Seeing the Son
Speaker: The Rev'd Emily Griffin
When does a new day start? For those of us wondering when our official “do-over” begins, this is an important question. In one of my favorite childhood books, Anne of Green Gables, Anne defines tomorrow as “a new day with no mistakes in it yet.” As a recovering perfectionist, I would love to know when exactly we can let yesterday go and welcome tomorrow. When does yesterday die?
Some might say sunrise, but for many of us – whether it’s our work schedules or our internal time clocks opening our eyes – our new day begins long before we see the sun. Besides, as anyone who has ever planned a morning Easter Vigil would tell you, sunrise is notoriously tricky to pinpoint. It turns out there’s a technical definition for it – it’s the exact moment when the edge of the sun appears over the horizon. That sounds far more precise than how we actually experience the transition from darkness to light. Try witnessing it sometime. Go outside and watch. Long before the sun shows its face, the world starts to warm and wake. Birds greet the day long before we see it. Before we know it, we might not see the sun yet – but there’s light enough to see. Sunrise, when it finally does come, simply brings into focus what’s already there.
We could always go with the ancient Hebrew approach and start the new day the night before. Notice in our reading from Genesis – the first day began not with light, but with darkness. “And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.” Hear the order of that – evening, then morning. For Jesus in the 1st century and for Jews all over the world even today, the new day begins not at midnight and certainly not at sunrise – but at sunset, when the old day ends. That’s why Shabbat begins on Friday evening and not Saturday morning. Apparently, we have some choice in how we let yesterday die. What if our new day could start sooner? Could darkness actually be dawn?
Come to think of it - that’s how it worked in the Exodus story too. Tomorrow for the people of Israel started long before they saw the sun rise. We get so caught up in being chased by the Egyptians, the chariots and the chariot drivers, that we miss the timing of it. Our story here begins at night. We’re in the darkness when the angel of God and the pillar of cloud sent to lead the people take up the rear guard to protect them – which sounds like a great idea until we realize that that leaves us in the dark. The people cross the waters into freedom facing the dark with the light behind them. If that’s not a metaphor for faith, I’m not sure what is. In this case, their deliverance happens before they see the sun rise. It’s not until morning that they realize they’re free to face a new future.
Perhaps it’s appropriate then, that this morning’s baptism happened in the dark – by candlelight rather than the full-on brightness of the sun. We don’t need to see the sun for a new day to have begun, do we? Baptism is the mother of all new beginnings. We say that in baptism we’re buried with Christ and raised to new life. We die to our old selves so that we can walk in newness of life, so that the reality of Easter can be made alive in us. The problem, of course, is that we need to die to ourselves more than once. I need to die to how I understand myself daily. Every day I need to die to the notion that my goal is to make it through the day with no mistakes – as if perfection and faithfulness are the same thing. Every day I need to stop living as if the reality of the resurrection is somehow dependent on my responding properly to it. If the truth of Easter is dependent on us making it so with our perfect attendance and gold stars for good behavior, then I don’t care what day it is – that’s not good news at all.
Perhaps that’s why I’m finding Mark’s version of the Easter story good news today – instead of the letdown I’ve sometimes found it to be. Of course, I want the women to be the heroes of this story. They’re the first evangelists – the first people to get the best news of all time – that evil and death don’t have the last word, that Jesus is raised just like he said he would be – and that if he can be trusted on that, he can be trusted for everything else. I want them, as they do in Matthew and Luke, to respond in faith and joy and spread the Gospel of Easter like wildfire.
But they don’t in Mark. In Mark, they respond like most of us would to a young man in a white robe hanging out in a tomb passing on directions from a dead man. They wonder what happened to Jesus’ body, what monster could have robbed his grave. They don’t have a frame in their heads or their hearts that contains resurrection; it’s never happened before. This isn’t like the arrival of spring. It’s not part of the natural rhythm of life for someone to rise from the grave. Unlike the male disciples who fled the scene before the crucifixion, these women watched Jesus die. They saw him stop breathing. For those of us who have witnessed someone die, when the coroner has come and the body is removed, nothing seems more final. Maybe if they’d actually seen the risen Christ (like they do in the other Gospels) instead of getting an IOU, they’d believe. But as we know by now, we don’t need to see the Son rise in order for it to be a new day.
I wish I would have had the presence of mind to listen to this odd young man – that I’d remember that Jesus had actually predicted this multiple times, that I’d have the courage to look ahead expecting to find Christ there – even if it is on the other side of the grave. I wish that I would have conquered my fear and embarrassment and spoken up – but I can’t say for sure. I may have reacted just as these women did – with cowardice and fear.
But thanks be to God – our hope isn’t in these women. Our hope is not in proving that we’re better or smarter or more faithful than they were. Our hope is in the God who raised Jesus from the dead, who gives us what we need to practice resurrection now and walk in newness of life every day. No matter when we start the clock ticking, be it sunrise or sunset, no matter how many mistakes we’ve made the day before, every day can be a new day – where we’re free to face a new future. The future is as open as the promises of God. Evil and death have lost their stranglehold on us. It’s actually possible for us to choose life. By the grace of Easter, we can let yesterday go and welcome tomorrow right now. The time for looking back and lamenting our past fears and failures, for second guessing ourselves all the time is over – not because we never need to look back, but simply because that’s not the direction we’re facing this morning. We’ve been given our marching orders, and the direction is forward. Our Lenten fast has ended, and Christ is going ahead. “There you will see him, just as he told you.” Amen.