Resurrection Among the Shadows

Resurrection Among the Shadows

Homily for Easter Day

March 31, 2024

Resurrection Among the Shadows

Homily for Sunday, March 31, 2024
Easter Day
Mark 16:1-18

Though Marilynne Robinson is a gifted writer – her 2004 novel Gilead won a Pulitzer prize – it was a review of Robinson that most recently caught my eye.  In an Atlantic review of Robinsons’ 2014 novel Lila, reviewer Leslie Jamison wrote:

Marilynne Robinson tracks the movements of grace as if it were a wild animal, appearing for fleeting intervals and then disappearing past the range of vision, emerging again where we least expect to find it. Her novels are interested in what makes grace necessary at all – shame and its afterlife, loss and its residue, the limits and betrayals of intimacy.(Oct, 2014, issue)

One might say something similar about the evangelist Mark, from whom we just heard.  Mark is “interested in what makes grace necessary – shame and its afterlife, loss and its residue, the limits and betrayals of intimacy.”   For example, shame and its afterlife – Mark’s Gospel more than others centers on the cross,the shameful death that Jesus died.  Or loss and its residue – Mark is thought to have been written shortly after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, to try to make sense of the loss of  the Temple.  And the limits and betrayals of intimacy – in Mark, Jesus’ closest, most intimate companions, the disciples, are portrayed as limited, failing to understand Jesus  and said to have “no faith” (e.g., 4:40; 7:18). Mark is interested in shame and loss and the limits and betrayals of intimacy.  And – as Jamison wrote of Robinson, that she “tracks the movements of grace as if it were a wild animal”– so does Mark “track the movements of grace… appearing for fleeting intervals and then disappearing past the range of vision, emerging again where we least expect to find it.”  In his Gospel Mark tracks Jesus, who sometimes appears – such as at his Baptism (1:9-11)– but then disappears (into the wilderness for forty days (1:13)).  Or, though in Mark the demons proclaim Jesus and shout out his identity (e.g., 1:24; 3:11; 5:7), Jesus sternly orders them not to make him known (e.g., 3:12).  Throughout Mark, Jesus is elusive, appearing then disappearing.

Perhaps nowhere in Mark’s Gospel are shame, loss, elusiveness and the limits of intimacy more prominent than in Mark’s account of the resurrection that we just heard.  Unlike other Gospels’ resurrection accounts, in Mark the resurrected Jesus does not appear; neither do the disciples, who had “deserted him and fled” well before the crucifixion (14:50).  In Mark’s no-frills account there is no earthquake (Mt 28:2), no angel descending from heaven (e.g., Mt 28:2), no men in dazzling clothes (Lk 24:4), no one running to the tomb (Lk 24:12; Jn 20:4), no disciples going home amazed (Lk 24:12); in Mark there no perplexity (as in Luke (Lk 24:4)), there is no joy (as in Matthew (e.g., Matt 28:8)), nor even does Mark confirm that the women told the disciples the good news (Lk 24:9; Mt28:8).  Rather, Mark ends abruptly with:

[The women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

In his stark ending, Mark is nothing if not consistent.  In a Gospel in which the  narrative drives toward the cross, in which the disciples are said to have “no faith,” in which Jesus foretells his death not once but three times (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34), in which Jesus regularly commands that his identity be kept secret, and in which the first human being – not a demon but the first human being – to acknowledge Jesus’ as God’s Son is the centurion who supervised his death near the end of the Gospel, it comes as no surprise that Mark’s resurrection account is colored by shame,loss, elusiveness and a lack of intimacy.

But in the opening verse of his Gospel, Mark shares that what he is telling is “good news” (1:1).  “To whom,” I ask, “is such a resurrection account good news?”  

It is purported that a woman once asked the early 20th-century American composer Charles Ives, known for his dissonant music, why his music was so ugly.  Not missing a beat Ives replied, “Pretty music is for pretty ears.”  Our ears are not pretty.  Our ears have heard war and hatred and division and greed and pollution and environmental catastrophe.  We have experienced difficulty and challenge,some of us even trauma.  We know about shame and loneliness, about loss and betrayal, about uncertainty and fear.  Mark’s resurrection account is for all whose ears are not “pretty,” who have known “dissonance” in their lives.  In other words, Mark is a Gospel for all of us.

The “good news” in Mark’s resurrection account is that like Marilynne Robinson Mark  tracks the movements of grace.  The grace Mark tracks in his resurrection account is the women.. From Mark :

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.

Mark entrusts the promulgation of the message of Jesus’ resurrection – and also the regathering of the disciples – to women.  Who throughout Mark’s Gospel foreshadow Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Mark tracks women from Simon’s mother-in-law, who in the Gospel’s opening chapter, after Jesus healed her, rose up and “served them” (1:31), to the unnamed woman at Simon the leper’s home in chapter 14 who anoints him (14:39), to the same women in today’s Gospel who were “looking on from a distance” at the crucifixion(15:40) and whom Mark reports also saw where the body was laid (15:47).  Though in Mark’s account the risen Jesus does not appear, and though in his account the women flee from the tomb in fear and say nothing to anyone, in his preceding chapters Mark has set them up to be reliable,trustworthy and capable apostles of the resurrection through whom he – and we –can “track grace.”

Like all great literature Mark has many layers, and it will take time to better comprehend him.  I invite us this Easter Week to take sometime with this morning’s Gospel passage, Mark 16:1-8.  Turn off your phone, find a place where you won’t be disturbed, invite Jesus to be present and to shed some light on this passage, and settle down, if only for ten or even five minutes.  For there is good news in this passage.  Mark’s resurrection account – tinged as it is with shame, loss, elusiveness and loneliness – may well be able to speak to those places of shame, loss and loneliness in our own lives.  And the way in which Mark tracks grace throughout his Gospel, in Jesus and in the women, may offer a clue as to how we might track God’s grace in our own lives, where (as in Mark) grace tends to appear and disappear and then “emerge again where we least expect to find it.”  In a nutshell, Mark’s Gospel resurrection account tells us: Jesus is risen; there is grace to be had and consolation.  If Mark can see Jesus and grace amid shame, loss and loneliness, so is it possible, with God’s help, for us to track grace and to find light and even resurrection in the shadows of our own lives, too.




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