Look Up
Mark 16:1-8

by | Apr 16, 2024

PRAYER:  God of new life, of new possibilities, in the midst of death, it becomes so easy for us to avert our gaze away from the world around us and just look down at the ground.  Thank you for your resurrection that reminds us to look up – to get out of our own way and to celebrate the new life that you offer!  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

I have an idea for a book that I’d like to write.  Tell me what you think.  It’s about an old miserly businessman, and on Good Friday, his employee asks if he could leave early to go to church.  The businessman never looks up from his work when he flatly denies the request.  He tells his employee that if he tries to leave early, he might as well not come into work the next day because he would be fired.

The businessman then launches into this whole big monologue about how everyone who goes to church, or celebrates holidays of any kind for that matter, is just wasting their time.  He talks about the holiday of Easter in particular as – and I may have to use a more modern word here, but he calls it just a humbug.  I’m thinking of calling this character’s name “Ebeneezer”.  What do you think?

Of course, I have not entirely lost my mind.  I know Ebeneezer Scrooge all too well from the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, but I was thinking about it this week, and I have come to believe that it is more appropriate to view old Ebeneezer through the lens of Easter, not Christmas.  In the Dickens classic, Ebeneezer Scrooge is singularly focused on his work, on his business.  We learn through the telling of his story that he mourns the death of his beloved sister, that he has no close friends, and the one friend that he does have has been dead seven years when the story begins.  Mr. Scrooge’s life is spent looking downward through what remains of his life.

The ghost of the past and the ghost of the present both warned him about living his life completely self-absorbed.  They point to the fact that Scrooge is spending his life looking down, away from the world around him.  And the third ghost, while it doesn’t actually speak, literally has Scrooge looking down at his own grave as if to say, if we spend our lives just looking downward, this is all that will remain of us… a lonely grave.

Through this experience, Scrooge finds new life.  Scrooge becomes a new creation how? By looking up from his work, up from his selfishness… and he joyously sees the world – the new life around him.  A more apt metaphor for Easter, I don’t know if we can find.  A Christmas Carol is an Easter story.

The thing about Ebeneezer Scrooge is that I don’t think his particular story is all that unusual.  When he is transported to the past, we can get a sense of the context that made him as unhappy as he became.  We have all faced traumatic moments or difficult challenges in our lives, times of mourning, of loss, of fear… they have contributed to who and where we are today.

A couple of years ago, I was speaking to my therapist about some of my anti-racism and anti-bigotry work and through our conversation, I thought back to some of the racist language I grew up with.  I mean, I always knew that there was a degree racism in my family growing up, but I guess it was so normalized that I never really thought much about it.  And to be clear, my family was no different than most in that time.  But suddenly in the midst of that conversation with my therapist, I was remembering not just a general sense of racism, but specific events, conversations, comments that, in retrospect, made me cringe.  It was a powerful moment that taught me about what informs the purpose that I find in my work.

When we see the present in the world around Scrooge then, we can better understand the opportunities he’s missing based on the context of what happened in his past, just as our present reality is informed by the context of our past.

It is a completely normal and understandable response to grief or trauma to withdraw.  The aftermath of Jesus’ death and resurrection, in the fifty days of Easter which, ostensibly, should be a season of joy and hope, have built within it a subtext of grief.  Not grief that Jesus had died, but perhaps that Jesus was gone.  Grief isn’t just about death, it can be about all kinds of loss.  It can be about trauma.  And even though Jesus returned to them, even as Mark said that “Jesus himself sent out through them,” he still left.  Other gospel writers tell of a story of Jesus returning to heaven in a way that wasn’t terribly dissimilar from how Elijah was taken to heaven.

I think that the disciples carried a lot of emotions with them in the season after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Surely they clung to hope, for they worshipped one who defeated the power of death!  But I think they also held a level of sadness, and certainly a level of fear.  The baton has been passed.  Jesus isn’t around.  But Jesus’ disciples have been given a massive task to do: continue telling the good news Jesus died to share.

As he grew up and experienced loss and grief, as he found himself pushed back and pushed down, Ebeneezer Scrooge – slowly at first, and then with more momentum – withdrew from his community, withdrew from the very life that was waiting for him, his gaze going from looking up to down… Grief or fear can compound the challenge of looking up from the irresistible urge to sit, eyes downcast, and not even try.  For the disciples, whether it’s the grief they felt before they knew Jesus had overcome death or the grief that followed his departure from the world after his resurrection, grief can make it incredibly difficult to look up and choose hope rather than the far easier menu of things we’d rather take on when we are grieving: apathy, vices, anger, etc.

In our world today, there are so many forces that can make it nearly impossible to look up toward hope.  We often just prefer to be on autopilot, or to simply disengage.  It becomes easier for us to cling to some group identity than to the self-identity that comes with being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

But when we finally do look up, we discover that are serve a community that wrestles with so many things: poverty, addiction to drugs, fear of the other, anesthetic amounts of wealth, homelessness — you name it. The hope of Easter isn’t a feeling of joy that gives us a license to ignore all of that.  To be a disciple of Jesus, we HAVE to look up.

Ours is a calling to look up at these monumental challenges in our communities and to speak “the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation;” to speak words of hope that are not hollow, words of joy that are not insipid, words of peace that are not disguised words that mask tension, and words of love that point us to the kenotic, self-pouring love of our God who suffered even death to be in solidarity with us for our salvation.

In many ways, we’re really not that different from Ebeneezer Scrooge.  We have all faced challenges; we’ve all experienced trauma in some form or another.  We’ve all had to deal with loss.  The road we all travel is often very difficult, and after so much difficulty, it almost becomes second nature to just look down, biding our time, living a singularly self-absorbed existence without hope.  It becomes normal for us.  It becomes comfortable.  The challenge for us all is to break free of that.  We don’t need three ghosts to visit us; we need to look up.  We need to recognize our fear for what it is, and then break free of it, looking up to see the world around us, and the opportunities to offer that hope to others.

Three days had passed. The women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, according to custom.  No doubt the journey to the tomb was heavy.  Perhaps they approached with heads lowered in defeat and grief.  But then they looked up and it changed their lives.  The barrier that they thought would be there was gone and what they discovered instead was life.  Will we look up?  Will we look up from our complacency, apathy, fear and depression about “the way things are” and be filled with the promise of new life and hope yet again?

God bless us, everyone!


Happy Easter!