“Who Will Roll the Stone Away?” Who Witnesses the witnesses?
Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118, I Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8
Sunday, April 1, 2018 – Easter Sunday Morning
Knox-Metropolitan United Church
Regina, SK – Treaty 4 Territory
Cameron Fraser (Preached by Carol Schick)
I remember learning a little rhyming night-time prayer in Sunday School when I was quite young, designed to help us learn the names of the first four books in what we call the New Testament:
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the Bed that I lay on…
More vividly, I remember that my fellow 7 year old classmates and I turned that into…
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Went to Bed with nothing on…
And then promptly forgot who these four naked people were meant to be.
My apologies to years of former Sunday School Teachers.
The New Testament begins with four books, sometimes called the Gospel According to…or St. such and such the Apostle.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke (which by the were not likely written by the characters of these names who we find in said books but instead 30-70 years later – but that is another sermon, or a deep conversation over coffee) these three are often referred to as synoptics, which means that all three lay out the same materials—seemingly a summary of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
John seems a lot less like a summary, and more a philosophical or theological musing about certain key moments or aspects about Jesus.
The tradition then in many churches is that one of the 3 Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are read each year in segments of passages during worship services (with bits of John thrown in here and there), this is called a Lectionary — a collection of appointed passages—and this cycle is repeated every 3 years.
This year, we happen to be reading Mark, and this version offers a unique perspective on the Easter story.
Our reading this morning began with Jesus breathing his last breath and the text specifically states that watching from a distance was a group of women:
Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome…and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
These women are again mentioned when Jesus’ body is laid to rest and then the next morning, it is they who come to the tomb to find it empty.
What is notable is that the 12 male characters who are often refereed to as the “twelve” disciples are nowhere to be seen. Now calling them “the disciples” is problematic because it can be taken to mean that only these 12 were following Jesus during his ministry when in fact the story indicates that there were many more, and that women were playing a prominent role.
Moreover, in the book of Mark, the twelve male disciples, are depicted as increasingly misunderstanding Jesus’ mission and purpose, while the women seem to be getting it and seem to function in the narrative as an example to be followed, a positive foil to the increasingly negative example of the 12.
While the 12, out of fear for their own safety hide away, these women stand in public vigil. First to the crucifixion itself, a sign of imperial power and control, crucifixion, throughout the Roman Empire was used to quash local dissent or protest, meant not to only to kill the leader of a movement, but the movement itself. In the case of the 12 it seems to work, they are no where to be seen. But the women, bear witness.
We might think of the many stories in our world today in which the voices of women hold public vigil, witnessing to truths about death and violence, exploitation and oppression which without their bold acts and courageous words, might be quickly forgotten, moved on from or not even heard at all.
18 year old Emma Gonzalez, whose picture perhaps you’ve seen recently, her recognizable short cropped hair, standing boldly behind a microphone, one of the survivors of the Parkland High School shooting in Florida, calling on those who are ready to move on from the news of another school shooting to business as usual.
Mothers of young men of colour whose courageous testimony fuels the Black Lives Matter movement.
Mothers, grandmothers and daughters of Indigenous women who are missing and murdered, publicly witnessing, boldly calling out those in places of power for incompetency, bias and ignorance, for paying only lip service and not following through on pledges to give these cases the attention they deserve.
Trans women who witness to the pain and struggle in their community.
Women from so many circles who have risked career, reputation and received scorn and personal attack for speaking truth of ways that they have been sexually harassed by influential men.
All of these and so many more
In their courage they witness to both Good Friday, to the brokenness of human life hanging upon crosses of exploitative systems that value profit over human life, and that privilege some communities at the expense of others.
And in their courage they witness to the empty tomb of Easter morning, offering vision of world in which school shootings have ceased, in which communities need not live in fear of institutions seemingly designed to protect, in which people have enough to thrive and access to treatments, clean water and sustainable just wages.
Their courage shows us where we are, and where we could be, and the space in between, shows us what we must confront to get from one way to another.
When the 12 male disciples thought they were part of a movement that meant personal gain, Jesus was speaking truth to power, calling out the elites of his day surrounding the temple (which was not just religious but a political and economic institution) for their oppressive, predatory abuse of the urban poor and rural peasant classes.
The 12 didn’t get it, but the women did.
They witnessed it Jesus’ life, and they witnessed to it by embodying it in his death and empty tomb, witnessing resurrection not as the superiority of one religious figure over others but as a divine vindication of the cause of the weak against the exploitation of the powerful.
Their story ends by being told to go find Jesus’ disciples (again another turn of phrase that masks how integral these women are to that group) and to tell them to go on to Galilee, where the Jesus’ movement began, and there to find Jesus.
The text ends by saying that they were terrified and amazed, and that they told no one. This could make it seem like they did not follow their mission, but since we read these words we know they must have.
But it is interesting to consider, that other sources pick up the male disciples as leading the burgeoning Jesus movement in Jerusalem in the months and years after his crucifixion. This is interesting because it is not Galilee, a province to the north where the movement began among farmers and fishers, where the woman were told to go.
But it is from this region that the Gospel of Mark emerges, the first of the written accounts of Jesus ministry.
So while a hierarchal church seems to begin in Jerusalem, the capital and centre of power, it seems that an egalitarian, expression among the everyday people begins in Galilee.
From history, we know which one will prove dominant in the early centuries, as Christianity emerges as a movement distinct from Judaism (which will take another century or two). We also know from history, how quickly a peasant movement of community renewal and calling on ruling elites for justice will become a state sanctioned religion of empire and power.
Which makes me think that more than ever, we might find a freshness of life, hope and possibility in witnessing the witnesses – Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James the Younger and Joses, and the disciple named Salome and the witnesses, who in our time embody their courage, expose the violence of our day, and point towards an empty tomb of new possibility.
I believe that this is the call of Easter, a call to roll away stones of indifference, to call forth voices erased from histories, and find there in the wildness and possibility of spirit that names life, love and solidarity as forces of divine creativity, resilient enough to break through concrete slabs of death, destruction and indifference. This is Easter.
For in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with, we are not alone.
Thanks be to God. Amen.