April 4, 2021
On this Easter Sunday we read the story from the Gospel of Mark. Listen for the Word of God speaking to you.
READ Mark 16
Alright… I have to begin with how much I love this telling of the resurrection. And I know… I know… that sounds strange because Mark’s story is so brief and it ends abruptly. Maybe that’s what I like so much about it. Eight verses. Eight verses and no more. Both of those other endings to Mark’s gospel were tacked on at a later date… so they don’t really count… they’re not original to Mark. Where I stopped reading is where the story ends. Jesus doesn’t even make a resurrected appearance in Mark’s gospel. He’s gone on ahead and will meet you there in Galilee.
So the question just begging to be asked is this… “How can it be Easter without Jesus even showing up in the story?” You’ve got to have Jesus showing up because that makes it true… right? That at least gives us something to hold onto. We usually get to hear about someone seeing him… some sense of proof. Vicariously have some kind of resurrection experience today through the people in the stories we hear. Nah! Not in Mark’s gospel. If you want to experience the resurrected Jesus… you’ve got to get yourself to Galilee. You want resurrection… you’re going to have to get up and go to it and experience it. Resurrection is not going to come and prove itself to you. An empty tomb does not a resurrection experience make. That’s what Mark is telling us.
These eight verses begin as the other Easter stories do… no one expects resurrection to happen. No one is looking for or anticipating resurrection. Jesus has said he would rise. Told them quite clearly a number of times. Yet, no one in the stories really believes that is going to happen. Makes you wonder what else they don’t believe about what Jesus did or taught. That’s what we’ve been talking about in these Sundays preceding… where and in what people were really putting their faith… how even with Jesus they couldn’t let go of old ideas and old understandings of what he should be about as the Messiah. Instead of seeing the actual work God was doing among them… their vision was still clouded because they couldn’t stop themselves from telling God just what God was supposed to be doing. Not surprisingly this has led to the same failures as it led to before. The same pattern repeated again and again with no one going anywhere.
So now in Mark, everyone has fled on the night that Jesus was arrested. Peter has run off somewhere after denying Jesus. Mark makes no further mention to what happens to Judas after his betrayal. There are these women, though. And as these women approach the tomb to take care of the body of Jesus… a task they had been doing while he was alive… these women… you don’t think about the women who followed Jesus and who worked to support the ministry in very practical ways. Some most certainly supported the group financially through the work of their hands. It could be that others had connections to wealth that supported the life and work of the group who traveled with Jesus. Others worked to care and meet the daily needs of the people within the group of followers. These women don’t have many words written about them up to this point in the story Mark is telling. They’re fairly invisible in the gospel stories. But they are there with their discipleship and their devotion even if it is without understanding just like everyone else. They are there when Jesus is crucified and breathed his last. Not the men in the group. They weren’t there. But these women… perhaps invisible to the crowds and the Romans who wouldn’t have considered a group of women followers a threat… these women are there. As Mark tells it… “There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.” Even though it takes Joseph of Arimethea, a respected member of the council, to ask for the body of Jesus from Pilate… to wrap it quickly and place it in the tomb… the women are there… watching even those events from a distance… watching… knowing what needs to be done next. These women are going to see things through to the bitter end.
And now as these women approach the tomb with their spices and ointments and such to properly care and prepare the body… to perform their final act of love and devotion for the man they had been following and listening to all this time… these women wonder who will roll away the stone from the entrance of the tomb. You would think that would have been more of a first thought rather than a secondary thought as they’re on their way. Who will roll away the stone? We’re ready to do what we know needs to be done… except for this one final impediment. Who will roll away the stone? Who will make it so we can get to the body of Jesus? Who?
The stone is the dead end. These women just get to it a little later than everyone else. The stone is the same dead end that people keep coming to. We’ve come to this stone before. We’re coming to it now. The prophet Jeremiah told us about the stone in his time just a few Sundays ago. Trust in the Temple. The Temple will save. The Temple is destroyed. Trust in the king. The king will save. The king is destroyed. Trust in the walls. The walls will save. The walls get destroyed. Trust in the nation. The nation will save. The nation is destroyed. Trust in the riches. Trust in rituals. Trust in the knowledge. Trust in yourself. Trust in… whatever. There’s always somewhere or someone that we’re supposed to trust in to make it all right. And it all leads to the same dead end. To the stone that can’t be rolled away so all our spices and ointments get left outside and we go away only to forget and start the cycle all over again with something else.
Jesus came into Jerusalem last Sunday and we put all that trust on his shoulders. Riding on that colt told us everything we wanted to hear so we waved our palm branches and threw our cloaks on the road before him shouting Hosanna. He spent the week in the Temple… first stirring our hearts by driving out the sellers of the sacrifices and overturning the tables of the moneychangers. Those in authority… those we don’t like… that we’re suspicious of… they did their usual thing by trying to discredit Jesus… but he made them look like the know nothing fools they are. So we cheered him on and he gained our trust. And there in the Temple Jesus taught… trying to tell us something… but it kinda went in one ear and out the other. Then the usual destruction occurred. There are some powers that aren’t going to be overcome. And as Jesus was taken by those who wielded the power of death and destruction… as he was nailed to the cross… there was nowhere else to go as he died and was put into the tomb like so many others before him… like so many other ideas and movements and theologies before him. The stone was put in place and the story was over but for the final acts of perfuming death so we can forget and move on and do it all again.
Who will roll the stone away? God has removed the stone. The cycle is broken. Resurrection opens the way to the kingdom. Now you just have to leave the tomb behind. An empty tomb does not a resurrection experience make. The way of resurrection is before you. Go. Don’t make this tomb into a shrine. Don’t stand around worrying about the body. Don’t try to fit the story into the old cycle so it makes sense. It doesn’t. It won’t. That’s the point of resurrection. It doesn’t resuscitate the dead so the dead can reenter the cycle to die again and be placed once again in the tomb… placed in the tomb where everything ends up with the stone rolled back into its proper place… a momentary blip brought to its proper and expected conclusion so the cycle can start again. Resurrection is something wholly different. The spices and the ointments have no function any longer. A new thing is at hand… empty your hands of everything you’re holding onto and go… go to Galilee. He will meet you there… remember… just like he told you he would.
“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.” What a brilliant ending. The next unwritten sentence is clear. “And what about you?” What about you? Are you going to let fear take you over? Are you going to let fear keep you in the cycle that leads to nowhere? Are you going to go out and say nothing to anyone? What about you? What is going to be your response to resurrection… now… yesterday… tomorrow? What about you?
Earlier in Mark’s gospel… Jesus said, “Do not fear, only believe.” Will his disciples remember those words? And will it be enough to get them to Galilee… and beyond. Amen.