And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid – Mark 16:8
The most important words in all the Scriptures are “He has risen!” (Mark 16:6). Everything leads up to that moment when Jesus trampled down Death by death. Everything unfolds from it. Without that he has risen, we’ve got an interesting prophet–a John the Baptist or a Simon bar Kochba. But we don’t have a Messiah who pillages Sheol and in-side-outs Hades. He has risen is the scariest little hope-filled single word (in Greek) we have.
So what do you say about that? I’ve preached Easter 14 or so times. Mine is a comparatively short tenure, but even so each year I find myself fumbling for words to proclaim the central mystery of Christian faith in a way that’s compelling and fresh. I stretch for the top shelf. I fling words at my congregation. I grout in that proclamation with some historical context. I try jokes, stories, illustrations. Do you hear me? Maybe they do. Not long ago, someone confessed to me after church, “Pastor, you had a good sermon today. I don’t always get something out of it. But today I did.” Oh, Honesty, Honesty, you bittersweet pill.
Here we are in the Octave of Easter, eight days of resurrection celebration. The mystery is still with us, working its subterranean magic. In this space, I’m struck that sometimes the most important thing we need to say about the resurrection is nothing at all.
Thus the women at the tomb. Mark has it that they after they took in the angel’s proclamation, they “went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). Flight, terror, amazement, fear. Their first response to the mystery of the resurrection was to say nothing to anyone. It was a holy and trembling fear before they knew not what: an open tomb, a missing body, the claim of resurrection. They were right to be afraid. As New York Times columnist Esau McCaulley puts it, “the only thing more terrifying than a world with Jesus dead was one in which he was alive.” We too easily forget that the resurrection was the ultimate fear of the Lord moment.
Mary, Mary, and Salome had the right idea at the resurrection: say nothing. Of course, we know that they did say something. Whatever their fears and doubts, they overcame them and told the disciples. We would have no gospels, no New Testament, no church, no celebration of Easter two millennia distant and at a continent removed had they truly said nothing. But their first response to the mystery of the resurrection was holy silence.
The Scriptures primed their instincts to silence. “The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him!” (Habakkuk 2:20). “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). And in the sizzling mythopoeic language of Revelation, when the Lamb opens the seventh seal, symbolic of the completion of God’s plan of salvation and judgment, “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Revelation 8:1).
Here we are with our vigils and sunrise services and songs and family get togethers. The kids scour the grass for eggs. Maybe in all of this we should try silence.
I’ve found myself sitting with the resurrection. I’m taking time to let its meaning sink in. I’ve been meeting the resurrection miracle with reverent silence, which means not trying to prove it or analyze it, but just allowing myself to come to the resurrection with whatever is at hand for me: sometimes wonderment, sometimes fear and trembling. Sometimes (I’ll admit it), I come with a kind of blah blah grayness that says “all things continue as they were since the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). But there’s a sharpness to the resurrection that pricks our soul and draws silent, glass blood when we continue to show up before its mystery. Jesus is real. He has arisen.
To practice silence before the resurrection is to listen. But above all, silence means attending to the resurrection’s mystery. Jesus wrought a change on Easter morning that fissured all the way down to reality’s bedrock. New life. True life. Eternal life. Do you hear me?
He has arisen. Be quiet! Be present!