A Living Dialogue of Love

Mark 16:1–8; Song of Solomon 2:10–12, preached by Rev. Jane McBride on March 31, 2024

Resurrection. Was it a literal happening? Is it a metaphor? Are metaphors “real?” What does it all mean? I appreciate the way John Dominic Crossan, a well-known historian of religion, points to what is actually important about Easter. He says: “To believe in resurrection is to participate in it.”

Last Saturday, I walked the Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage—22 miles along the Mississippi River from Brooklyn Park to B’dote. Several First Church folks travelled with me for portions of the route mirroring the path of Gazans fleeing war and genocide. As we walked and talked, sang and prayed, we embodied four demands: An enduring and sustained ceasefire. An immediate flow of life-saving food, water, aid, fuel, and humanitarian assistance. A release of all hostages. An end of occupation so a just peace can begin. The pilgrimage was an intentionally Christian witness, intended to counter the toxic message of Christian Zionism. Reaching the Governor’s residence on East River Road, we paused to rally in coalition with Jewish and Muslim friends, Palestinian-American friends, and friends in the anti-war movement. As part of the rally, we staged a “die-in.” Some of us laid still and quiet on the ground, symbolizing the tens of thousands killed, while names of the dead were called out. And then we were told to move our bodies, to sit up, to arise, to get to our feet and resume walking. “The privilege of the living” the Rabbi leading the ceremony said, is that we have “the strength to bear witness and pray for ceasefire.” From the moment the Gaza pilgrimage was announced, I felt drawn to be there. To believe in resurrection is to participate in it.

I love the ending of the Gospel of Mark—its abruptness, its suspense, its authenticity. “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” I’ve been pondering what, in particular, frightened these women. After all, they stayed with Jesus throughout his agonizing death, even as the male disciples betrayed, denied, and fled. And buying spices to anoint Jesus’ body after the Sabbath suggests a willingness to face death and not a fear of it. The heavy stone rolled aside, the open tomb, the missing body, the strange man in white—I’m sure all that set the women on edge. And then the young man at the tomb delivered a message from Jesus himself: “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

The Gospel writer is very intentional about identifying Jesus as the crucified one: “You are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.” In other words, how Jesus died is important. Crucifixion was an agonizing death meant to silence, shame, and terrorize. It matters that Jesus died resisting the values of empire—greed, violence, and exploitation; the same values that animate our “grind culture” of white supremacy and capitalism today. Even under threat of bodily harm, Jesus continued to embody a different way of being. His message: “I’m going ahead of you to Galilee” was a call to his followers to do the same. In Galilee, Jesus proclaimed the year of jubilee—freedom from debt, liberation from all forms of slavery. He provided free health care. He fed the hungry, modeling an economy rooted in the abundance of equitable sharing. He taught his followers to use power with justice and mutuality and to show love even to their enemies, resisting evil non-violently. In Galilee, the Kingdom of God came near; the beloved community took flesh; and everyone around Jesus began to glimpse a vision of all creation renewed and restored. Jesus called the women to participate in his resurrection—I wonder if that’s why they were so afraid. Their fear strikes me as entirely natural. Fear is not bad; it is a protective response. We can’t control whether or not we feel afraid in any given moment. However, fear becomes destructive when it paralyzes us, when it consistently prevents us from embodying our deepest values. And fear is an inheritance that lives within us. Our ancestors have passed their experiences of trauma on to us. In our own flesh, we know the terror of crucifixion, sometimes as victims and sometimes as perpetrators.  

The antidote to this legacy of fear is community. In his message to the disciples, Jesus speaks particularly to the broken-hearted Peter, the one who went away weeping over his denials, over his failures to stand with Jesus.Jesus says to Peter, look we have more time together. Empire sought to silence us, to bury us, to isolate and disperse us. Instead, we were seeds; planted, we rise again, like new green shoots. Instead, the people and systems who hold power without justice will face accountability. And like Spring follows Winter, every reign of terror will come undone.

Friends, how do you participate in resurrection—resisting the values of empire; embodying the way of Jesus? I am thinking about our beloved friends who were involved in a very serious accident this fall, and about the way community rose up around them. With prayers, meals, and visits, through tears, laughter, and listening we accompanied them as they regained health and strength, as their lives were restored and renewed. I was also struck by Lisa Keitel’s social media post describing “Welcome Back Herons” day at the rookery yesterday. She said that 716 people showed up to bear witness to the return of the herons to those two islands in the river by the power plant. I wonder how such acts of pilgrimage become a movement, how honoring the natural world, rejoicing in the beauty and wonder of creation, might spur our liberation from a culture of exploitation, might free us to embrace mutual flourishing. We can participate in resurrection in so many small, simple ways. Delivering Meals on Wheels. Cleaning in the community kitchen. Telling the truth, taking a stand, making music contributing to our First Church fund for reparations. Praying the world peace prayer each day at noon. Parenting, caregiving, extending friendship across differences and divides.

The Song of Songs is an ancient poem that celebrates love. Today’s brief passage describes a dialogue—one human lover speaks to another. I also hear God’s voice calling to creation: “Arise, my love, my fair one and come away, for now the winter is past.” What I hear in this, again, is God’s invitation to participate in resurrection. Because resurrection is not something God does for us, but with us. I love the ending of Mark’s Gospel—the way it leaves us hanging, suspended in the silence and flight of the women—because it makes room for participation both human and divine. The women’s struggle to find their voices and their courage reveals our need for God, and God’s gift of life. And yet Jesus’ call to follow him once again into Galilee tells me that God needs us as well. God cannot bring about resurrection without our collaboration. God works in concert with us, beckoning to us again and again, to arise and join in a living dialogue of love. Amen.