From Mark’s Gospel:
Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary, Mark 16:9-14)
In some ancient manuscripts of this “longer ending” of Mark’s Gospel the text above continues with the following response by the apostles: “And they excused themselves, saying, ‘This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits. Therefore reveal your righteousness now’ – thus they spoke to Christ.” Jesus says a few nearly incomprehensible words about Satan’s power ending in this age and so forth, and then the text picks up with the received version’s comments about snake-handling and poison-drinking. ~ I absolutely love this first part of that addition: the fact that “they excused themselves” and that they demanded of Jesus “reveal your righteousness now”. I love it! It’s so darned modern . . . or maybe even post-modern. I can almost hear them saying something like, “Well, Jesus, that resurrection stuff may be true for you, but it’s not true for us!” Making excuses, making demands, relativizing the situation . . . these men aren’t just First Century Palestinian Jews; they are 21st Century Americans; they are US! ~ Well, actually, they aren’t. Where they differ is that after this confrontation with the Risen Christ, they got up off their duffs and went to work. “They went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.” (Mark 16:20) Very few excuse-making, demanding, relativizing, modern American church members do anything like that! ~ For nearly forty years, since Authorized Services, 1973 (a precursor to the current American Book of Common Prayer), at every baptism, the Episcopal Church has been asking its members if they will “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” and those members have answered affirmatively, “I will, with God’s help.” However, when we discuss evangelism, inviting people to church, talking with others about one’s faith, and similar topics, it becomes painfully clear that very few of those Episcopalians are actually doing so. And it does no good to confront them with that failure; they excuse themselves, just like the apostles! And just like the apostles, many of them make note of the fact that they don’t see much response when they try, that God doesn’t seem to be helping much. ~ Maybe we need to confront God, just like the apostles . . . maybe we need to say to God, as the apostles said to their risen Lord, “Reveal your righteousness now.” After all, when they went out and spread the gospel “the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message” with “signs” . . . we could use a few signs right now. ~ Yesterday, I made mention here of those times when it’s hard to see Jesus, when we fail to recognize him. I think we must all admit that there are times like that, when we do not see God, when we cannot feel God’s presence, when God seems to be silent. One of the most important books I read while in theological study was Hope in Time of Abandonment (Seabury 1973) by the French Protestant philosopher Jacques Ellul. In it Ellul wrote, “Hope comes alive only in the dreary silence of God, in our loneliness before a closed heaven, in our abandonment . . . Hope is a protest before this God, who is leaving us without miracles and without conversions, that he is not keeping his Word.” Hope, said Ellul, is humanity’s answer to God’s silence and it is through prayer that we demand the fulfillment of God’s promise. ~ If God is not living up to God’s promise to support the work of Jesus’ present-day apostles with confirming signs, then perhaps we Episcopalians who excuse ourselves from fulfilling our promise in the baptismal covenant are not to be faulted. Perhaps, like those first apostles we should be demanding of God in Christ, “Reveal your righteousness now!” ~ On the other hand, if God is living up to God’s promises and we just aren’t seeing that . . . .