps in the wrong direction are too many?  How many lives can you destroy before you’re beyond reach?  How far is too far?  Paul was heading toward Damascus to do more damage, and encountered resurrection on the very path which was the wrong direction.  And, for him, and his teaching which became so influential in the church, death and resurrection became the pattern of creation and life itself.  Die before you die.  I am crucified with Christ, and now I live in Christ.  Resurrection life is available now, it awaits you on the road.

The practice of resurrection, according to the Mad Farmer Liberation Front, is this:

“So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.  Love the Lord.  Love the world.  Work for nothing.  Take all you have and be poor.  Love someone who does not deserve it.  Denounce the government and embrace the flag.  Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.  Give your approval to all you cannot understand…Ask the questions that have no answers.  Invest in the millennium.  Plant sequoias.  Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest.  Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold.  Call that profit.  Prophesy such returns.”

Christ is going ahead of you to Galilee.  Or Damascus.  Into the forest you will not live to harvest.

Wherever you are going next, Christ is already there out in front on you.  Not confined to the past.  Not restricted to someone else’s story.  The future is open.  The tracks are yet to be made, many in the wrong direction.  It’s terrifying.  It’s cause for amazement.

“He is not here.”

“He is going ahead of you.”

“You will see him, just as he told you.”

“Practice resurrection.”

These are dense words and phrases that unfold in their own time.  They reveal their meaning over the course of a life lived as if they could be true.  Producing, not only stacks of paper of thoughts and insights and poetry, but a life story that actually starts to take the shape of resurrection.  A life that looks like God’s love taking human form.  A life in which death is a part, but is not the defining power, or the end of the story.  Just part of the story, contained within the greater story of eternal love that keeps pouring itself out into creation.  Resurrection.  Christ is risen.  Alleluia.