The Splendor of Living Isaiah 25:6-9 & Mark 16:1-8
When I first became a pastor – with zero experience – my first visit to a congregant in the hospital was a doozy. I had to go into DC to the 5-Star Trauma hospital to the emergency room to see Tommy. I hate to be indelicate, but Tommy had tried to commit suicide by firing a shotgun held right under his chin. Somehow, he survived, but his face was nearly gone. The nurses warned me before I went in to see him. It was a horrible sight.
What am I doing telling that story on Easter Sunday? It must be about resurrection, right? Tommy must have made a total and miraculous comeback, right? Well, not exactly.
But read the Gospel. It does NOT give us sightings of the risen Jesus. It begins in the hazy dusk of an early morning with the sepulchral smell of death in the air. And it ends . . . well, it doesn’t really end. It leaves the biggest event in history unfinished, only to be guessed at through whatever lens the reader wants to use. Considering that Mark was the first Gospel written, and for a while the only written Gospel, it seems odd to leave the reader without a full picture of the Easter miracle. But that’s just what Mark does.
And that’s how things were with Tommy. His severe injuries did not finish his story, but it did leave things shrouded in mist and mystery. How much could he bounce back? How much could we hope for?
Hope is a pretty amazing thing. It stretches reality even in the worst of situations, especially in the worst of situations. Hope can be tireless, boundless, powerful beyond words. There is no love without hope, and no wellness either. Hope, as the poet says, is the thing with wings.
Isaiah says that our hope is that death will be forever undone. That life will flourish without end. That there is a place where our grandest hope become our endless reality. Jesus’ followers – those first ones – wanted to live out that hope with Him and believed they would. But then He was gone from them and the world was turned on its head. The darkness around them and within them was palpable.
And things looked very dark for Tommy for a long time. He lived in the critical care unit of the hospital, 60 miles from home, for weeks and weeks. I was his only visitor. Even when he was removed to a nursing home, I remained his only visitor for a time. After all, even when he tried to speak, no one could understand him except for the simplest words. And there was that sad fact that he was missing half of his face. And maybe his friends from church didn’t know how to handle the fact that he had attempted suicide.
But I did learn about Tommy that he had been a person of faith. He was a good husband. He was beloved in his church. And, finally, I convinced some of the men of the church to take turns visiting Tommy. They became a sort of community of faithfulness – practicing a miracle of regenerating relationships instead of waiting for a miracle of some other sort.
My message is that we can be part of miracles and we should expect to be. We can reach out to those who are alone, those who struggle, and those who are left out. Even beyond all the hopes of modern medicine, the mere act of fellowship can mend the greatest of human frailties. The message of Mark’s first ending – the way the Gospel ended originally – is that whatever we believe and seek, we don’t know what the morning will bring. But . . . and it’s a big “but” . . . we have to live into the miracle even before we see it.
I know just how distressed Tommy was. I’ve honestly been there myself. And my hope is that love and grace will win out for me. That is my hope because that is my belief. I believe in a God of love and grace and miracles. And I am willing to live as positively as I can and be that miracle until the stone is rolled away and the Lord appears to me again.