St. Augustine's Episcopal Parish, Tempe, Arizona
Br. Chad-Joseph, OSBCn
Can I just say that I’ve had a heck of a couple weeks? I’m a full-time student in a Master of Divinity program at a Christian institution that doesn’t take a break for Holy Week. So in between the four extra services of Holy Week for which I had significant responsibilities, I was busy reading, writing about, and discussing process theology, mission and evangelism, and Sufi mysticism . . . not to mention that the week ended with THE BIGGEST single service of the year that requires significantly more work to pull off than a typical Sunday. By the end of the Easter Day Mass I hardly had a voice, and I wanted, after breaking my Lenten fast with a couple good beers, to crawl into my nice warm bed and sleep for two days. But then came LAST week, which entailed a whirlwind trip to Denver for school on Wednesday and Thursday, making Monday and Tuesday anything but restful as I completed mid-term projects and tried to get a leg up on preparing for today. Oh, and did I say I have a young family and my wife works full-time? And hey, look, Fr. Gil’s gone, and I’m preaching today!
Sometimes it’s really hard to be a white, middle class, straight, American male, I’ve gotta say. Life can really take its toll. Yeah, I’m never truly hungry, and I don’t fear for my bodily safety or fear discrimination or that I won’t have a place for my family to sleep tonight, but sometimes I don’t have time to relax in front of my favorite episodes. Yeah, I don’t actually work 80+ hours per week cleaning houses during the day and office buildings at night so that I can send most of my earnings to my family in Guatemala, but I haven’t had a proper vacation since last June, and I’m itching to see the beach or hike in the mountains.
Most of the preaching I’ve heard about today’s Gospel follows the line of St. John’s thought about the nature of faith, about the role of doubt, and about the place of belief even when we haven’t seen for ourselves the marks of the nails on the risen body of Jesus. Some say we should be the blessed ones who have come to believe even though we have not seen. Some say that mature faith embraces doubt rather than forbidding it. This line of thinking is important, and there is much to be learned from the contrast between seeing and not seeing in matters of belief. But by considering these issues only from the perspective of the male apostles, regarding only their choices and their actions, it seems to me that our view of the human experience is distorted by the same lens of privilege through which I just presented my experience of being overwhelmed over the last couple weeks. While looking through that lens, I fail to see the untiring network of relational support that makes my life possible, and, in my case, it is a network of brilliant, kind, generous, faithful women. I would like for us to attempt to move out from behind that lens this morning. So, let’s back up a little in the Gospel narrative and ask the question of belief from a different angle. The question I would like to consider is this:
What does faithfulness look like when you have nothing left to believe in?
To find an answer to this question, we can’t look to any of the men in the story. According to our Gospel today, when they thought all hope was lost in the wake of Jesus’ execution, they locked themselves behind strong doors for fear of the authorities. But one detail on which all four of the canonical Gospels agree in their accounts of the Resurrection, and there are not many details on which they all agree, is that the women did not do the same. Listen to the account found in the Gospel of Mark.
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’
I ask again, what does faithfulness look like when you have nothing left to believe in? It looks like Mary Magdalene. It looks like Mary the mother of James. It looks like the other women, Salome, Joanna, and those left unnamed who didn’t cower behind a locked door, but who spent their money on spices and awoke early to prepare the body of a failed Messiah for a proper Jewish burial . . . a failed Messiah whose crucifixion two days earlier shattered their every hope for the future . . . a failed Messiah whose death indicated that the beliefs he had nurtured within them about themselves, about each other, about the world, about God were wrong. And yet still they faithfully observed the Sabbath, they purchased expensive spices, and, as the sun came up on the third day, they walked towards what they thought was a dead body on the other side of an immovable stone. St. Mark continues:
When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.
This is what faithfulness looks like. This is the place where the very power of the living God to re-create and to transform intersects with the human experience. We can talk about the eleven and about Thomas and about how they encountered Jesus or the news about Jesus and how they believed or didn’t believe, just like I can talk about my crazy couple weeks and how hard it is to be me right now and all that it’s teaching me about patience and endurance. But if we want to see the places where God shows up in true brilliance and surprise, we need to remove the lens that privileges the perspective of men and look to the margins where faithfulness endures in the face of heartache and brokenness and exhaustion and hope-shattering failure.
That’s where the real apostles live.
That’s the place where the first “Alleluia” enters the world.