Mark 16: 1-8
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
April 5, 2015 (Easter Sunday)
Native American storytellers often begin with these words: Now I don’t know if it happened this way or not, but I know this story is true.
Of all the Easter stories in the gospels, this one is my favorite. Stunned by the emptiness of the tomb and the young man’s declaration that Jesus has been raised from the dead, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome run out of the tomb as fast as they can, saying nothing to anyone. And yet they must have told someone at some point. It’s a story that begs to be told, just for the shock value alone. And then there’s the reality check: did this really happen or are they losing their grip in their grief? Even though Jesus said he would be raised on the third day, it didn’t seem like his friends expected it to happen. “Sure, Jesus, whatever you say. Just don’t get yourself killed.”
It’s one of the big stories we tell every year when our tribe gets together, our semi-annual reality check. Did this really happen or are we losing it in our post-modern, scientific world? I don’t know if it happened this way or not, but I know this story is true.
We all have family stories we tell when our tribe gets together, and they always seem to get more fantastical, more embellished every time we tell them. But it doesn’t make them any less true.
One of my favorite family stories comes from my southern side of the family, of my Uncle Sunny when he was a boy. Sunny’s real name was Frederick James Keener Gilmore, but everyone called him Sunny because he was the golden boy in the family. Sunny had a pet rabbit. Every day just as the grocery store was closing, Sunny would ride his bike to pick up the wilted lettuce that would get thrown out. He’d toss as much of it as he could in the basket on the handlebars and bring it home for his rabbit. Since his family didn’t have a lot of money, this was how he could afford to keep a rabbit.
Sunny’s father, my grandfather, was a postal carrier. Every day Daddy Mutt (as in the early 1900’s cartoon “Mutt and Jeff”) would walk to the post office, pick up his mail sack, and he would deliver the mail on foot. Then he would walk home, tired and hungry, just aching to put his feet up. In my grandfather’s house, everyone knew they had to be home before Daddy, which was usually before dark. Daddy did not want to be kept waiting for his dinner. Daddy wanted to walk in the door, all six children home, and they would all sit down together to dinner. If you were late, well, let’s just say you never wanted to be late.
One evening, when the sun was well on its way down and all the shadows had turn to twilight, Sunny was hurrying home on his bicycle with lettuce for his rabbit. He was pedaling hard to make it home before Daddy. It wasn’t quite dark yet, but it was getting hard to see exactly where he was going. All of a sudden, Sunny ran into something and hit it hard. He had hit someone with his bike and knocked him over. Sunny was about to see if the man was okay when he heard, “Dag nab it! You sonofa….! Who the #@&$ do you think you are?!” etc. Sunny realized he had hit his father walking home from work! He got back on his bicycle as fast as he could and pedaled till he thought his feet would fall off. He skidded into the yard, chucked his bike onto the grass, threw the wilted lettuce at the rabbit in his hutch, and hauled tail into the house, sitting at his place at the table, his heart racing like, well, like a rabbit’s.
Just a few minutes later, my grandfather came stomping in the door. “Dag nab it! Some idiot hit me with his bicycle! Didn’t even stop to see if I was okay! Just left me there in the middle of the dag burned road!” Sunny didn’t confess to what he did, not that day, not until all the kids had grown up and left the house, and come back for Thanksgiving, when it was first told as one of those stories we tell when our tribe gets together. Much like those women at the tomb: a story waiting to be told.
Inside every story is another story waiting to be told. The story within Uncle Sunny’s story is the rabbit. None of what happened would have happened if it hadn’t been for that poor, hungry rabbit who just wanted some lettuce to nibble on.
Inside the story of the terrified women running from the tomb is the story of Jesus. In effect, the young man in the tomb tells them to go back to where the story began, to Galilee, and it is there they will find Jesus, in the stories of baptism in the river Jordan, calling Peter and Andrew, James and John from their nets, stories of healing and forgiveness, and the stories that Jesus himself told, parables about a sower and a mustard seed. Stories of their teacher and rabbi; stories of their friend. Stories, that whether they happened that way or not, they were true nonetheless.
Inside each of our stories, and inside the story of this church, is the story of Jesus, waiting to be told. The story of how we first heard a call to something larger than ourselves. Stories of how we’ve experienced healing and forgiveness. The stories of how people have come into our lives and saved us, and how we’ve been privileged to be a part of someone else’s story. Stories of loss and pain and exile. Stories of belonging and connection and relationship. Stories of transformation, what today, this day, we call resurrection. And the story within the story of this church is the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Without the resurrection story, this church would not exist. Jesus’ story lives on in each of our stories and in the story of this church.
Sir Terry Pratchett, a master storyteller in his own right, who recently passed from this world, said, “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.” When was the last time we told a story of healing and forgiveness, or of that time when someone came into our lives and our lives were never the same? If the stories of Jesus are beginning to lose steam in our lives and in our life together, perhaps it’s because we haven’t allowed them to have the transformational power they have, regardless of whether they happened that way or not, because they’re true.
Eventually the stunned and frightened women must have told someone what they saw and heard because they couldn’t help themselves. What would be the story we would tell someone about our church because we couldn’t help ourselves? Let’s live into that story. Amen.