Sprouts of Hope

This past week, I placed my maple seeds that I showed you two weeks ago into some potting soil and they have now sprouted 6 inches. It is very exciting! I will be able to have some sugar maples in the backyard. The tree that I collected these seeds from was brilliantly orange during the fall and I am hoping to capture that color in my yard. And maybe, if I am feeling really courageous, in 15 years or so I can tap them and make some maple syrup.

A lot of the excitement quickly drained from me as I looked at these small seedlings. They are pretty spinley. The wind could burn them. A bird could pluck them out. They could not get enough water and dry up. This new hope is so fragile. I find myself holding a mixture of feelings towards these seedlings – Fear. Anticipation. Anxiety. But there is still hope.

In our passage today, Mary and Salome head to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. But when they got there, the stone had already been mysteriously moved.

They enter the tomb and a young man in there tells them:

“Don’t be alarmed,” “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.’”

The text says that the women exit the tomb “trembling and bewildered.”

If my dear friend who was part of a revolutionary political event was killed and then I went to his grave and he was dug up and gone, I would be trembling too. What just happened?

The text says that Salome and Mary did not say anything to anyone, because they were afraid.

In the earliest manuscripts of Mark, this is where the story ends. “They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” Because Mark was the first gospel written down and a source for Matthew and Luke’s versions, one might consider that this was one of the ways that the story was first told.

Jesus was gone from the tomb, apparently resurrected, and Salome and Mary were to go tell the disciples, but out of fear they left saying nothing to anyone.

I can imagine that in the days following Jesus’s death and before Jesus’ resurrection, there was a lot of grief.

I can imagine Salome and Mary torn apart by the death of a dear friend who had changed their lives. He was traumatically and tragically killed. Wasn’t he just being celebrated with palm branches a week ago? Things changed so quickly.

Two weeks ago ONU announced the layoffs of nearly 50 people. A week and a half ago, Bluffton University announced that it would be merging with the University of Findlay. Quickly, folks in this community began sharing their grief in these losses and changes. Both institutions have missions and visions that many in this space have dedicated their whole lives to supporting. For Bluffton University, it will be the end to 125 years of the school functioning independently. And while there is a year until this merger happens, it marks the death of what the University was historically.

When talking to Gloria Hernadez Bucher this past week, she said that it takes a lot of grief before we can see the possibilities.

I imagine this was the experience of Salome and Mary.

The process of grief that they were experiencing includes fear, bewilderment, sadness. Even amidst what should be a hopeful change happening right there in front of them. Jesus had resurrected – aren’t they supposed to immediately say with big smiles and in pastel clothing, “The Lord has risen, he has risen indeed.” The good news is here! The new has arrived.

But they don’t. They are still in it. They are still in grief. The writers of Mark do not condemn this. They name it. Yes, the resurrection was in process. Yes, the new is coming, but it comes with all of the feelings – and these feelings were not hidden but were written into this story – because this is what we humans do.

In the extended edition of Mark, Jesus begins appearing to Mary, and the disciples, casting out demons and rebuking them for their doubts. Everyone is doubting the stories of Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus no longer had a body like he did. He was different. No longer walking long distances from town to town but simply appearing to his followers. For better or worse, things were different.

After someone dies, life afterward is different. After a great change, how it used to go is no longer how it is.

And at the start of something new – it is scary. Not unlike my feelings towards my spindly maple seedlings. Or this new relationship between Bluffton and the University of Findlay. Your fears and your grief will go with you for sometime.

But in the Christian tradition, these fears and grief are accompanied by something else. Hope.

It’s not a hope like hoping that your NCAA bracket will win it group.

Not hope that anticipates everything will be alright in the end.

It’s not a hope like hoping there will be peace in our world, and yet not doing anything to go about creating it.

It is the hope of two women, leaving the tomb, afraid, anxious, but taking one step after another, together. A hope that knows that there is a tough or even impossible road again. Hoping that there is grace in the world – which John Caputo would say is dicey business. That risks shooting for the impossible not because you will get it but because that is the only way to move forward. The only way life might thrive.

Hope doesn’t ignore fear and grief. It sits there all mixed in with all of the feelings. To hope without fear and grief is to have certainty of the future, not hope. I am not certain that my maple trees will make it, nor are we certain that this merger will bring about thriving life. We do not know what our lives will look like after a loved one dies. Or the loss of a job.

But with hope, we take one step forward, into the new body of Christ, with all of our grief, fear and uncertainty. Like Mary and Salome walking away from the tomb.

Today, we are considering breaking ground. This past summer, I attended the ground breaking ceremony of the Swiss heritage center at the Swiss House. At a groundbreaking, often folks who were part of the team that is bringing about the new building, use special shiny shovels to dig a few scoops of soil at the location of the new building – symbolically kicking off the beginning of the build. The earth is dug from top down, in order to start the creation of the building.

Today I am considering ground breaking from the opposite direction. A seed breaking the ground from beneath the soil. To spout up with all of the vulnerability of a small maple tree. Or an oak tree or a crocus that TR so beautifully drew for our bulletin covers.

We are like seedlings, entering the world full of life having engaged with the soil in the previous weeks. Breaking upward knowing that it could all fall apart again. But this is what life does.

Jesus resurrected. His spirit goes with us vulnerably. Breaking forth with us like a small seedling, bursting with life.

On this Easter Sunday, may we walk away from the tomb of death, the burial, the end of things, and burst forth with life. Vulnerably taking steps towards Christ. May the resurrection – the impossible hope of Salome and Mary – and the struggle of fear and grief that comes with it, be an encouragement to you as you wrestle with your hopes too.