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Isaiah 25:6–9 | Psalm 118:1–2, 14–24 | Acts 10:34–43 | Mark 16:1–8
In the gospel of Mark, it’s three women who go to the tomb early on the day after the Jewish sabbath—or Saturday—Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome. Now, to compare, John has only Mary Magdalene first going to the tomb, Matthew has just the two Marys, and Luke covers the bases with by saying “the women” (Later we hear the 2 Marys, Joanna and others) went to the tomb. It goes to show that this whole scene was not really, like, planned out: Wait, who really went first? How did that happen? Also, surprise put our brains and bodies in high alert, which isn’t the best state for remembering. But I’m hoping we can just immerse ourselves for a bit this morning in what it would have been like that early morning on the way to care for the body of Jesus… I love in Mark how we overhear the three women wondering about practical things on their way: Like, who’s going to roll that big stone away so we can actually get in to anoint the body of Jesus? While in Matthew there’s an earthquake that rolls away the stone and scares the guards, in Mark and the other gospels, it is simply discovered that the stone has been moved. Jesus—in all accounts, despite various descriptions and numbers of messengers in the tomb—is at first, nowhere to be seen. Moments later in Matthew and John, the guys and Mary M. respectively, see Jesus before the later appearances. But in the moment, Jesus isn’t even present for the main event.
We might think Easter morning to be a supernatural event that has little to do with us. But there’s a strange ordinariness, especially here in Mark. Someone IS in the tomb to explain Jesus’ missing body, but is described simply as a young man in a white robe. After the explanation and instructions to go back to Galilee, we have three actions and three physical experiences—all connected: The women went out, fled and said NO THING to NO ONE. Which is exactly what your limbic system might propel your body to do with adrenaline and cortisol because of being afraid—phobos. We hear more about this experience as one of trembling—literally tremors; and amazement—literally, ek-stasis (out of body.) What’s unique to Mark is that the earliest versions of the gospel ends right here: Trembling and running on account of fear.
Now, obviously, people found out about Jesus. And this is why later versions of Mark’s gospel add in the pieces we hear from the other gospels about people sharing the news and seeing Jesus. But I think this morning’s events are a good reminder of what it’s like to live an embodied life—as people whose very bodies are wired for things like fear and trembling—maybe even so much that we don’t know what to do with ourselves (Ek-stasis). Sometimes it’s Good Friday with this kind of desperate sorrow that comes with loss and wondering why. Sometimes its more something amiss that we can’t explain and isn’t what we expected. AND it might even be the prospect of joy that causes all these reactions: Better to assume the worst so we are ready when the other shoe drops.
Long-time researcher of the brain, Bessel Van Der Kolk, explains at length in his book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” how our limbic system—or lower, autonomic brain—takes in and interprets stimuli for response before the frontal cortex—or thinking brain—gets involved. This means that our bodies take things in, whether we want them to or not: And stores the experience. In the case of trauma, there is literal replaying of the experience since the lower brain doesn’t distinguish in its reaction, between memory and current reality. The other side, however, Dr. Van Der Kolk has found, is the same capacity for healing. Our brains can continue to experience things like love given as a current and ongoing reality. No wonder we need each other! No wonder the resurrection continues to have power in our lives. Our brain is bound to react. But in the background is the salvation or healing-that is a physical experience, from the ground up.
When you think about it, Jesus was thoroughly traumatized in his own body with his suffering and death: Going to that place- literally- that is the worst we as humans can be toward one another. Jesus ALSO has that memory sealed into his brain that is a current reality: God loves him and loves the world. He leans into that understanding of what God is up to, expressed in the prophet Isaiah:
The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces…
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
The sign of this salvation/healing is the resurrection. The ripple affect goes beyond just Jesus’ head, but to the whole world.
What awakens in our healing, the Dr. Van Der Kolk says, is restoration of our imagination: Not what is somehow fanciful and fleeting, but an elasticity of our brain that can once again see possibility. It can dream dreams and see visions. Our healing gives us energy and creativity and insight the becomes, too, the work of our hands. Imagination sees what couldn’t be seen before, what new things await; what connections we might make. We might say it’s like an empty tomb. What now? What adventure awaits? Where will our feet take us and our hearts lead us? The three women fleeing the tomb do so because of their nervous systems, yes- but this activity gives them a way to burn it off. To be propelled into something new: In the instance, we know not what. But we can guess! And imagine! For we are called to be healed as well; from all that has befallen us- as individuals, as communities, as a country and world. That with all the trembling and amazement and fear, we might also know surprise and newness—like an empty tomb where Jesus once lay. Thanks be to God. Amen.