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Dubuque, Iowa is a middle-size city on the Mississippi River where Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin meet. It’s a rather gritty river town, now splashed with drops of casino glitz. I’m in Dubuque often because my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter live there.
Waiting at a traffic light, right by the bridge to Illinois, there was a man—middle aged, white, a little overweight, dressed somewhere between casual and sloppy—dancing. Comfortably dancing. He had parked his pickup truck on an unoccupied corner, stuck his Say Anything sized boombox on its roof, and was dancing away. At his feet was a large cardboard homemade sign that read “Jesus is Alive!”
His dancing wasn’t especially amazing, nor was it weird or wild. He’d pick up the “Jesus is Alive!” sign and shake it for a while and then place it back on the ground again. In the few minutes I sat that there, dancing was all he did.
I was amazed, maybe almost mesmerized. Some of it was that a guy not unlike me was so relaxed, having so much fun, simply dancing. My own refusal to dance in public is a source of considerable marital strife. My unwillingness has nothing to do with any moral scruples and everything to do with being self-conscious and uncomfortable with my body.
The Problem with Witnessing
But it was more than his dancing. I could sense his radiant joy, his exuberance. I say this with all seriousness, but I cannot recall seeing a more compelling public witness for Christ.
Public witness is something Christians, by-and-large, don’t do well. Most efforts to “witness” or somehow convey the Gospel, strike me as judgy, priggish, self-righteous. Those I do admire—Tutu, Bono, Colin Kaepernick, Dorothy Day, Obama singing Amazing Grace—seem beyond my reach.
I’m not much into “proving” the resurrection. But if I were, I think that dancing man would be Exhibit A. It’s hard for me to put myself in the shoes of a nonbeliever. But if I was sitting at that intersection in Dubuque, Iowa, knowing little or nothing about Jesus, I believe I would say to myself “I want what that man has.”
The Problem for Preachers
I didn’t preach the day-before-yesterday. Not my turn. A little disappointment and a little relief. Someone once said Easter is like the Super Bowl for preachers. No pressure. A colleague offered this common Easter-preacher feeling, “After ‘Christ is risen!’ I’m never sure what else to add.”
This year however, might have been especially challenging for preachers. If you follow the designated lectionary passages, it was the resurrection story from the Gospel of Mark. That can be a bit problematic.
You don’t need an advanced degree in ancient languages to see that somewhere along the line, two different, well-meaning scribes appended ill-fitting endings to Mark. If we disregard those, we then have two other options. One, held by many respected scholars, is that somewhere we lost the genuine ending of Mark’s gospel. That the tail end of a scroll—often unrolled and rolled up again—would fall off is plausible.
The second option is simply to say that the real, intentional ending is the first half of verse eight, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
A good case can be made for this. That the first gospel would end with more fear and confusion than certainty and celebration isn’t hard to believe.
Dancing in Galilee
If we only had the Gospel of Mark, we would only have an empty tomb. Is that enough? No walk to Emmaus. No doubting Thomas. I, for one, would miss Mary Magdalene’s conversation with the supposed gardener. I’d really miss breakfast on the beach with Peter. But I think the empty tomb would be enough.
Instead of resurrection appearances by Jesus, Mark’s gospel gives us “resurrections” all through the story—Simon’s mother-in-law, the Gerasene demoniac, Jairus’s daughter, the deaf man in the Decapolis, blind Bartimaeus, and many more.
It is often suggested that Mark’s abrupt ending is an invitation or challenge to the readers. What are you going to do now? Who do you say this Jesus is? Where do you see resurrection at work in your world?
The final words of the young man in the dazzling robe, “He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” ask the readers, ask us, to be on the watch for Jesus among us, in our own Galilees. Be alert and you will discover Jesus among you.
So this year I’ll try to be more watchful for Jesus meeting me in my Galilees. Of course, I’ll be watching closely at the waters of baptism, when bread is broken and wine shared, and when the living Word is proclaimed.
But I’d sure like it if one more time I’d bump into that merry dancer holding his sign, “Jesus is Alive!”