Very early on the first day of the week they came to the tomb as the sun was rising...Entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right dressed in a white robe and they were much stunned.
But he said to them "Don't be stunned...He was raised. He isn't here"...
Going out they fled the tomb - they were shuddering and wild - and they told no one anything for they were afraid.
- Mark's gospel
Throughout these lenten writings, I have used Reynolds Price's translation of Mark's gospel; it is found in his book A Palpable God. The translation I used to preach from always described these first-day-of-the-week women as "filled with fear and wonder." But I love how Price renders them - "shuddering and wild."
As I fast forward about four hours, I'm willing to roll the dice and describe the Easter service I will be a part of; it will be "filled with fear and wonder." Bells will be ringing and smiles will be the order of the day, children will be wearing pastels, and the alleluia that has been buried for the season will finally be shouted in unison. A reverential fear of the LORD and a wonder that borders on giddy will be the backdrop for our celebration.
It is tempting for me to join in this reindeer song. This has been a long Lent, very long. I determined to write each weekday through Lent and about midway through the season, I regretted my claim. Lent is very long and dark and hard and depressing and melancholy and violent and bloody and sad and low. Lent is, in the words of Reynolds Price, palpable. You can feel it. All of it. Every bit.
After the long haul to the cross, it is tempting to strip off my lenten garments, getting a running start, and perform a pastel-cannonball right into the glistening backyard pool of "fear and wonder." But to do so would betray my long walk with him to the first day of this week. To stay true to my decision to enter into Lent in a particular way (via Price's translation), I must exit Lent in a particular way (via Price's translation). And so I say to myself: I will go unto the house of the Lord and I will go shuddering and wild; afraid.
Passerbys will no doubt see churchgoers this a.m. walking toward their houses of worship with determined steps and faces of assurance; christians full of fear and wonder. I wish to God that passerbys might see some, or maybe a few, or possibly even just one follower of the Way shuddering and wild. At least one believer who is not sure what he believes on this day because what he thinks he believes is unbelievable. To imagine one dead, now alive, makes him shudder, makes him tremble at the thought of being in the presence of a God who bested death, the final frontier. And this imagining further courses through his body so that his eyes and posture and hair and all that is him could only be described as wild.
I wish to God that at least one of us would slink across the parking lot with uneven steps, constantly looking over our shoulder, wild-eyed and quite awkward during the handshaking time at the beginning of the service. That just one of us would celebrate this day, well, afraid.
Some would say, "But John, Easter is supposed to be about joy and basking in the light of the resurrection and bunnies and colored eggs and white suede bucks. Easter is supposed to be happy. Can't you be happy with us? We all know you are the melancholy sort; but for today, can you not just be happy? Come in from the rain, old boy, it's Easter! Here, have a Cadbury egg."
Lent has been palpable, my friends. The only way I can celebrate this day is in light of the days that have been. I must be among you shuddering and wild. I cannot, no, I will not make the story something other than what it is. And those women on that first first-day-of-the-week were, well, afraid.
I find it telling that the most reliable manuscripts of Mark's gospel that we have finish off the story exactly where Price concludes: "and they told no one anything for they were afraid." The translations you and I usually read from add more to Mark's story. Somebody along the way wanted to make certain it didn't end on such a shuddering and wild note; to ensure that Resurrection Sunday was not quite so palpable.
Were you there on that first day of the week?
Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?
Oh, oh, sometimes, it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.