At the beginning of this Easter Vigil, we heard stories of our salvation history, beginning with Genesis. We remembered how God’s relationship with God’s people began and the ways in which God made God’s self and love for us known. Our relationship with the Most High begins with God preparing a home for us and saying, “Let there be light.”
We humans have always felt safer and happier in that light. Early in our history, we hid in darkness for fear of predators we could not see. Later, campfires warmed and comforted us until a snapping twig in the forest beyond light’s edge scared us away. Even when oil lamps and candles gave way to electric lights that extend our days into night, we can still feel alone and vulnerable and afraid, assailed by our own demons, when we turn them off. There is something primal in us that yearns for the light, a sort of primordial predilection that draws us as flower to sun.
It was just after sunrise when Mary, the mother of James, Salome, and Mary Magdalene, left their homes, carrying the spices they bought the day before to anoint Jesus’ body. Likely their emotions were so raw and their fatigue so great that their conversation en route was limited to the practical— how to move the stone that stood between them and Jesus.
As we all know, when our foremothers got to the tomb, the stone was already rolled back. Now— when you think about it— Jesus did not need the stone rolled back to get out, to rise— we needed the stone rolled back to get to him as Risen Lord.
And so the women went into the tomb and found a young man in a white robe, as well as a stone slab with empty burial linens. Seeing this, the women were likely just standing there, with shock’s blank, incredulous stare, as the young man spoke to them. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. (I don’t know what you think, but anything that starts out with “Don’t be alarmed” has got to be a humdinger.) He continued in what reads as a calming, matter of fact tone: Jesus has been raised. He is not here. Tell his disciples and Peter he is going ahead to Galilee and they will see him there. “What?” the women must have thought to themselves. “What?” By this point, they were described as terrified and amazed— or, according to the Greek translation, traumatized and ecstatic. They left and said nothing to anyone, they were so afraid.
Scholars tell us that Mark’s original gospel— the first one of the four, written around 70 CE— ends at this point, without any of the resurrection appearances added on later by others. This is curious because Mark certainly knew the whole story of Christ’s resurrection. Nonetheless, he elected to end his gospel with a cliffhanger: an empty tomb— save the angelic tour guide in the white robe— three ecstatic women running away in terror, and a Risen Lord going ahead to Galilee. You can’t make this up.
Perhaps Mark used this literary device to pull generations of his readers into the story— readers who would never have had the chance to walk with the incarnate God or to run to Galilee to see him Risen. He is making us think, hoping against hope that our hearts and minds will open just enough for God to ignite a spark of faith that our assent can fan into a flame.
Now bear with me a moment for what appears to be a digression but isn’t. The memory I am about to describe is vivid to me and would years later become the metaphor for my salvation history. I was about 8 years old and sick as a dog. Evidently the Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and ginger ale didn’t work. Anyway, I awoke in the night with a high fever, pounding headache, and the dark room spinning around me. I was so sick and felt so alone and miserable, to the point of despair. That is, until I noticed the glowing orange end of my mother’s cigarette in the darkness. I felt so relieved. There is some light, I thought. Mom is with me. I’m safe. I can bear anything as long as I know she is here. Mom loves me.
We people of the Resurrection can and do bear all manner of sufferings and darkness on this earth because we know God is with us and the light of Christ will never go out. Our baptism, like Ayden’s and Parker’s, marked us as Christ’s own. Through the Paschal mystery, we are buried with Christ into his death and raised with him to new life— to freedom, to peace, to joy, and transformation in love. No dark predator can ever harm us in our nights. We are forgiven. Despair has no place. Death has no sting. We are children of the Light.
So let us, in our age, in our part of the ongoing salvation history between God and God’s people— a love affair, really— do what our foremothers did once they got a grip: proclaim the Good News. Let us go to whatever Galilee we find ourselves in to seek out the risen Lord who has gone before us. Let us do as he asks. Let us dispel the darkness in his name and thereby illuminate the Kingdom coming into this world.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Let there be Light. Let there be Light. Amen.