Rev. Teri Peterson
27 March 2016, NL2-29, Easter
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought 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. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ 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.
Doesn’t this story seem to be missing something? The way Mark tells it, that first Easter morning had no hallelujahs, no singing, and no chocolate. Something seems off. If we can’t have a hallelujah brunch, couldn’t we at least have a nice neat happy ending?
But no, Mark gives us no happy ending. He stops writing right here: “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.”
When the women woke up that morning, their first task was a trip to the market to buy the spices for the burial rituals. Usually that would have been done right away, but this whole thing happened so fast, and the timing couldn’t have been worse. Just a few days ago, they watched their friend betrayed by someone they trusted, then betrayed by his government, then—at least seemingly—by God. Jesus had cried out in the midst of his agony that God had forsaken him. The women were near enough to see the pain and to hear his voice…and near enough to see where he was buried as they rushed to roll the stone over the tomb before the Sabbath began…and near enough to know that the other disciples had all run away.
Those first few days after someone dies are like a deep fog. There are so many things to do, but it’s hard to think of anything other than what just happened. As they walked to the market, and then to the tomb, that morning, shuffling their feet and looking at the ground, overcome by grief, there was only one question on their minds: how can we do this? we are not strong enough. we can’t…but everyone else is gone.
I’ve been there, and I’m sure you have too—walking in the valley of the shadow of death, looking down, consumed with wondering how to do what needs to be done, overcome with grief. Sometimes I feel like that just reading the news and thinking about the world—so much brokenness and despair and darkness, it’s easy to be overcome with thoughts like the women had: how can we do this? I’m not strong enough…but who else will do it?
When they finally look up, the shock is enough to cut through the fog of grief—the stone is rolled away and the grave is open. Memories of Thursday and Friday tumble together with the possibility that someone has been here before them, someone whose plans did not involve anointing. After so much betrayal in such a short time, they must have feared the worst.
Instead they were the first to hear the best news ever spoken aloud: he has been raised, he is not here!
This is, of course, impossible.
Death is not reversible.
But what if it’s true?
Faced with this news—empty grave, talk of resurrection, reminders of what Jesus said before—the women are overcome with fear, and they do the only sensible thing: they run away.
It can’t be true, of course. Because if it is, then that means all kinds of other things are turned upside down as well. If Christ has overcome death, then that must also mean that the hate and violence and fear and betrayal so prevalent in this world must not be as powerful as they seem. If Christ is alive, then that must mean everything else he said is true too. Including the part about loving our enemies…like those people who killed him in the first place. Including the part about forgiveness. Including the part about sharing what we have and caring for those on the margins and refusing to fight back with swords.
If it’s true, then everything is different now.
All the rushing thoughts, swirling around in their heads as they run…that’s what fear looks like. Mary Magdalene and Mary and Salome are a textbook example of how both flight and freeze can happen at the same time—fleeing physically, frozen mentally, overcome with fear.
And they say nothing to anyone.
Now we see something else missing in this story: Jesus. The women see the empty tomb and they hear the good news, but they do not see Jesus. Instead they hear only that he has gone ahead of them, even as they run away.
Over the years people have been uncomfortable with Mark just ending the story there, and they’ve added little wrap-ups to try to make it a happier ending and to have Jesus fix everything. But Mark’s whole gospel has been so real and human, and the ending is no different. This is how the story ends—with Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James, overcome by fear.
Or rather, this is how the beginning ends.
The very first sentence of Mark, you may recall, is not about a manger or wise men or a star. Mark starts right in with the adult Jesus, opening with “The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Christ, Son of God.”
This is just the beginning. Chapter One of the good news has come to an end, and chapter two, with God’s word of unconfined love alive in the world, is beginning.
Mark has written his story as far as he can tell it; the next part will be far beyond even his incredible writing abilities. The Marys and Salome were looking down, and at the tomb they looked up…but soon they will look out. The words “He is going ahead of you to Galilee, you will see him there” sink in, and the possibilities begin to open up. The good news that God refuses to stay locked up in any of our boxes, even the ones we think are so permanent, like death—this good news will follow them no matter how fast they run, it will be ahead of them when they arrive…and the good news is stronger than fear. They cannot help but speak—whether in whispers or shouts or songs—and they will not be the only ones. The truth of God’s love overcoming even the worst humanity can do will spread like wildfire. Even today, the Spirit overcomes our grief and our fear with good news. God’s grace is still alive and at work. God is still doing a new thing. God is still shattering stones and shedding graveclothes, and God is still calling people to go out and tell the story. What seems like the end is only the beginning—Love is still the greatest power in the universe, even stronger than death.
Even if we leave this place wondering what it all means, afraid to share what we have seen, or planning to just head back into our normal lives, we will still be overcome, because the Spirit of God is not content for our silence to let fear or grief have the last word. There is a story to tell, and we are the ones to tell it, one way or another: he has been raised, he is not here, and he is going ahead of you—go, and you will see him!
Thanks be to God.