dawn | botanic gardens | peek whurrong country #Lent 2023

They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone. They were afraid, because … (Mark 16:8)

Easter morning 2020. Pre-dawn, Peek Wurrung country. A group of women appears, walking; one carries a bag with liturgical supplies. One by one, cars roll up, park, and turn off their lights. Figures emerge, hard to see in the shadows. Voices are hushed as people pick their way towards the nature play area, flitting between shadows and trees.

Gradually, the congregation gathers and everyone finds themselves a rock, a log, a place to stand or sit; about forty of us altogether. The early morning air is fragrant with the scent of wet grass, pine needles, a faint whiff of bat. The women distribute liturgies to the gathered people: and the service begins. The first voice, a child’s, reads aloud: Blessed are you, God of the universe. Each new morning as the curtain of night is drawn back, you re-create us, raising us to new life again.

Another voice: Blessed are you, Risen Lord Jesus. As the rising sun baptises us in light, you plunge us anew into your deep mysteries and drench us in the light of your resurrection.

And another: Blessed are you, Spirit of new life. As the magpies rouse heaven with their praise, you awaken us to the promise present in each duty and pleasure of the beckoning day.

We’re in the Warrnambool Botanic Gardens, it’s Easter dawn: and whether by chance or grace, a cocky suddenly screeches overhead. At the sound, the congregation looks up and laughs, then moves into a simple song. Adults and children join their voices together, finding the harmonies.

Then we tell the old, old story of some women who, one long ago dawn, walked to a garden tomb. They were carrying supplies to dress the body of someone they loved. But, we hear, when they arrived, the women found that the tombstone had been rolled away. The storyteller gestures to the bluestone tunnel in the nature play area: visible now the sun is beginning its ascent into the sky. Everyone looks, and a man in a white shirt steps out, luminous in the dawn light. He says to them, ‘Don’t be afraid …’

The story continues, and at last the storyteller says, ‘The women fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone. They were afraid … because?’

In an expressive gesture, the storyteller shrugs. There is a silence. The storyteller has retold the story following the structure of the original Greek, which leaves the question hanging. Although most translations insist on tidying it up, the last word of the shorter ending of Mark is, indeed, ‘because’.  Two thousand years later, the question still hangs in the air. They were afraid … because?

After a pause, a young voice says tentatively, ‘Because … they thought it was a ghost?’

Another voice chimes in, ‘Because … they knew the men wouldn’t believe them!’

The conversation begins to flow, as people of all ages wrestle with the story, and wonder why the women were afraid. They wonder, too, what makes us afraid to tell people about the Risen Christ now.

But let’s leave the conversation there. Instead, tell me: what do you think? Why were they afraid? What happened next? And, most important, how can we be the next chapter in the story? Ω

What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together daily stories and images from people in the congregation which are focused on God in this place. Why this theme? Read this! #Lent2023. This piece incorporates lines from a prayer by my friend and colleague, Nathan Nettleton. Find more of his work here. Our Spiritual Geography © Sanctuary, 2023. Sanctuary is based on Peek Whurrong country. Full acknowledgement of country here

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