Written by Robert Chase
"When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb." Mark 16:1-2
Copyright Courtney Scott, FPG International LLC., photo.
Think with me about being early. Not just first or best or loudest or strongest, but early, as in Mark's account of the resurrection. The phrase "very early" in the original Greek refers to the pre-dawn hours, when it is still dark; but this is followed by the words "when the sun had risen."
Pastors and teachers explain this contradiction by saying the women left home when it was still dark—a sign of their faithfulness and courage—but arrived at the tomb once the sun was up.
Perhaps Mark is saying more: that our very faith reflects this contradiction, as we profess the Sonwho has risen while night still rules the world, even as the prophet Malachi closes out the Hebrew Bible by foreseeing a day when "the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings" (4:2).
Ron Buford, the UCC's Marketing and Public Relations Manager, refers to the UCC as "the early church." It is a simple, though clearly incomplete, description of who we are. But stay with this image for a moment, especially in light of the "very early ... after the sun had risen" contradiction in Mark.
Being "early" echoes a faithful legacy: the courage of the women at the tomb; the faithfulness of first century Christians; the daring of those who published the truth (Pilgrim Press established in 1608); the vision of those who came early to these shores; the dignity of those who were here even earlier; the commitment of those in the vanguard for peace, inclusivity and social justice; the will of those who have advocated for public education and health care.
Yes, we have been early and often paid the price.
Our farmers get up early and tend their fields and flocks, our parents wake before dawn to make school lunches, our pastors practice sermons before it is light, our teachers and factory workers go to their jobs before sun-up, we pray and meditate in morning's quiet. Babies are born; our elders often pass in the pre-dawn hours. This, too, is part of who we are—present with one another in the very stuff of life. That we reflect a resurrection narrative of light crashing into the lingering night seems a perfect symbol for what we hope, in our fondest dreams, our church to be.
In the months to come, UCC members will hear conversations about the identity of the United Church of Christ. New resources are being considered to help tell our story clearly and effectively. Such efforts are costly and, if they be done well and with input from across our diverse family, cannot be done quickly. So, in the meantime, if someone asks, "What is the United Church of Christ?" think about this: we are "the early church," reflective of the Easter moment, when all history changed—when the Son of righteousness shattered the night of death.
The Rev. Robert Chase is Minister and Team Leader of the Proclamation, Identity and Communication Team in the UCC's Office of General Ministries.