Sermon for Holy Saturday, Saturday, March 31 2018, 9:00 pm
Mtr. Maggie Helwig, Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto
Rom 6:3-11; Ps 114; Mk 16:1-8
“Who will roll away the stone?”, the women ask. How will we get past the barriers, the closures? How will we get this work done? How will do the proper things which we do at the end? And then they arrive, and they find that the stone is already gone. More than that, all possible work is already accomplished – there is no body to anoint, for it is risen and gone, no work to be done, no conclusion. The ending has been torn away from them, and replaced by empty space, replaced by a great gust of possibility. He is already out there, he is way ahead of you, he is waiting for you to get there.
We too, reading Mark’s gospel, may feel that an ending has been torn away from us, as these women, the ones who have been so carefully described, so perfectly positioned as witnesses, so clearly and explicitly given the job of carrying the news, these women now run away in disorder and fear, and say nothing to anyone. It is really one of the most startling moves in literature, so startling that some of the earliest editors tried to fix it, adding patched-on resurrection appearances, and witnesses who behave more appropriately, or at least in ways which those editors thought more appropriate.
But what do you do, here in the sudden, impossible open space, when all the endings we expect are gone, when there are no proper things to be done because another, stranger, far more astonishing work has been done already, and the road is thrown open? When everything we have prepared for has become, in a single second, obsolete? When there is no one here to hold your hand, or to tell you what the truth is now, only the instruction to move?
The reasonable assumption, of course, is that the women must have told someone eventually, or nobody would have known their story to write it down. Mark’s audience knew that as well as anyone else, probably better. But this is not where we are asked to be, at this moment. Mark demands that we remain, at least for this moment, in silent amazement.
All through Mark’s gospel, Jesus has been asking for silence – from the demons who are the first to recognize him, from the people he has healed along the way, from the disciples at the Transfiguration. The first thing he tells anyone who glimpses some truth is to keep quiet. So maybe, just maybe, the women do not fail after all. Maybe, when they fall into the great mystery of silence, they fall into movement and freedom. Like the children of Israel, led into the desert with no clear path to follow, guided by a cloud, in the name of a God who has no speakable name.
Mark wrote, we think, just after the destruction of the Temple, and he wrote for a community in trauma and terror, a community which had fled, like those women, in fear and uncertainty. A community which probably didn’t know how to speak or what to say. And though Mark himself, in what is really something of a miracle, found words and wrote them down, he must have been only too aware that most of his fellow Christians were speechless. But they were not helpless – in the ruins of the empire’s wars, they were caring for each other, helping lost strangers, building life. And in time, the ruins became a new kind of freedom.
We lit the Paschal fire tonight in a barrel from which the word MERCY leaps in flaming letters; it was originally linked to an art installation about the rebuilding of community after disaster. It was an installation largely without speech. But there was fire, and food, and human presence. And there are those things now. There is art, and music, and poetry. There are people gathered, doing what we can, feeding a little fire with old bits of fencing, feeding the random street with leftovers. And that is mercy. That is resurrection.
We may not know how to speak of hope, in a world of war and violence and pain. But perhaps that is, at least sometimes, all right. Maybe we can only discover the hope of the empty tomb by living it, living out the values of love and justice and resurrection. We have no certainty. We just keep on trying to get on the road to Galilee, and put one foot in front of the other. And that is enough. We have just enough courage to get through the day, and then the next day. Just enough love to do one kind thing. Just enough wood to light a little cooking fire. Just enough hope to keep building in the wreckage. And that is enough.
In the astonishing morning of the world, in the sudden empty expanse of freedom, we are astonished and afraid, but we are not abandoned. He has gone ahead of us. And we, we too, stumbling and confused, move forward into the dawn.