"Almighty God, our source of life, you know our weakness and our fears. Help us to grasp your hand and to walk more readily in your ways." - Monsignor Dennis Clark
It wouldn’t be right to criticize Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome for their fear and silence in reaction to their visit with the young man in the empty tomb. But we might ask why Mark ends his gospel with the very people who ought to have been thrilled to proclaim Alleluia he is Risen running away and hiding to terrified to say anything?
The short answer of course is that these people are just like us.
You see by the time Mark wrote his gospel he knew that it had taken weeks and months for those first disciples to grasp the reality of the resurrection and to understand what it meant for them and for the world. Mark had also seen those first disciples go to their own cruel deaths even as they witnessed to the risen Lord of all. He knew that the fulfillment of Christ’s kingdom wasn’t going to be welcomed by open arms. He knew the spread of the church, the living witness of the risen Lord was going to take place through people like me, and maybe people like you.
I am not a witness of Jesus’ actual death and resurrection as Peter and the others were. I can grasp it only by faith. I know what it is to be unsure, not only about the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, but about nearly everything in my life. I know what a terrifying thing it is to realize that I really have to live by faith alone. I can appreciate the fear that sent those first disciples running the other way.
I am not a witness to the actual resurrection of Jesus, but I am a witness to the power of God to meet me in the darkness of uncertainty, in utter grief of unremitting loss, when nothing makes sense.
Peter tells us that after they had all run away, and when they were sequestered in fear and silence, the risen Jesus found them. He gathered them again around his table. He ate with them and drank with them and shared his word with them. And they stopped running away.
The truth of it all came clear to them. Especially the truth that the cross was not a defeat. The cross is actually the most vivid and life changing display of God’s mercy and love that the world had ever known, that the world is likely ever to know. And that by the power of the risen Christ, by coming together around his table, and learning from his word, and sharing his love and mercy one with another, they changed the end of the story, not only for themselves, but for everyone who finds themselves at such a place as the cross.
Last week I learned another example of precisely how this happens through the true story of a basketball team from a juvenile correction facility for felony offenders in Gainesville Texas.
"One of the few perks at the facility - for very good behavior - is a chance to leave the prison a few times a year to play basketball. They play against private schools like Vanguard College Prep in Waco Texas. But wherever they go as the visiting team, their side of the gym has only a handful of fans at most. Before their recent match-up with Gainesville two Vanguard players announced they weren't going to play against a team with no fans.
"`No one likes playing in an empty gym,' said one.
"`It doesn't seem right to play a team with no fans, regardless of the advantage it may give your own team,' said another.
"So before their home game against Gainesville, the two Vanguard players asked their fans for a favor: To cheer for Gainesville instead.
"The Gainesville players had no idea what was happening. They walked onto the court to find their own signs of support, their own cheerleaders, even their own fan section. Half the crowd was assigned to cheer for Gainesville. But as the game went on, everybody started to cheer for Gainesville.
"`Every time they scored the gym lit up with cheering and clapping and everyone was on their feet.'
"`When I'm an old man I'll still be thinking about this,' said one Gainesville player.
"`I think in a way this is how sports should be. It showed me the real impact that encouragement and support for anybody can make.'" STEVE HARTMANCBS NEWSFebruary 27, 2015,
God knows we all need someone to believe in us. We all need someone who knows our mistakes and loves us anyway. And God knows we are most likely to accept the gift of his encouragement and grace when we have nothing left to lose. And this is precisely the purpose for which Christ brought us to the cross and rose on Easter Day, and the reason he pursued and found his friends after they had run away. And the reason he continues to pursue us. To teach us what to say and how to do his work in the world.
We all find ourselves at a dead end sometimes.
“Each one of us has stood — or will stand — at the foot of the Cross. It might be associated with the illness or death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a failure or some other profound personal crisis. We all taste the agony of defeat and near despair. We should never downplay the challenge of living by faith at these moments.” Paul Brian Campbell, SJ
But the Church is here, the living witness to the on going life and power of the risen Christ to meet us precisely at these moments to assure us that the cross is not a defeat, and that we are not defeated. As those first disciples learned to change the end of the story by sharing their lives around his table and listening to his word, so we learn to use every defeat and loss as another opportunity to prove the living mercy and unending hope and love of our Lord.
Faith in the risen Christ is God’s gift to the church. And the church, when it is done running away from this gift, is God’s gift to the world.
"May you receive his gift and live in his peace always. And when that day comes, may you give your spirit to him in the peace you have already known through many days. Amen." -- Monsignor Dennis Clark