Easter Sunday … Resurrection Day … how do we handle it? Let’s look at Mark’s Gospel – the oddest account of the Easter story:
1When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
1 A strange ending
Mark’s Gospel has three endings: the one above; the extra bit that is in our pew bibles and the “shorter ending” which is also printed in a few translations.
There’s a scholarly debate about whether Mark actually intended this to be the end: women being so frightened by the resurrection that they couldn’t say anything. Some people think a bit got broken off the end of the parchment scroll; others argue that this is where it should end.
Mark begins his Gospel determined to tell the “gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” so I am going to stick my neck out and side with those who think the proper ending is missing. There must be more than this. The Jesus of Mark’s Gospel always keeps his promises so he would have met them in Galilee as the angels said.
But this is the Gospel as we have it and we have to deal with it. The women come to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body – determined to carry out this last act of love for their friend – and discover the stone rolled away and an angel telling them that Jesus is not there any more.
That doesn’t make sense, any more than the instruction to go from the place they were heading to because the risen Christ is now somewhere else. So here, in the place of mourning, comes …
2 A new beginning
What is clear is that everything the women had anticipated was now changed. As Preacher Fred Craddock says: “Following a death … there is nothing to do: nobody goes to work, nobody goes to school, nobody is hungry, nobody has anything to say. Helpers are helpless, and in the way. There is much to do: legal matters need attention, the body must be prepared for burial …”
Suddenly there is something quite specific to do and it has nothing to do with a dead friend. He is not there. He has risen … or more accurately (because the NIV gets it wrong here) “he has been raised”. God has interrupted the regular pattern of death and despair and changed the focus completely. It is no longer here, soaked in grief, but is now “there” … somewhere else, where Jesus is.
The women are translated from mourners to messengers. The relationship with Jesus is not ending; it has a new beginning that has to be away from the tomb. But it leads to …
3 A present tense
We’ve already noted that the Gospel doesn’t end properly. The experts say that the Greek indicates something is missing but certainly the story isn’t complete: the women don’t go and tell anyone in Mark’s story. In Matthew the same instruction is followed by the Great Commission – “go into all the world and tell”; in Luke the women go back and tell the men; in John it is Mary on her own who sees Jesus and tells the disciples.
Here, whether by design or more probably by omission, Mark leaves us to complete the story and maybe that’s how it should be. Perhaps we are supposed to put ourselves in the place of these first resurrection witnesses and find ways of sharing the story.
But that brings its own tension in this day and age when belief in a risen Christ is seen as pointless; when we are “poor deluded people” as someone said when they saw the procession with the cross on Good Friday. The tension comes because standing out as a witness is to be exposed.
But we are a resurrection people. We stand in the line of people who have heard, in our own hearts, what the angel said to the women: ““You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!”
Last year we sang a new song a few times. It began: “In him I have believed, on this my hope now rests; that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” If that is the truth – and you have to decide how you deal with that issue – then it is the single most important thing you will ever confront … or rather it is the single most important thing that will confront you.
All I can do is invite you to make your own journey to the tomb, discover it is empty and then decide how you will respond to the angel’s news that Jesus has not simply been raised but has gone on ahead of us and is waiting with those who have yet to hear the Good News … waiting for us.