On this day the LORD has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
A child is working very hard at coloring a picture. She has drawn using many colors and every stroke she makes is done with very careful attention. An adult nearby asks her what she is drawing. She tells her she is drawing a picture of God. The adult says, “Well no one knows what God looks like.” And the child tells the adult, “Well they will when I’m finished!”
A couple of weeks ago, I along with several members of the Vestry of Grace Church attended a Leadership Day. The day was devoted to telling our story. We talked about how story is central to our faith. And how story helps us share our lives and our experience of God with others.
Stories stick with us. They bring us close, they help us see ourselves in other’s story. They help us recognize the connections that we all share as members of the great human family.
One of the speakers, the 6th Bishop of Western North Carolina, the Rt. Rev. G. Porter Taylor talked about the different levels of story. First there is My Story. This is the story that I tell about me—my beginnings—where I was born, where I have lived; what I like to do, what I prefer to avoid, where I went to school, what I have done in life that I call work and what I have done that I call play. It is the story I tell when I am just getting to know someone. A story where the intent is to share a bit about myself and find a place of connection with another person.
Then there is Our Story, this tells the stories—both factual and mythical– of our family, our friend network, our church, the groups to which we belong, what political party finds our allegiance, the parameters that form our tribe. Our Story is a way of laying out our context –what has shaped us, where our loyalties lie, how we identify ourselves. Our Story expands our sense of self, creates space that is safe and defined. But it can also draw sharp lines around how we see life and others. It can be a way of sharing the reference point of our origins, but it also can be a way of declaring contrast, setting apart, setting our values and determining what is beyond our life experience and possibly beyond our concern. Bishop Taylor says that he believes this is where we are stuck today as a nation. We have become siloed—walled off– into religious groups, political parties, educational levels, race and class distinctions, gender identities. We can become stuck here, unable and perhaps, unwilling to listen to the stories and the life experiences of those outside our tribal group.
But Bishop Taylor says, that beyond My Story and Our Story, there is The Story. The Great Story, as Richard Rohr calls it,that names eternal and transcendent meaning. It is The Story that saves us from the identity of “we” and the pathology of “me.” It opens us to what is beyond our experience to those things unseen. It opens us to life’s deeper meaning.
We come together on this glorious and joyous morning to tell and retell, to remember and take our place in The Story. As Christians, The Story we tell is of God who created all that is and declared that it was good. The Story we tell is of God who sees each human and creature in its particularity, each with a spark of the Divine, each created with inherent dignity, beloved, bearing the eternal image of our Creator.
The Story tells of the importance of relationship, that we are not meant to be alone and isolated, but that we are to establish kinship with each other—to recognize that we are interconnected and essential to each other’s well-being and survival. This is proclaimed through Jesus’ call on the night before he was put to death to love each other as Jesus has loved us. The “whateverness” sort of love that is full-on delight and without end. This ultimate love is shown in The Story of God who loved the world so much that God sent Jesus to us to heal and welcome, to teach and show us the fullness of humanity so that all may come within God’s loving embrace—so all could see what God looks like.
Today we tell The Story that even death cannot separate us from God’s love. The Story of Jesus from Galilee, who taught and healed and loved and welcomed all to the feast of God’s abundant grace, was brutally and shamefully executed by the Roman empire, because he dared to live a life full of love that challenged those who prefer fear to be the way of the world. His broken body was placed in a tomb. But God did not let that be the final word. God said “No! to the worst the world could do to Jesus and “Yes!” to life and “Yes” to the truth that Jesus shared.
The Story tells us that Jesus lives. That Jesus Christ is always with us, out in front of us, and will meet us wherever we are. Whether that is at a food pantry providing food to someone who is hungry or sitting at the bedside of a beloved friend who is seriously ill, whether that is digging in the garden with an expectant child or sitting alone worried about what the next day will bring; whether that is writing letters or marching to end the scourge of gun violence, or writing a card to someone on their birthday. Big things, simple things, public actions, private thoughts—Jesus is there. Jesus lives.
The Story of Jesus’ resurrection, of Jesus’ rejection of death is found throughout the New Testament. But the Gospel account we hear today from Mark, ends in a way that is both opening and unnerving. Unlike other stories in both the Gospels and in the letters of Paul and other early Christians, the witnesses don’t see Jesus. They don’t hear Jesus call their names. They aren’t invited to touch his wounded flesh.
Instead we are told that when Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome see that he is not in the tomb, they run headlong from the scene because they were filled with terror and amazement. The words in the Greek are even stronger: tromos-trauma, and ecstasis-ecstasy. Trauma and ecstasy had seized them so they flee telling no one anything about what they had seen.
But between the women’s experience at the empty tomb and Mark’s writing, these three women did speak—or we wouldn’t know the story. They went back to Galilee as Jesus had invited them. Whatever they said to the disciples, their testimony was shaped by trauma and ecstasy and so others were compelled to share their story.
Mark’s narrative in fact opens the story of Jesus being raised to a story without end. He invites us to enter into the story that, as he tells us in Mark 1 is “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1) It is The Story that invites us to bring the gospel into conversation with our lives. We are invited to stand alongside these trembling witnesses and share the story that we have experienced—that we know to be true and life giving.
As we gather again today with beautiful music, kites and flowers, and great joy, we are invited to tell The Story. How does The Story connect with My Story and Our Story? It is not as important that we conform to every aspect of the doctrine that has arisen in the centuries of attempts to understand and even explain Jesus’ resurrection. It is how it resonates in our lives. How does The Story of God’s vanquishing death and that Jesus is alive now, affect how we live each day?
How does The Story make My Story and Our Story much more vast and much more compassionate? I give my heart to (which is what “believe”, in the terms of our faith, really means) that Jesus was killed by empire, that Jesus was buried, but the tomb could not contain him. I give my heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, and Jesus appeared in some bodily form, wounds and all, to his disciples bringing them peace and telling them not to be afraid—sending them out into the large world to share the good news.
I give my heart to this because Jesus to me is not some distant historical figure, but an ever-present companion in all that life gives and takes from me. I know that Jesus lives.
How does The Story touch Your Story and Our Story? Does it make you more aware of beauty? Does it cause you to pause and listen carefully to someone? Does it allow you to be less afraid of living boldly? Does it cause your heart to break open when you are witness to the suffering of others? Does it make you long to be a part of The Storythat includes all at the great banquet?
As we begin our 50 days of Easter, I have brought each of you a gift–a journal to give you the opportunity to share how The Story touches you–to reflect each of the 50 days of Easter as a practice, a meditation on how your story and our storyis shaped by The Story of God’s unending love. How does Jesus live for you? Where do you experience the embracing, healing, compassionate life of Jesus? How does it shape your journey in life?
We come together on this glorious morning called to be people of the resurrection. People who spread hope and love, infused with the fullness of God’s grace. We are called to share this never ending, never failing good news in a world that has so much need for it. Mark’s gospel gives us a crucial role to play.
On this day we proclaim that—Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! We proclaim that life is much greater than what we see, that love is stronger than death, and that life and love will overflow the bounds of every attempt to reject it or end it. How will we witness to this truth of life and love? May others know more about what God looks like once we are finished.