They Said Nothing
An Easter Mediation
Mark 16: 1 – 8 April Fool’s Day, 2018
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church
“They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
The simple, mysterious, even troubling ending to the Gospel of Mark. “They said nothing.” An unwritten ending. An ending which is a beginning. The beautiful “non-conclusion” to Mark’s gospel allows us to continue writing the story. It is a painfully quiet finish to a larger than life experience, and into that silence we step.
Painfully quiet. Stunned women do not know what to make of the words they have been told. A young man dressed in white tells them how they should feel! “Don’t be amazed!” he says. Don’t be amazed? They came to tend to their dear friend’s tortured body and are being told that the impossible has happened. How can they be anything but amazed? And this fear that prevents them from speaking? Don’t shame them for that. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome need a moment of reverence. They need a moment to catch their breath, and contemplate all that has happened, all that is still happening. When the world has turned upside down, fear and amazement are appropriate emotions!
And before we move too quickly to the amazing joy of this situation, we should still linger over the reality of this situation. These women, and other disciples who were with them, have been witnesses to an execution. Although, probably not the first killing they have seen, as crucifixions were intentionally public displays, the cruelty of this death would not be forgotten. This execution, of a man who spent his brief adulthood seeking to ease the world’s pain, would highlight forever the brokenness of the world. That’s not something you recover from in three days’ time.
And so, for now, they say nothing.
But have no doubt: they will tell the others that Jesus is going on to Galilee, back to the place from which it all began. They will tell Peter, especially Peter, who needs to be restored after faltering in his ability to stand beside a persecuted man. Let’s take that a step further. Had Judas not taken his own life, that man in white would have had a message for him, too. He would have said, “Go tell the disciples, most especially the broken hearted Judas. Once you have found Judas, then go and tell Peter.” More than any other followers, these two needed to hear the expansive words of forgiveness. They needed to hear that there is no denial of God’s presence that is too great for God to forgive. No betrayal of God too cruel, that God cannot release it. Don’t kid yourself: we need to hear these words, too.
For now, the women will say nothing because sometimes there are no words. Trauma, amazement, miracles: these can all leave us speechless.
I came across a story this past week which resonates so closely with the story of these women; it is the story of Clara Jean Ester. Do you recognize the name? I didn’t. This week we will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and that tragic balcony photograph is again circling before us. You know the one. Dr. Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, and a young college student named Mary Hunt, stand beside the fallen leader’s body and point in the direction from which the shot was fired. If you look closely, you can see just a little of a penny loafer and bobby sock behind Mary Hunt. That is Mary’s friend, Clara Jean Ester. Hidden from view, yet very present. For fifty years, Clara said almost nothing about the experience. She had no words.
Clara Jean Ester, a junior at LeMoyne College in Memphis, had become involved with the sanitation workers’ strike, volunteering in the strike office in the afternoons, and helping to spread the word to support the workers’ boycott. Her pastor, Rev. James Lawson, (Remember his famous words to the sanitation workers: “At the heart of racism is the idea that a man is not a man, that a person is not a person. You are human beings. You are men.”) was an esteemed trainer in non-violent protest techniques. Ester, however, was frustrated by the lack of progress, and began to listen to militant voices. She learned how to make Molotov cocktails. She prepared to fight. On March 28, a protest became violent, and the police cracked down hard.
The protestors regrouped. On April 3, King returned to Memphis and spoke of not making it to the Promised Land. On April 4, Ester and Hunt, went to the Lorraine to eat a catfish supper with some others involved in the protest. That night, her life was changed forever. Her life, like the lives of the women at the cross, was forever altered by violence. “When it was over, ‘I was no longer the same person,’ she’d recall. ‘I was trying to live my life as a normal person who’d not witnessed an assassination.’ There was doubt — ‘Were we worshiping the right God?’ — and despair: Our attitude was, ‘You have taken our leader. If we get another one, you can take him, too.’ And there was this: For her, violence was no longer an abstraction, and no longer an option.”[i]
Couldn’t these have been the same feelings experienced by Mary, Mary and Salome? “Were we worshiping the right God?” “They have taken our teacher. If we get another one, you could kill him, too.” Not to imply that these women had considered violence, but surely they had harbored angry and hateful thoughts about those who killed Jesus.
The cross stands as a reminder that violence is not God’s way. The disciples had to learn this truth. Clara Jean Ester learned this, too. As Ester contemplated King’s death and her participation in the protests, she came to some critical insights. “In the strike, and at the Lorraine, she had learned something about herself. She felt the pain of other people, and wanted — needed — to do what she could to alleviate it. Her role was clear: “To pick up the cross, and carry it.’’ After graduating from college, she moved to Mobile and began to overhaul a community center in an impoverished neighborhood. “In her 36 years, she transformed the Wesley Dumas Community Center into a social services powerhouse, including a wing with transitional housing for homeless mothers and children.” [ii]
Today, even in her hometown, few people know that Ester ran up the stairs to that balcony after King was shot. “For one thing, it [is] hard for her to talk about it; even today, she chokes up. For another, she staked her claim as King’s disciple on her actions after he died, not her presence when he died. She had been there to hear King’s great “Mountaintop’’ speech. But it was what he did in his life, more than what he said, that moved her.” [iii]
Should that not be our claim as disciples, too? Not that we are present – through scripture – to Jesus’ death, as vital as that is to our understanding, but that our actions since his death speak of our commitment? Our actions convey to the world what we truly embody regarding the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. It is not what a broken world did to an innocent man that teaches us how to be disciples, but rather the sacrificial way that man chose to live.
Theologian Richard Rohr speaks of the transformation we can experience through the cross. He urges us to remember that unless we allow our pain to be transformed, we will always continue to transmit it to others. Clara chose to allow God to transform her pain, her anger, her fear, and in doing so, she became a light to others. For fifty years she said nothing about being a witness, but she allowed her life to speak. She based her life not on being present at King’s death, but at honoring the best part of his life, a life of non-violence inspired by Jesus.
Have you ever noticed what Jesus doesn’t say after the resurrection? What he doesn’t do? The resurrected Jesus speaks not one word of condemnation and judgement against his persecutors. Not one word. No malice, no vengeance. No hell, no fire, no brimstone. He doesn’t seek revenge and he does not ask others to extract revenge on his behalf. The resurrected Jesus returns and demonstrates through his actions that the work of God is to feed the hungry (as he fed the disciples on the lakeshore), to comfort the grieving (as he comforted Mary on Easter morning), to share truth with those who seek it (as he did on the road to Emmaus), and to find the lost and bring them home (as he did for Peter).
“Jesus,” Richard Rohr reminds us, “refused to be crucifier, even at the cost of being crucified.[iv] It is easier to build our identity on our wounds, our hurts, our agendas, our fears. In the short run it works. But not in the long run.
Rohr instead invites into a different path: Picture yourself before the crucified Jesus; recognize that he became what you fear: nakedness, exposure, vulnerability, and failure. He became sin to free us from sin. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21.) He became what we do to one another in order to free us from the lie of punishing and scapegoating each other. He became the crucified so we would stop crucifying. He refused to transmit his pain onto others.[v]
Mark’s gospel has no ending. It is up to each of us to create it. It is up to us to be inspired by those women who said nothing in their amazement, but who, like Clara Jean Ester, found ways to live out their faith in transformative ways. How will we allow God to transform our pain so that we will not continue to transmit it? That is the power of the resurrection promise. Friends, how will our lives complete this gospel story?
Let us close with portions of a prayer from one of Rohr’s talks on transformation:
Let us pray:
Thank you, crucified and resurrected Jesus,
- For becoming a human being so I don’t have to pretend or try to be a god.
- For becoming finite and infinite so I don’t have to pretend that I am infinite and limitless.
- For becoming Inferior, so I don’t have to pretend to that I am superior to anyone.
- For being crucified outside the walls, expelled and excluded like the sinners so I don’t have to be a saint.
- For Becoming weak so I don’t have to be strong.
- For being willing to be considered Imperfect and strange so I don’t have to be perfect and normal.
- For being willing to be disapproved so I don’t have to try so hard to be approved and liked.
- For being considered a failure so I don’t have to give my life trying to pretend to be a success.
- For being wrong by the standards of religion and state so I don’t have to be right.
- For being poor in every way so I don’t have to be rich in any way.
- For being all the things that humanity despises and fears so I can love myself and others in you.[vi]
Thank you, Jesus, for becoming a human, like us.
Let all God’s Easter people say, “Amen.”
[iv] Richard Rohr On Transformation: Collected Talks (Franciscan Media: 1997), Chapter 1, Audible