And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
HIS IS THE Third Sunday of Pacha, and, in the Eastern Rite, it is the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women. At least for the Gospel, we depart from the RCL readings for today and use a collection of readings from Mark (Mark 15:43-47; 16:1-8). We’ve lectionary evidence for this paschal cycle being used (in some places) least as early as the 7th century.
The second passage in today’s reading is also used as the third of eleven Matins Gospels in the Eastern Rite. Each Sunday is seen as a celebration of the Resurrection and so each Sunday Matins, on an Eleven Week Cycle, celebrates this event with certain hymns and readings.
When I was first Chrismated, attending an OCA parish in San Francisco, these Matins Gospels were read – following the Slavic tradition – at a vigil service the night before. In a darkened church, the Holy Doors would open and the light would blaze forth from the altar with Fr Victor’s strong voice singing the resurrection. Then we’d come forward and venerate the Gospel. Later, when I was in Asheville, the Antiochian Parish there followed the Byzantine tradition which serves matins in the morning prior to liturgy. These readings were done in the full glory of a North Carolina sunrise.
And, for some reason, they seemed less true to me.
How do you get from “they were so afraid they didn’t even do what the Angel told ‘em to do” (ie “they said nothing to anyone”) to yelling “Khristos Aneste” all the time? And why is it that there, in the dark of a church at midnight, a candle can seem so powerful. But in the full glory of a weekly Easter Sunrise, it seems doubtful?
How do you deal with doubt?
As I noted last week, the Gospel of John seems to allow for doubt. Mark does too – but it gets covered up. The textual evidence indicates that the Gospel of Mark used to end right here, with the women saying “nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” and running off into the Morning light. They couldn’t handle it – didn’t know what to do. And so in their fear (which is another form of doubt) they just ran away. Later the text gets doctored up with the remainder of the chapter (11 verses written in a totally different style and telling a different story) that make this Gospel look more like other Gospels. But that first ending leaves us wondering “What the hell happened here?”
And today we celebrate those women.
How do you handle Doubt?
Imagine an Easter story that stops here – with the Angles saying “go and tell the other apostles…” and the women apostles being so scared (of Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers and the Supernatural and the men-folks’ scorn) that they just run away and hide.
Of course that’s not the end. And the answer to doubt is experience.
So I would stand there, listening to the stories from the Matins Gospels, I’d sometimes catch myself smiling: there are gaps in the stories so wide as to drive a truck through. The gaps in these stories we tell ourselves are filled in and covered over with a spackling paste of traditional understandings, projections and mythologies. As I blogged recently: tmatt asks, in his famous “tmatt trio“:
Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?
This is, of course, a trick question: there are no biblical accounts of the resurrection. None at all. There are only written tales of various events – visions, angelic visitations, appearances, suppers, breakfasts, second and third hand accounts, etc – of events that happened after the death of Jesus and the discovery of his empty tomb.
What happened sometime after midnight that Saturday evening or Sunday Morning? The Gospels do not tell us. The hymns of the church tell us that, according to the Church’s understanding, there were no witnesses. Even the Roman guards were prevented from witnessing the mystery – so that it might be revealed only to those who believe.
Last week, in response to the story of Doubting Thomas, a preacher friend of mine suggested that, in fact, we should doubt things we can’t see with our own eyes: he said that doubt is not the opposite of faith, fear is. This week we have clear evidence fear and I’m reminded of the Apostolic counsel that “perfect love drives out all fear”. There, I think, lies the answer to doubt: experience of Love.
This entire first generation of Christians went to their death rather than deny the resurrection. I don’t have any reason to doubt that, at least. One looney I could write off – in fact, the last 2000 years of religious lunatics and fanatics says nothing to me about the validity of the resurrection. But every one of these folks that were terrified, confused, boggled and hiding, everyone – except the Beloved – went to death rather than say this wasn’t the way things happened. We’ve no record of any of them recanting – and the Romans and the Jews would have made much of it if there was even just one. They were all looneys together, clear. But as Peter says in the Epistle today, “To this we are witnesses.”
But what about us (blessed are those who have not seen…) and our doubt? What about us and our fear of the modern-day counterparts to soldiers, leaders and scoffers? How do you get from the second generation of Christians to us? And how do we pass it on to the next generation?
The sermons in this series on doubt will fill it out: next Sunday, the Sunday of the Paralytic, we leave aside “Resurrection Appearances” and make the journey of verification. We will follow it up with the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman and the Sunday of the Man Born Blind. I think we’ll see then. It’s clear: Doubt is a part of our experience. Faith, per se, is not the answer to Doubt… this journey through Pascha will bring us to Pentecost and – doubts and all – we’ll be ready to spread the Good News of Resurrection.