Unknowable One, we stand before you, hardly daring to look up. We offer you our hearts, and pray that we may, this day and ever, worship you in ways that are true. Forgive us those days when we have worshiped false and faulty images we have shaped. Help our frail senses, that we may apprehend your Presence and your Love. In the everlasting Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.*
But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:7-8, ESV)
In the last reflection, we were reminded that our faith as Christians hinges on the truth of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. We read the account of it from Mark 16:1-6, when Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome took spices to the tomb to anoint Jesus for burial, as was their custom. When they got there, they found an empty tomb and a young man dressed in a white robe, who told them, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.” In that reflection, I drew also from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, in which he said, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Paul wrote at length about the correlation between Christ’s actual, bodily resurrection and our hopeful future. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then we have no hope, he says. The resurrection matters. If it happened, we who are in Christ have ample reason for hope. If it didn’t, not only are we hopeless, but we are just plain pitiful.
Today we’re finishing this little section of Mark 16, which, incidentally, is where some early manuscripts of Mark’s gospel end. The question we were left with last time, at least a question I was left with, was, “What now?” Jesus has risen from the dead. WOW. The women are standing there face to face with a young man dressed in a white robe whom they find sitting in his empty tomb. Is he an angel? Perhaps. According to our traditions, probably, yes, he is an angel. Either way, what now?
As I read this passage, I imagine myself there with them. I place myself into the story in order to feel, in order to experience in my mind and heart something of the wonder. What do we do when we have encountered a miracle?
We picked up today’s passage in the middle of the “young man’s” conversation with the women. He has just told them, “He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.” And now, today we carry on with what he said next:
“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
As I read this text several times through this morning, two phrases began to grab my attention:
“Go, tell his disciples…”
“They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
As soon as I caught this, I just laughed and shook my head. We followers of Christ haven’t changed much all in the past two thousand years. In the face of a miracle, in the face of the commandment to “Go, tell…,”our default position is fear, and that fear drives us to silence. That fear often shuts our mouths at the very moment when our mouths should be open in proclamation of the wonders of God.
Of course they were afraid. I would be too. (So would you.) They went expecting to find the lifeless corpse of their beloved friend and teacher. Can you imagine their shock at finding the tomb open, his body absent, and, instead, a very much alive young man in his place asserting that he has risen from the dead? It’s no wonder that they were trembling and seized by astonishment! I would be too! But what can we learn from this short passage? The women were the first to be given the tremendous news of the gospel. Death did not win here, and it will not win, ever. Christ has risen from the dead, and we, too, with him shall rise.
So go tell.
Fear has shut my mouth so many times as well. I am no better than these early disciples. And why? What am I afraid of? That they will not believe me. That I will not adequately articulate the experience I had. That I will sound foolish. That I will alienate those who do not believe with me. That I’ll make God look bad?
The women were not the only ones who were given the directive to “Go, tell.” In the passage we have come to know as “the great commission,” Jesus gives the eleven disciples who were there with him (and every other follower of Christ by proxy) similar instructions: “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Go, tell. Let your words and actions have a formative effect on others so that they, too, will become disciples. Baptize them as a sign that they are being renewed in my love. And teach them my ways.
It doesn’t sound hard, does it? But fear is a formidable force. But there is a force that is even stronger than fear. Some have said it is the strongest thing there is, that there is absolutely nothing stronger than this. Listen to the incredible hope we have for overcoming fear:
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:14-19, ESV)
What is the force that overcomes fear? Love. Fear is strong, for sure, but love is even stronger. God’s perfect love casts out fear.
Shortly after I moved into my first apartment back in 1995, I discovered that I had a little cockroach problem. I had never seen a cockroach before, but I’ll never forget the first night I spent there, when I got up from my bed to get a drink of water in the the kitchen. I turned on the light and was utterly horrified as I watched the cockroaches scurry back to their dark cabinets, driven out by the light. Whenever I read this passage, I think of that: God’s love is like the light that drove the cockroaches out. Did they come back? Yes, and so does our fear. But then we go to the light again, the light of perfect love, and the cockroaches—the fears—flee for another day.
Whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.
Let those words sit with you. Fear is normal. Christ’s followers have been fearing for ages. Yet fear is not the end of the story—God’s love is. We encounter God with fearful hearts, and God’s love sweeps in and envelops us, driving out fear. In the end, love, not fear, overcomes. Day by day, as we walk in the light of God’s love.
Are there times when you know like you know like you know that the Holy Spirit is nudging you to “go and tell” someone the good news of Christ, or to share something wonderful God has done in your life, or to deliver a word of encouragement that is rooted in the hope of the gospel, yet fear takes hold and you keep your mouth closed? You’re not alone. Fear is a powerful force, and has kept many a disciple of Christ from proclamation. Let’s pray today for one another that fear will not ultimately keep our lips sealed. Let’s pray together that we will overcome fear and open our mouths in public praise of the wonders of God. Let’s pray that God’s perfect love will, today, drive out fear and free us to proclaim words that bring life and freedom and hope.
*This prayer, written by Scott Cairns, comes from God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas (Paraclete Press, 2007), a beautiful collection of Advent reflections and images of art through the ages that I read through every year. Today’s prayer is from the reflection for the Second Wednesday of Advent.