Out of the Woods and into Life & Light

Mark 16:1-8  

When I was in junior high, I lived in Iowa. My church was a small, country Presbyterian congregation about 10 minutes outside of Des Moines. I have so many good memories of Easter [resurrection Sunday] from my Iowa years. So at risk of sounding ungrateful, it’s really hard for me to say this, but there was one thing about Easter in Iowa that I absolutely despised.

I had to get up at 5:00 a.m.


Don’t ask me why, but there are STILL plenty of congregations out there who have it in their heads that every Easter Sunday you have to get up before the sun does to have some sort of worship service.

Oh the pain.

I can still hear the voice of my college football coach:

You see–nothing good happens after 9am.

I am not a morning person [understatement of the century], and so the night before Easter, I could never sleep. I was too anxious, because I knew that in just a few hours my parents would come barreling into our room [I shared with my brother] and rouse us from sweet sleep. I wanted to rebel, because no matter how many times people told me that the women went to the tomb at dawn and therefore we should get up before dawn to celebrate resurrection, I wasn’t buying it. I mean, do you really think the women got up at 5am? I’m guessing 9. Or even 10:30. In fact, the story just says that they came AFTER the sun had risen, so it could have been anytime!

So why are we up at 5am again?

Now I wasn’t the only one who suffered the horrible pain of Easter sunrise service. You see, all of us teenagers were entirely responsible for the worship service. We all had to drag our lifeless bodies out of bed into the cold Iowa dark.

Yes, it was cold. It was Iowa.

One year, a friend of mine was slated to play Peter in the resurrection sketch. Somehow, though, all the alarm clocks that he had set [and his mom had set] just flat out failed to go off on Easter Sunday; or perhaps they just didn’t hear them over their snoring? Who knows. All I do know is that we were all getting nervous at 6am because he still wasn’t there. So we called and called, and finally he mom picked up the phone. With a groggy voice, she said “hello” and “oh no” when she realized what time it was. In the end, my friend made it at the last second, but what I’ll never forget is that he showed up half-dressed—in sweatpants and a pajama top that didn’t match, and he had what we call rooster hair, which is just another way of saying that he had major bedhead. Peter’s wild and unusual hair didn’t negatively affect the worship service, which I enjoyed. We chose the songs and put the skits together. We read the scripture story and even led some prayers. It was always a fun and a celebratory time.

After our youth worship service, members of the congregation served a huge breakfast. It was definitely a highlight: pancakes, eggs, sticky buns, coffee cake, fresh fruit, and though I’m now a vegetarian, if I had to eat meat again, I would choose that Iowa pork sausage they cooked on Easter Sunday. After the breakfast, my brother and sister and I sprinted to our house [right across from the church] to go look for our Easter baskets. That’s another story in and of itself, because our Blakesley Easter bunny had a mustache and was also quite good at hiding baskets–almost too good. Sometimes I had to “help” my little brother or sister finds theirs before they got really upset. And as for my basket, being the oldest was not a perk in this case. One year I found it in some attic that I didn’t even know existed.

But eventually we found the baskets and started eating candy and tried not to get sick.

And then, we headed to my grandparents on my mom’s side, hunted for Easter eggs and ate Easter lunch. And finally, we went to my dad’s parent’s house and got more eggs and ate more food. And then shortly after that we all collapsed in an incredible food coma coupled with a candy overdose.

The day after Easter I did not get up at 5am.

But I’m guessing you already knew that.

As you can tell, I really have good memories of Easter as a kid. But here’s the thing about that. As much as I looked forward to singing the songs and acting in the skits, as much as the smell of the delicious breakfast was enticing, and as much as I enjoyed my time with friends and family—all of that wasn’t my favorite part of resurrection Sunday.

My favorite part was late Saturday night, into the wee hours of Sunday morning, when it was still dark. Why? Because at that moment, the story wasn’t over. We weren’t singing happy songs or eating candy yet. We were sitting in the dark, waiting for the sun to come up on a new day.

To be honest, that is how I have always seen the resurrection story of the Gospels.

I don’t think that this story is all about belief in something fantastical.

Jesus of Nazareth rising from the dead in bodily form?

I cannot even count how many people have debated this with me, or at least who have approached me with that dreaded question:

Can you explain how Jesus rose from the dead?
And can you give me proof?

They are always disappointed with my answers, which are as follows:


I am not sure that what we believe about this whole resurrection thing is all that important.


I’m not a scientist, or a doctor, or some great scholar.

It doesn’t take much brainpower, though, to figure out that there has never been any real proof of any human being physically dead for at least a couple days, only to resuscitate and walk the earth again.

That would be what we call a zombie, and they actually don’t exist outside of movies, TV, and literature.


So what’s this resurrection thing about then?

Well, why don’t we look to the Gospel writers for some perspective, and this case, Mark?

I don’t know if you noticed, but Mark’s resurrection story is quite disappointing. The women go to the tomb with spices, and when they get there, the stone covering the entrance to the tomb is rolled to the side. They go inside and see a young man in a white robe. They are freaked out. The man says: “Don’t be freaked out, actually, for you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised and his not here. Go and tell your disciples friends and Peter that Jesus has already gone ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

The story ends with the women leaving the tomb, but they don’t do as they were told.

They are still freaked out and become paralyzed.
They say nothing to anyone.
The end.

Happy Easter!

What a downer of an ending, huh?
Where are the trumpets?
The happy songs?
The Easter eggs and sticky buns?

And, quite frankly, where in the heck is Jesus?

I really think it’s for this reason that some monks who were copying Gospel versions some centuries ago decided that Mark’s original ending wasn’t good enough. Mark’s Gospel does indeed end with chapter 16 verse 8a, the women leaving scared and speechless. But many, many Bible versions add two more endings to Mark, endings that probably were inserted centuries after the original one.

One more thing for you grammar gurus out there.

Mark’s original ending sentence was also changed as it was translated into English. In the original Greek, it ends with a preposition: The women went out from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; they said nothing to anyone, they were afraid for…

And now, let’s go back to the very first chapter and verse of Mark’s Gospel.

This is the beginning of the good news.

For Mark, good news did have a beginning.
But good news does not have an end.

I mentioned to you that my favorite part of Easter as a kid was not all the happy stuff on Easter day, but rather that journey towards the light of a new dawn, the anticipation, the story that didn’t have to end.

Maybe that’s why I like Mark’s resurrection story, because the story doesn’t have to end, and that gives me hope.

Because I don’t always feel happy and celebratory.
I don’t always see resurrection.
Sometimes I’m afraid, confused, and even paralyzed.
Sometimes I doubt that life can be renewed.

That’s what is special about this story. You and I are invited to be the women. We pick up where they left off. Mark’s Gospel leaves the story open to interpretation, to thinking, and to living.

Resurrection isn’t trapped in a book or a belief system or even a religion.
A resurrected mind and life is a daily kind of journey.
It’s free and unpredictable and wild and fluid.

And this frightens and confuses us, just like it did the women disciples.

Because we’ve journeyed through the woods, to all the dark and scary and confusing places where we can get lost. Surprisingly, though, even in the deepest parts of the woods where we feel we’ll never find a way out, we come upon a clearing. Natural sunlight overwhelms us. We see a new path forward. The light is almost overwhelming. Our eyes aren’t used to it; neither are our minds. It doesn’t fit into our linear way of thinking or acting. It’s just light. It’s resurrection.

And the light has found us.

In spite of our terror and amazement, the love, mercy, and healing of the resurrected Jesus lives in us.

Suddenly, it’s no longer about what you believe or don’t believe about resurrection–if you need scientific or historical proof, or if you need none at all.

It’s now about how we live, in this present moment.

For the light of resurrection is free to shine as it wills; it even appears in us and in others when we feel that God is the most absent.

Embracing resurrection can be about many things, depending on your own story.

Sometimes embracing resurrection means embracing your doubts.
Other times it means getting up out of bed when you are just not sure why you should.
Sometimes it means speaking a kind word or acting compassionately even when you’re having a horrible, no good, rotten, day.
And other times embracing resurrection will mean not running from the things that scare you; or the things that confuse you; or the new ideas and perspectives and opportunities that push you out of your place of comfort.

So friends, see the light of resurrection within you.
See the light everywhere.
Nurture the light in you and the light in others.

The story doesn’t end…it continues in our lives.

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Josh grew up in the Midwest before completing a B.A. in Theatre at Northwestern College [IA] and a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ [UCC], Josh has lived and worked in the Midwest, East Coast, Hawai’i, and Mexico. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Welcome Project PA, host of the Bucks-Mont PRIDE Festival, and he is Pastor of Love In Action UCC, an open and affirming congregation featured in a Vox Media episode of Divided States of Women with Liz Plank and in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Josh has 20+ years of nonprofit experience, including leading workshops and training in corporate, medical, and academic settings, focused on diversity & inclusion, grant writing, fund raising, and program management. Josh is a fellow of Interfaith Philadelphia, and designs and coordinates HS and University student groups for interfaith immersion service-learning weeks. Josh also co-facilitates Ally trainings for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and interfaith cooperation. He is a founding member of The Society for Faith & Justice, and a Collaborator for Nurturing Justice, and a member of the Driving PA Forward team via New Sanctuary Movement. He also performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, and has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in religious and secular settings. Josh also enjoys running, singing, traveling, learning languages, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philly.

One thought on “Out of the Woods and into Life & Light

  1. Nice, Josh. I like the way you phrase it, that “For Mark, the good news did have a beginning. But good news does not have an end.” It has been argued that one way to interpret the Markan Gospel’s declaration “Jesus has gone ahead of you to Galilee” is that it is an invitation to “return to the beginning,” to go back to Mark 1 and read it all over in light of what we now know: that Christ is Risen, that Death is conquered, that Light shines in the darkness.
    And as for wee morning hours– I would commend you to an Easter Vigil sometime… there is something incredibly holy about making a giant, blazing bonfire and calling on the Holy to be present, and remembering the whole story together as the darkness closes in. But maybe it’s just me 🙂

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