Message for Easter Sunday 2021  Mark 16: 1-8

“So (the women) went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (vs 8)

My Oxford Annotated Bible says this verse is actually the very last verse that Mark wrote in his book, according to “some of the most ancient authorities”.[1] However, if you pick up your bible and go to chapter 16 of Mark’s gospel you may well see that there are other verses added, one called “The shorter ending” another “The longer ending’.  These are generally accepted as being later additions to the gospel, added by scribes, who over the many years made copies of the original text, adding what I’m sure they felt was a more complete ending.  Because the gospel actually ends at verse 8, with the women in terror, amazement and fear, there is no clear conclusion or explanation to Jesus’ story from Mark.  Its abrupt stop makes for cliff hanger ending, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions, leaving them with an “Ok, so now what?” response. And maybe just maybe, that’s what Mark was doing!  Perhaps by ending his book like this, he hoped the reader would want to dig deeper, find out more about this Jesus guy, whose grave was empty, whom the messenger in white robes said would later meet up with the disciples in Galilee.  When I read a good book with a cliff hanger ending, or see a cliff-hanger of a movie, it certainly creates food for thought.  And I consider re-reading the book, or seeing the movie again, so that I can look at the story in a new way, in light of the thoughts that the strange ending has left me pondering.   I think the writer of Mark’s gospel was on to something, leaving the ending like that!  He’s left us wondering, at the climax of the story!

So let’s think about this from the perspective of Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome. What’s happened here, what does it mean?  They expected to find the body of their beloved Jesus, not an angel in white telling them to go and tell the disciples that they’ll see Jesus in Galilee.  But the grave is empty, the women don’t fully understand what the messenger is telling them.

And it occurred to me that there are some parallels for us, in our world today.  We can, in a small way, feel for these women.  Here we are in the middle of a pandemic, not fully understanding all the messages we’re hearing from the plethora of messengers we’re hearing from, and many of us are somewhat fearful of what the future may bring for us, as the country enters the third wave.  I’m thinking that for us this Easter story right now is easier to handle, because with the benefit of 3 other gospel stories and the book of the Acts of the Apostles, we know how it ends.  But this pandemic thing, is still very much up in the air.     

Yet admittedly, it’s hard for us to fully understand the overwhelming shock the women at the grave might have felt when they found Jesus’ tomb occupied by a strange man in white, and Jesus’ body gone.  They were there at the foot of the cross, they saw him die, knew where his body was laid to rest.  They witnessed the “crucified, died and was buried” part, but the ‘and he rose again’ part?  Well—not so much, they were the first ones at the empty grave.  So, their role was to be witnesses to the emptiness, the message of resurrection from the angel — and then to go and tell what they witnessed.  We read that their response was one of terror, fear, amazement, and then silence. Which, if you give it some thought, would be quite understandable.  With a story like that, who would have believed them anyway?

Have you ever wondered what it might have been like to have lived at the time of Jesus; to have been one of his followers?   Let’s imagine!   For three years Mary Magdalene, Salome and Mary wife of Zebedee were been part of the group of women who have been following and taking care of this unusual and remarkable Rabbi.  They came to believe that the way he interpreted and taught the scriptures, while radical, was really the way to follow God.  And the things Jesus does — are well, nothing short of miraculous!  Nor is he afraid to stand up for the people no one else cares about, the beggars, the poor, the so-called unclean ones, the sick, the lonely, the mentally ill—the people who live on the fringes. He treats women like they’re just as worthy as the men!  He’s forgiving of all those who come to him in true repentance.  He’s gentle and loving, especially with the children, but he calls a spade a spade.  This Rabbi’s not afraid to take a stance against the self righteous powerbrokers who use the laws to suit themselves and fill their pockets at the expense of those who have no other recourse.  You’ve got to admire that strength, that passion — yet you are afraid for him, because it is dangerous in these times to challenge those in power.  You have come to really love this man Jesus.  

And the follower’s worst fears have come to pass.  The leaders of the synagogue finally did it; they convinced the Roman authorities to crucify him, which is what Romans did to convicted rebels against the establishment.  And the women disciples were there, and watched him die.  How could Jesus have let this happen to him?  Most of the men left and went home, scared and mortified, but the small group of women disciples followed Joseph of Arimethea who took Jesus off the cross and laid his body to rest Friday night.

The Sabbath was a day of rest, and now, it’s daybreak on Sunday morning.  The women, with heavy hearts, head back to the tomb carrying the bags laden with spices, wondering how they get into the tomb, but the rock has been moved, who would have done that?  Imagine their thinking, the first thought comes unbidden: ‘Well, that’s handy; we don’t need to worry about moving that now.’  Followed very quickly by:  What’s going on here, who moved the rock, and why? Slowly, carefully, they enter the tomb.  And there’s a living man sitting there!  All dressed in white, — and he’s not Jesus!  Their minds racing, they’re scared, who is this guy?  What’s he doing here?  And where’s our Lord?  The events of the past three days come back, overwhelming them.  Shock sets in, they start shaking. 

And the man in white says:  “Don’t be alarmed”, he tells them. Really?  Don’t be alarmed?  They’re in a grave and a living man dressed in white is talking to them!  “You’re looking for Jesus, who was crucified, He has been raised, He is not here. Look over there, that’s where they laid him.”    

This is too much to process.  What does that man mean, he’s not here, Jesus has been raised?  Memories of things Jesus said to them, tried to tell them about his pending death, flash through their minds, they’re minds straining to understand.  The women lean back against the wall of the tomb for support — Jesus knew this was coming didn’t he?   Maybe they remember Jesus’ calling Lazarus back to life.  And what was it he said about tearing down the temple and building it up again in three days….?  

That man in white is talking again, what’s he saying?  “Now go and tell the others, especially Peter.  Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee, you’ll see him there.”  And the women flee from the tomb, in terror and amazement — speechless.  No wonder!  First they have an encounter with an angel.  And the news he gives them!  Their Lord, whom they saw crucified really isn’t dead, but risen again and he wants us to risk our lives and go and tell everyone?  Really?  Us?  This is scary! 

And right here is where Mark’s accounting of the resurrection ends.  But we know the resurrection story gets told; the women must have overcome their trepidation and shared the good news of their Lord being raised from the dead.    

Mark’s gospel is the first one to be written after the resurrection, leaving the reader with questions instead of answers when they finish Mark’s story.   What does it mean to believe that Jesus, the Messiah, the one come to save the world is alive, and well and with us always?  

What does it mean to believe that death is not the final event of our lives, that there truly is life after death?

What does it mean to believe that the evil and cruelty of the world cannot overcome the goodness, the love and will of God, that times of fear and darkness and illness cannot and will not overcome the light of Christ, even when it feels overwhelmingly like the dark side is winning, and that all that is good and loving has been lost?  What does it mean that Christ is alive and is present for us, walks along side us, is with us and supports us, in good times and bad?  So the question for each of us, for all of us is what difference does this make for us, how does that change our lives, because we know how the story goes? 

It’s a story that’s still in the making, it’s a story that has not yet ended, because we, like the two Marys and Salome are a part of the story of those who believe in the risen Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. 

So the question for us is the same one the women at the tomb had respond to.  How do we witness the resurrected Christ in our lives; how do we now live, and who do we go and tell? 

Rev’d JoAnn Todd, Rector

The Regional Ministry of Hope

[1][1] The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Micheal D. Coogan, Ed. (Oxford University Press: New York,NY 2001) 91 NT