Fleeing the Scene, Pastor Kinsey
Long ago when I was a young teenager, growing up in the first collar suburbs, my friends and I got in trouble with the police. We tried to flee, and one did get away, without a trace!
The infraction that the neighbors called the police for was – well, it was the 5th of July, and we still had some 4th of July fireworks, left over! My parents were away, and had trusted me and my younger brother, Dave, to behave. But when Danny, my older next door neighbor came by, and Craig, my basketball buddy, well, one thing led to another. We went from firecrackers, to M-80’s, and very soon after that, the Police Cruiser showed up.
As Danny took off running back home across the hedge-row, I thought about running too, except, where would I go, I was in my own backyard! I looked over my shoulder where Craig had been standing, but he was nowhere to be found. Later he told me, he saw it all coming, and fled, just before the Police could spot him.
Me and Dave were left, bare-naked, holding the evidence. Without a 2nd thought, we pretty much, ratted out Danny – After all, he was the one who brought the M-80’s, and escalated the public nuisance we had become – And, because, at that age, I could not tell a lie, and was actually shaking in my tennis shoes, this being my first offense, and all. And the cops told us, they had seen Danny run away, and I wasn’t doing jail time for him!
Having also given the police our phone number, we knew there was no fleeing the consequences with my parents when they came home, so we spilled the beans! Dave and I were grounded, but Danny, next door, worse than us! While Craig got off, scott-free (but learned his lesson)!
Fleeing the scene of a crime is a natural reaction, you might say. Jesus overcame his fear of it, in his agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. And fleeing usually doesn’t work, anyway. Sometimes with the direst consequences, with your life, as with the victims memorialized in our Gallery quilt exhibit, called, “Gone But Not Forgotten.” Even in our, rather, juvenile case, in my privileged neighborhood, only one out of four of us, managed to get away.
The disciples were lucky that the authorities were only interested in arresting Jesus on Maundy Thursday in the Garden of Gethsemane, even though they feared for their lives. But when they fled, it was not so much from the police, as from Jesus. And as we know, they weren’t able to flee his mission, all together!
After his crucifixion, when the 12 hear from the women disciples, what they saw and heard at the empty tomb of Jesus, they begin to rethink their position. What the 2 Mary’s and Salome had witnessed was, ‘a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side of the tomb,’ and they were amazed and terrified!
6But [the stranger] had reassured 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.”
Now, the thing I keep stumbling on, is who this ‘young man dressed in a white robe’ is? And how does he know about Jesus and what happened to him, on this first day of the week, the third day after his crucifixion? Was this, mysterious person the one who rolled away the stone?
Actually, there has been much speculation and debate about this young man’s identity over the years. Here, in Mark’s resurrection account, he is not identified as an angel of the Lord, though his white robe, was an indicator. And his response to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, “Do not be alarmed,” is the usually greeting of angels, to those who encounter them un-expectantly!
But there is another, more creative answer too. Turns out, there’s a direct connection between the young man, or neaniskos in the original language of the text, and the one other time Mark uses this term, which is earlier, on Maundy Thrusday, in the fleeing scene of the disciples at Jesus’ arrest. It was after the disciples scatter, that a certain “young man, neaniskos, was following along. All he had on,” oddly, was a linen “bedsheet,” says Mark. “Some of the men grabbed him but he got away, running off naked, leaving them holding the sheet.” (The Message trans.) How embarrassing is that!
Is this the clue that Mark wants us to see?! Could this be the same ‘young man’ who greeted the women at the empty tomb? Maybe! But, even if that’s true, it still begs the question, why is the young man running away in the first scene, and now calmly sharing the good news of Jesus’ raising on Easter morning?
Mark leaves another clue here too, in his wardrobe, the embarrassing loss of his linen cloth, or bedsheet, in the first scene, and the new white robe he wears on the day of Resurrection, a garment of angels, to be sure – but also, the robe of baptismal candidates in the early church. And I have personally seen the recently excavated stone baptristies in Palestine, built for adult catechumenates, who would walk down naked into the waters of the ancient pool of water, and having been dunked 3 times, would then walk up and out the other side, gasping for the breath of new life, which was when they were immediately clothed with a white robe. It was a baptism made to experience the joining to the death and resurrection of Christ – a fleeing from the old, to their new life!
And so, what if this is Mark’s way of witnessing to his own transformation in the faith? Could he be telling us about himself? His confession of fleeing Jesus, being exposed and feeling naked, in his fear – and then having found his courage after the crucifixion, was baptized, and now helps others overcome their fears, inviting us to discover Jesus, who walks ahead of us, into the freedom of God’s gracious new life?! An auto-biography in miniature, within his Gospel?! Yes, the women saw an angel messenger at the empty tomb. But Mark is a kind of angelic presence too, a convert and follower, someone who shares the good news, with all the joy and passion, of a newly baptized believer.
“Don’t be afraid,” says the young man. “I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer. You can see for yourselves that the place is empty. Now – on your way! Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there, exactly as he said.” (The Message trans.)
Mark could not flee forever. He alluded the cops, but not his own conscience, and not the good news, which ended up changing everything for him, like it did for the 12 disciples, the women, and all Jesus’ followers since.
So, for Mark, the truth, is in the journey. Following Jesus’ path, is a road worth traveling. It is not a popular one, and today, I have to say, has been distorted by American Evangelicals, at least those who have given up every valid belief to follow a President who is the opposite of what Jesus has passed on to us: loving your neighbor as yourself, identifying and casting out the evil ones, healing the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and welcoming the stranger. And so, our following is all the more important, though more vulnerable and dangerous.
For Mark, the resurrection of Christ is the end of his printed story, but clearly points ahead to a new beginning, with a directive from the young man, who reminds us what Jesus had told them on Maundy Thursday at the Last Supper: ‘after I’m raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see me.’
What is Galilee? Galilee is the place on the margins of every society, the place where Jesus enacted God’s new age to come, by healing the sick, raising up the brokenhearted, casting out the evil characters attacking us, and celebrating jubilee meals of great joy! Galilee is where God’s mission is happening, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Galilee is the place where disciples and followers, young men and women, gender-fluid and trans, and all the white robed baptized, are raising up more and more followers, having been raised by Jesus themselves.
Jesus’ resurrection is living the new life God promises.
-- Alleluia! Xt is risen!