So 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
These are the final words of what is considered by most biblical scholars to be the original ending of the Gospel of Mark. Terror and amazement; silence and fear. That is how Mark’s story of the life and ministry of Jesus ends. Terror and amazement; silence and fear. The Greek word translated here as amazement is ekstasis
, from which we get the word ecstasy
, the feeling of being taken beyond the self. The prefix ek
, out of, and the noun stasis
, a standing still, combine literally to me mean “standing outside of oneself.” We have an English phrase that describes this emotion when we say that we are beside ourselves
. Perhaps confusion or bewilderment would provide a better translation of ekstasis
in this passage than amazement. That is how Mark’s Gospel is believed to have originally ended, with these three faithful women fleeing from the tomb of Jesus because they were beside themselves with terror, confusion, and fear.
This Gospel, as it stands in the canon of Christian scripture, includes eight additional verses to conclude this earliest account of Jesus’ life and ministry. Why? Who knows? Perhaps because 2nd
century Christians felt the need for the story of the Savior of the world to include some reference to his resurrection appearances. Or perhaps ending with the terrified responses of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome was just too unsettling. But that is how Mark’s gospel is believed to have originally ended, abruptly – just as it began abruptly with no nativity narrative, but in the Jordan River with John the Baptist. At the end of Mark’s account we are left with this: “terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The most faithful of people beside themselves.
Not infrequently this Lent have I felt beside myself, not in the cloud nine or seventh heaven transport of ecstatic joy, but in the ekstasis
of those who found the tomb empty, in the loss of bearing and stability of those who first experienced the utter and incomprehensible absence of Jesus. In conversation with colleagues, friends, and strangers over these last seven weeks, people of wide-ranging religious and political perspectives have expressed a common sentiment. As comforting as companionship can be, that this is so pervasive is in itself alarming. The Parkland shootings with which we began this penitential season on Ash Wednesday; the Austin bombings; the killing of unarmed Stephon Clark; the relentless scourge of gun violence at home and the daily acts of terror around the world; the entrenched polarization of those who serve us in both our democratic system of governance and the press whose responsibility it is to keep the electorate accurately informed; the inconsistent and seemingly disjointed leadership of our nation’s administrative structure; the blurring of what is real and what is fake that renders reality uncertain; the threat and current symptoms of global trade conflict; the ongoing ambiguity of special counsel and congressional investigations: these and other elements of our common life have quilted together a pall of angst and insecurity that manifests itself in feelings like those experienced by Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome: terror, confusion, and fear, and silence for loss of any words to help. It feels at times as if we have been long stuck in Holy Saturday, beside ourselves in that place without hope, where there is no clear way forward, yearning for a sign to answer the questions those women incarnated, “What do we do now? Where are we to go from here?”
On Tuesday of this last week, Holy Tuesday, Bishop Persell, Bishop Williams, and I gathered in this room with the clergy of the Diocese, as we do annually for the renewal of our ordination vows, the celebration of the Eucharist, and the blessing of the sacramental oils of Chrism and Unction. The Gospel reading was from the 12th chapter of John, the passage describing events between the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus’ march for our
lives, and the Last Supper. It began at the 37th
verse with these words: Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him
So many signs. So many signs performed in our presence. Where are they? Not the ones we read about in scripture, but the ones we witness in our own lives. When we are beside ourselves, we get separated from the signs of Christ’s presence, and confidence in God is undermined. As the Gospel was being read, and like a photograph coming into focus, I began to remember three days before, gathering in this room last Saturday with young people and adults from parishes from Painesville to Tiffin, and with young adults from Congregation B’nai Jeshurun and one of their rabbis, to pray and walk together to Public Square, to “March for our Lives.” I remembered the young people who spoke at the rally and who carried signs and sang and broke through our collective ekstasis
, calling us back into ourselves, back to our own lives and our responsibility to bring the kingdom of heaven to life. So many signs.
While listening on Holy Tuesday to Bishop Williams describe in his sermon how, 54 years ago that very day, he was the first African American ordained to the priesthood in the then 200-year history of the Diocese of Rhode Island, March 27, 1964, just following the march from Selma to Montgomery, I remembered vividly the images of that march, seared in my 9-year-old’s mind. I remembered the images and words of Dr. King, the 50th
anniversary of whose assassination we will mark this Wednesday, and again was called back into my own life, just as he had called so many of us a half-century ago by breaking through our ekstasis
, our confusion, fear, and silence, to lead us back to the confession of our own brokenness, and the acceptance of our potential for change. So many signs.
The image of the three women at Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, brings other recollections of signs performed in our presence. These women, racked with grief and devoid of hope, were doubtless afraid to speak of what they had found, and more specifically what they had not found, knowing they would likely be discounted or blamed by the male authorities and perhaps even the other disciples, silenced by the social norms of their time. Their spiritual successors in the #MeToo movement have risked and suffered to bring us signs of change, signs of new life performed in our presence. So many signs.
When we pause, each of us can recall the signs performed in our presence that bring us back to our senses, back to the sight, sound, smell, taste, and feel of God’s transforming love: a comforting presence, a gesture of kindness, an encouraging word, a patient listening, a warm and hospitable welcome, a gentle and honest admonition, a humble and humbling confrontation, a graciously received apology. All signs of the living Christ performed in our presence that bring us back to ourselves, put us back on our feet, give us back our voice with words worth proclaiming, and make us, in turn, vehicles of hope, justice, and new life for others. For of course, as God’s beloved, we are both recipients and agents of the reconciling and life-giving love of God that is most perfectly exemplified in the self-sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.
Although Mark’s Gospel may originally have ended with the two Marys and Salome fleeing the emptiness of the tomb and their own hearts in fear and silence, their story and ours does not end there. It marches on, on human feet and voices, spreading the word that the Christ is not dead, that hope and reconciliation and justice and love are not dead, but raised to new life in our own lives, brought back to life in our bodies, just as the Christ was brought to new life in his bodily resurrection. Indeed, just as Christ’s death was the door to his resurrected life, so our ekstasis
, our being beside ourselves, is often the door to the risen life God dreams for each of us.
The Apostles’ Creed proclaims our belief in carnis resurrectionem
, or in the Greek, σαρκος ανάστασιν
, that which we translate as “the resurrection of the body.” Carnis
mean, literally, flesh
. That early creed, perhaps first used as a summary of Christian doctrine for baptismal candidates in the fledgling churches in Rome, proclaims the making new by God of the flesh
, of our lives
, not after this life by some rapturous salvation, but today, in this life, saving us for the immediate and ongoing salvation of all God’s creatures and creation, saving not in the sense of preserving and protecting us as we are for eternity, but as rescuing us so that we might be something new now. I sometimes wish that a century later the Council of Nicaea might have included in its great creed that we look for the resurrection of the living
, rather than just the dead, for that is indeed what the Christian community, then, was claiming. It was not proclaiming new life in the afterlife; it was proclaiming new life in this life, with no one left behind. Because God has raised the crucified Jesus, we know God can bring to life a humanity that is dead to the needs and cares of this world and her inhabitants, and make us new. Carnis resurrectionem
; σαρκος ανάστασιν
. Resurrection of the flesh, both his and ours.
The march that began with Jesus’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem does not end at his Trial, his Cross, or his Empty Tomb, it continues on in the three faithful women, the other disciples, and each of us every time we get back to our feet and march to Galilee, every time we get back to our lives, back to our families, our work, our communities, and all who share this creation with us. The Resurrection of Jesus interrupts our ekstasis
and brings us back to ourselves, where we find our terror, confusion, silence, and fear replaced with courage, clarity, voice, and confidence in God. It may not happen overnight, or after one church service like today’s, but walking together as the disciples walked home to Galilee, back to their lives and work and communities, we, too, will find Jesus awaiting us to share the new life of grace. He is not absent; he is waiting for us now and always in our own lives.
There are signs all around us of God’s power to make profound and life-giving change in our time, if we are willing to join Jesus in his sacrifice and be made new. In the resurrection of Christ, we know what to do and where to go.
April 1, 2018
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio