This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church’s building and over the Internet.
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Reading: Mark 16:1–8, read by Ruth G
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Talk, by Paul Wintle
About mental health. The past year for us has been one of uncertainty being stuck at home, and for many, loneliness and isolation. Various studies have shown that fragile mental health due to lockdowns and lack of socialization will cause problems for many years to come. This week, saw the lifting of lockdown in England, yet, many restrictions remain. As we’ve seen with previous lockdowns, things won’t just get back to normal like that, steps back to life will take time.
Many things perhaps will never be the same. Things change: sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Often and then in disguise, things do change for the better. As creatures of habits, we often fear change. It worries, frustrates, confuses, angers, and bewilders us in all sorts of ways. We are used to how things are and then bam, and the currents upsets our status quo. We can hardly believe our eyes and ears when we hear disturbing sad hard news.
Bam, Palm Sunday, a marvellous event when we see Jesus entering triumphantly into the Holy city. A few days later, bam, again, Maundy Thursday, Jesus shares a solemn meal. He washes His friend’s feet. He is arrested. He is tried. Bam, on Good Friday, Jesus is crucified, He dies. He’s buried in a brand new tomb. At the dawn of a new day after the Sabbath, bam, occurrences that upsets the status quo, Jesus rises. Today is Easter Sunday as we know, certainly, the day for celebration but of course, tinged with deep grief and sadness for us.
Yet, we can still be granted joy and peace by the deep faith and trust that Martin and Jennie, have in the resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of everything that God offers the whole of creation. God has put a huge part of the jigsaw in putting the world back to rights in and through the resurrection of His Son. The decay that the world has experienced since the garden of Eden has now received a newness.
New because of that bridge that Jesus has made through His death and His resurrection. Nobody had done that before. Nobody had come back to life in this way. A cause for celebration in itself, but even more so, because it marks a new normal in the way that people can conduct their lives. Living in the knowledge that Jesus lives in, through, and for them and us. Perhaps today of all days, we acknowledge afresh that the hope and the good news of Jesus encompasses our whole lives: mind, body, and soul.
God isn’t far off. He isn’t far removed. He understands our struggles. The Bible reminds us that we have a great high priest who is able to sympathize, empathize with us in every way. The one who cried out from the cross in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We all have struggles. We all have mental health.
Imagine then if you will a group of ladies very early on the first Easter Sunday morning, having waited patiently for the Sabbath to pass when no work could be done so that they could go and anoint the body of their beloved Jesus. We think we’ve had an uncertain time over the last months. We can only imagine the mixed up, squirty, confused, grieving, empty, scared, awful feelings that the women had inside them. They follow Jesus. They’re experiencing these feelings these emotions together.
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, Salome, and others were there. Many of them had been there right at the beginning. They’d been following Jesus all the way along. They were there too near the cross of the crucifixion. One of them, we might surmise had kissed His feet and washed them with expensive perfume, drying them afterwards with her long hair. Jesus has made her a perfect example of what it meant to follow and worship Jesus as God’s chosen one. They’d followed Him.
Everything had been so certain that Jesus was the revolutionary leader that Israel had been waiting so many centuries for. Can you imagine the roller coaster of emotions going through the followers of Jesus? Not just the ones called the 12, but all those people who followed Jesus believing that He was that loving revolutionary.
The emotion not just of the crucifixion and the crushing sense of overwhelming sadness and numbness and emptiness when they see Him killed, but remembering now how He had made them feel. The warmth, the blessing, the acceptance, and then the mood changing again as they experienced these ominous moments and happenings that occurred when He did die.
Darkness covering the world at the moment when He breathed His last, the loud cry from Jesus’ own lips. What must it have been like to have heard that magically somehow the curtain in the temple was torn in two. What would it have been? What would it have done to the fragile emotional health of those who had followed Jesus?
I mentioned mental health in the context of the death and burial of Jesus because we all have times when we just don’t get it. When confusion overtakes our brains and our bodies just can’t cope. What happens when circumstances overwhelm and there’s just no way forward because that’s exactly the situation that the women here in Mark find themselves after the death and the burial of their Jesus.
Before we go on, it’s worth pausing to recall that the Bible reminds us of hope even in the darkest times, that God sees us and is with us. As we face difficulties with the grief of loss, of our mental health, we can know that God is close to the broken-hearted, as Psalm 34 reminds us. Jesus Himself wept after the death of losing His friend Lazarus. Even though He knew the resurrecting work that He was about to do, He still cried out with sadness and anger at death.
God sees us. He hears us. He is with us. He stands with us today. There’s a reason why the Holy Spirit is called The Comforter. Secondly, the Bible speaks to us. The Bible isn’t afraid to talk about mental health. David famously cries out, “Oh my soul. Why are you so downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” in Psalm 42. Expressing how my tears have been my food both day and night. The Bible is real about their anguish and their suffering. It reminds us of where our true hope is even in those dark moments. Psalm 42 reminds us, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God.” Third, God makes us to be in community. The church is meant to be a place where we can share our burdens and our brokenness with one another, sharing in one another’s trials and triumphs. 1 Corinthians reminds us that if one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honoured, every part rejoices. God made us to be in community with one another, particularly when we get to know one another in a true fellowship.
It’s this point that I’d like us to think about for a moment, that we are made for and in community. That first Easter Sunday, the women went at the crack of dawn, they went together, united as a small group, small community of mourners to anoint the body with spices in order to preserve that body. Imagine the conversation as they go, we can read it. “How are we going to get that tomb open? It’s a massive stone. We saw how heavy it was as they closed it up.”
Were they in their right minds to go? Could they have remained at home grieving in their own quiet way? Where were the men anyway? It could be useful to have somebody strong around at that moment. To be in community, there needs to be at least one other. Generally speaking, there can’t be a community if there’s just one. That’s why isolation is so hard because we’re built to be social, we’re built to be together. In this group, we knew that there were at least three making their way to Jesus as the sun rose on that first day of the week.
For this little community, they were supporting one another emotionally as much as they were able to. You can imagine their words as they listened to one another. Perhaps they were patient as they stumbled over words trying to get those words out as the emotion took over. That’s what community is for, to be there for one another, patiently being available, loving, and looking out for one another.
Of course, it’s no different to us here at Main Street. We’re going to have to find no doubt new ways of being community as we emerge from lockdown and as we become perhaps part of the wider community again. Some of us will want to be involved in activities as they begin, perhaps some connecting afresh with new people. Others will feel the draw to remain at home. We need to understand one another’s emotional health as we tread this path.
As the book we have been using in Tuesday Bible studies recently says, “We make this road by walking.” We do it together, we’re on a journey, so let’s walk this together patiently, looking out for one another’s emotional mental well-being as well as our own physical and spiritual paths. Mark’s gospel is full of emotive words like fear, trembling, astonished. The Gospel of people who are aware of perhaps poor mental health.
Some scholars believe that Mark’s gospel was written for a new but suffering church in Rome, and so it has to be written very much in a hurry, being very much aware of how dangerous it is to be a subversive revolutionary group right at the centre of the lion’s den, the Roman Empire. Naturally, fear and worry would form part of that story, as the church there. Who would follow a Jesus who literally put the fear of God into people? These ladies hear in Mark 15 and 16 did, with a great deal of trepidation in this particular scene.
Are they doubting on their way to the graveyard that they’ll be able to do their job of anointing Jesus’ body? They’re concerned with practical details about gaining access. “Look up,” says verse 4 of Mark 16. When they did, they noticed that their unspoken prayers had already been answered. The heavy stone had been removed. Another word that Mark tends to use is alarmed.
Tell me that your emotional health wouldn’t be shaken if you just looked up, you found the expected sealed tomb open and found a young man dressed there, standing in white. Look around, there’s literally nobody there. Who is standing there? What macabre kind of a person would do such a thing? Again, tell me that your emotional states wouldn’t be normal.
I always find it ironic that when angels appear in Scripture, often their opening lines are, “Don’t be afraid.” It happened to Mary when Gabriel told her that she would be with child by the power of the Holy Spirit. It occurred when the heavenly hosts appeared to the shepherds above Bethlehem,“Fear not.” Many other times, we’re told by the angels,“Be calm, don’t be alarmed. It’s okay.”
It’s in this moment, as we, along with the ladies, in fear stand in the open grave of Jesus, open-mouthed and shocked, bewildered, full of fear, trembling and a swathe of other mixed emotions I’m sure, that we’re told not to be alarmed. Well, quite, of course. “Don’t be alarmed.” That’s the most natural thing not to be in this moment, is it not?
There’s more, and here’s the crux. The centre of this whole reading is about the message of the messenger. It sums up in this traditionally Markan kind of a way, “You’re looking for Jesus, the Nazarene. He’s not here, He’s risen.” Da-dum. With some instructions, other instructions, including Peter, to meet Him in Galilee.
Once again, imagine those confused faces, those emotions inside those ladies, those difficult surprising words which he said, “He is risen, see where they laid Him, but now He’s going ahead of you.” Reconciliation, more than that actually, resurrection, miraculous happenings. If we read to the end of Mark 16:9-20, and in some versions of the Bible, they don’t actually appear at all, we’ll see that there’s a bit of each gospel trying to tie up those loose ends.
It’s generally agreed that Mark originally ended just here as Ruth read earlier, with the women cowering away from the tomb in fear, trembling, and bewildered. Not quite the triumphant ending that was hoped, but no doubt fitting for perhaps its original hearers in that underground church in Rome. Yet, this does not detract from the most important piece of news, the resurrection, Jesus back from the dead.
The whole reason, the whole point and purpose of the Christian faith, the miracle that no other faith group on earth can claim that their founder is still alive and at work even to this day. At work through you, and me, and creation as a whole. The fact that Mark ends with a whimper, it doesn’t stop the truth of resurrection and the message of the young man. This isn’t the end.
David Hewitt [Mark: Free to Follow Jesus] makes this remark about the odd ending with no celebration of the resurrection. He says, “Well, maybe Mark intended to stop here. It ties in with a repeated note of astonishment and fear that’s in the rest of the gospel. We respond to the empty tomb with joy and celebration because we are familiar with this truth, but an immediate reaction of overwhelming amazement is quite understandable. Perhaps Mark’s Gospel is deliberately upended,” he says, “as if Mark was saying, ‘Well, now it’s over to you. It’s up to you, and me to complete the story.’ ”
As we come in to land this morning, let’s face the truth that we’re all a bit confused and surprised, both in how we have spent this last year with its confusion and its sadness and looming mental health crisis in the world around us and even our news this week. Let’s be gentle and kind to one another. Let’s remain united with the risen Jesus at the heart of who we are and what we do. Let’s not entertain any untruth that coming to the church building is a better version of church than being at home on Zoom.
No, let’s continue to love one another, support one another. Let’s make this new road out of lockdown one that we make together as a community. For us, as we travel together, let’s do it in the full knowledge that Jesus has risen. He is going ahead of us, we will see Him just as He promised. Our job is not finished, not yet, not while Jesus is alive.
References and sources
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Scripture quotations marked NIV on this page and in the audio are from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.