Terror and Amazement?

Scriptures: Mark 16:1-8, Acts 10:34-43

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

I’d like to lift up two somewhat conflicting views to the Markan story today, where the women, the Resurrection’s first witnesses, fled from the tomb filled both with terror and amazement.  According to the earliest manuscripts we have of Mark, it originally ended with verse 8.  If you look in your Bibles, you will note additional verses beyond that, found in later manuscripts; today I will end with verse 8.  Notice with the earliest ending there are no resurrection appearances, no witnessing to the disciples like in other Gospels.  Scholars say this was an intentional textual design.  Why?  Because Mark challenges us to make of this witness what we will, in our context, for the good of all humanity. Instead of completing the story for us, Mark invites us to take the story of Jesus, give it time to mellow and germinate in the garden of our lives, and then bloom into action in the world.  You may have noticed that the disciples in Mark, by and large, are not exactly painted in the best light.  They make mistakes, they seem overly dense sometimes, and even the valiant women in today’s verse don’t follow the young man’s directions; at least not up through verse 8.

Latin American Liberation Theologian Efrain Agosto suggests,

“The failure of the disciples thus becomes acute by the end of Mark’s story. Of course, such ambiguity about their role fits Mark’s overall purpose to challenge his readers to go beyond the failures of the original disciples, and their own, to exercise an effective servant gospel leadership in their day. Unlike the fleeing disciples and the uncommunicative women at the tomb, they must go forward and tell the story (emphasis added). They must not fail as disciples and movement leaders, even if the original disciples, in many ways, did so.”[1]

Why did the women flee in terror and amazement instead of immediately – one of Mark’s favorite words – go and tell the disciples as they were asked?  Well, first let’s address their emotional state – they were deeply grieving women who buy spices to anoint the dead body of Jesus.  D. Cameron Murchinson writes,

“Their intended act was one of deep devotion. It was a last act of personal and religious loyalty, no doubt undertaken as one more step by which they might work through the obvious pain and loss Jesus’ crucifixion had brought upon them. Thus it promised closure. But in this case the closure was closure not just upon an important personal relationship, but also closure on a world–embracing dream. They were making peace not only with the death of a person but with the death of God, with the death of Jesus’ claim to embody the reign of God for the well-being of the world. Thus they had uncommon reason to grieve deeply and profoundly, and somehow to make peace with the death of this dream.”[2]

There is still something odd about this story, and how the women left in terror and amazement, though. Murchinson goes on to suggest, however, that their grief is tempered:

“In a religious benefit-cost analysis, disciples are always tempted to dissolve the tension by accepting the lost benefit to avoid the cost. So those first to the tomb thought they were off the costly hook of discipleship only to discover—to their terror and amazement—the challenge still before them.”[3]

On the other hand, commentator Gail O’Day suggests their reaction was pure theophany.  She writes,

“In the face of theophany, silence is not a failed or inadequate response. Silence is a wholly appropriate response, because the women’s silence creates a space for the voice and presence of God to resound. What adequate words can the women speak in those first few moments as they leave the tomb that would not trivialize the moment, that would not make the empty tomb into a story about what they have seen instead of being a moment about what God has done? The women’s restraint and Mark’s parallel restraint in recounting the Easter story combine to allow a moment of holy awe for the reader of the Gospel.”[4]

Returning to a lens of Latin American Liberation theology, we discover yet another, deeper layer of meaning for “terror and amazement.”  Efraim Agosto again writes,

“The established leaders of the Roman Empire and their colluders in Palestine became the direct opponents of Jesus during his lifetime. They had failed to respond to the needs of the poor in the countryside, who were the primary target audience of Jesus’ ministry. We can see this in a variety of examples, from the beginning to the end of Jesus’ ministry—from Galilee right up until his final ministry in Jerusalem and the temple, including the gospel passion narratives that describe his death. Indeed, the final confrontation between Jesus and his opponents in Jerusalem involved both Jew (the temple elite) and Gentile (the Roman overseers).

This conflict precipitates Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution and thus exemplifies the ultimate sacrifice of leadership…the ministry of John the Baptist included a major word of protest against the established leadership of Galilee and Judea, including the priestly aristocracy in Jerusalem. Jesus followed in John’s footsteps and also confronted the established leaders of the day. Both John and Jesus did so out of a conviction that the leaders, both Roman and Jewish, had failed the oppressed masses of Israel’s countryside.”[5]

Thus, Jesus Christ, Liberator, convicts the elite and lifts up the lowly.  Now let’s add a final layer: application for contemporary context.   I have to admit, interpreting the story through a liberation lens leaves me feeling a little bit uneasy.  What if we drew a parallel between the Roman Empire of biblical times and the United States of America today?  Who would be the elite?  Who would be the oppressed masses?  When I look into the mirror in the morning, the face of a normal “elite” stars back out at me:  White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Male.  Therefore, I am convicted, giving rise to the question: am I serving or oppressing the parallel demographics of contemporary America’s “lowly?”  Do I contribute to the systemic elitism embedded in the Empire as we know it?  Who, then, would be our “lowly masses” today?  A particular race or ethnic group?  Women? Young people and children?  Elderly?  Migrants?  Homeless?  Mentally Ill?

If Jesus came to the oppressed masses and fed them, healed them, provided hope for their dreams and inspiration to usher in a higher standard of relational living called the Kingdom of God, to speak truth to the institutions who were oppressing (both political and priestly), and to love all humankind as neighbors, Where does that leave us?  He died.  Have we, who are the body of Christ in the world today, fed those who are hungry?  Healed those who are sick?  Provided hope for dreams or inspiration for a realized Kingdom of God on earth?  Have we spoken truth to oppressors and loved neighbor as ourselves?  Have we died to self that Jesus might rise within us?  For that is the work and meaning of Easter. Ah, now that is the hope, is it not?  For the story did not end with the women fleeing in terror.  Word did get out, Jesus did rise from the dead and even appeared to many for another 40 days before his Ascension.  Then he left us the Holy Spirit, that he might inhabit our bodies with his holiness, that we might become the body of Christ in the world to do what he calls all people to do: witness and serve God’s Kingdom.  May all glory be unto the one who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ.  Amen?  May it be so.

[1] Efrain Agosto, Servant Leadership: Jesus & Paul (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2005) p.49  Adobe Digital Edition

[2] D. Cameron Murchison, “Pastoral Perspective, Mark 16:1-8” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor ((Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gail O’Day, “Homiletical Perspective, Mark 16:1-8” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor ((Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[5] Efrain Agosto, Servant Leadership: Jesus & Paul (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2005) 62-3 Adobe Digital Edition

Question for Reflection:  Is Jesus alive to you?  In what way?  How do you live out being Christ in the world today?

Household Prayer: Morning

Heavenly God, our Father, I am full of thanks for a night of rest and for this new day and all that now awaits me.  I go forward toward encounters with family and friends, work and play, and all that will bring me into contact with strangers, certain that you are with me. Lead and guide me in the way of a resurrected life. Help me to see the risen Lord today; in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Holy God, our Mother, you are my comfort at the end as at the beginning of each day. You pull me toward the goodness you desire for me. I give you thanks for all that has come my way this day, and I ask your enveloping power to watch over me this night. Give rest to all your people. Wherever there is pain and struggle, may your holy angels bring peace; in Jesus’ name. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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