We pick up our story after the horrors of Friday and the silence of Saturday, at the end of the gospel according to Mark. This is likely not the resurrection story you’ve been told in Sunday School, but it’s here, and we’re going to wrestle with it until it blesses us.
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.
This is not an April Fools’ Joke–as far as scholars can tell, that is exactly how the Gospel According to Mark originally ended. It’s probably the most anticlimactic resurrection story ever. It’s the surprise party that…wasn’t. The guests of honor—the women who came to tend Jesus’ body—just ran away, filled with terror and amazement, and went home.
If you look in most Bibles, you’ll see two sections added on to the end: one labeled “the shorter ending of Mark,” and one labeled “the longer ending of Mark.” That’s because Christians, much later, decided that the way this gospel ended left too much to be desired, too much to the imagination. So they pieced together endings from the other gospels, and tacked them on. In the days before the printing press and standardized translations, depending on when and where you encountered this particular gospel, you might have encountered a very different ending.
But one of the things I love about the gospel of Mark is its unflinching look into the hearts and minds of Jesus’ closest followers. The previous chapters detail the betrayals and denials of the disciples in no uncertain terms. When Jesus teaches, Mark often tells us “and they didn’t understand.” Mark is not kind to the disciples, and he doesn’t sugarcoat this resurrection story for us, either. Instead, the writer ends abruptly, and with a hint of irony. Throughout the gospel, Jesus tells people over and over: “don’t tell anyone about this!” And they immediately go tell EVERYONE.
But the one time someone is told to go and pass on what they’ve just seen and heard, they don’t. Mark leaves the rest to us.
But let’s back up a minute, and consider their reaction to this impossible news in context.
It’s been less than 48 hours since Jesus’ brutal and untimely death, which all of these women likely witnessed. In every gospel account, there are women at the cross with Jesus—even when the 11 have deserted him.
Mary and Mary and Salome are, to impose a modern concept on an ancient text, operating in Crisis Brain; they have the tunnel vision of trauma. Together, they are concerned with the next thing: where do we buy spices on Sunday morning? Who’s going to roll the stone away, so we can do the work we need to do?
So, when their Crisis Brain sees that the stone is already rolled away, they’re not quite sure whether to be relieved or terrified. Has someone gotten here before us? What else could be going on?
So when they are confronted with a strange person in an empty tomb, telling them that the man at least one of them saw laid in this tomb, is alive and risen—it’s a little much. It’s a little overwhelming. I can’t really blame them.
But one of the gifts of this particular view of the resurrection is God’s acknowledgement that resurrection won’t always be met with joy. Sometimes, new life will be met with skepticism, as we see later with Thomas. Sometimes, resurrection will be met with fear, as we see with the religious and political leaders. And sometimes, an empty tomb will be met with that strange mix of terror and amazement, and it just takes a little while to process.
We know from the other gospels that these women did indeed tell their story. The disciples did meet Jesus on a mountain in Galilee, not far from the places where they were first called to follow. In Mark, they just seem to take the long way around.
Friends, Christ is risen!
Maybe this good news, which we repeat over and over again on this day, brings you pure and unadulterated joy and you want nothing more than to share that with anyone and everyone.
But maybe, this good news also brings you a bit of confusion—because if Christ is risen, then what on earth is up with these news cycles?
Maybe this good news also brings a fresh wave of grief—because if Christ is risen, why do we still wait on the fullness of God’s kingdom, where we will rejoice with all those who have entered that glory before us?
Maybe this good news brings a bit of shame—because if Christ is risen, why can’t we deal with that one thing that keeps overwhelming us?
Maybe this good news brings terror and amazement—because a risen Christ sounds a little too good to be true.
This good news will offer joy and rejoicing to you, but it will not require joy from you. There is room, too, at Mary’s table, to process and question and breathe for a while.
Because Christ is risen, and this good news, this gospel, is prepared to meet us precisely where we are, with what we have—all of our trauma, all of our Crisis Brain, all of our relief and joy and hope.
And, as Anne Lamott says, even if it finds us at the entrance to the tomb itself, the gospel will not leave us there.
“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.’”
This is good news! But this gospel is not just an announcement—it’s an invitation. The gospel according to Mark leaves everything after this in our hands.
We can choose to walk away—to run home and forget we heard it.
Or, we can choose to look at the empty darkness and rejoice that we will no longer find what we’re looking for there.
Or, we can go tell Peter that despite his denials, Jesus is alive and looking for him.
Or, we can go tell the disciples that everything he said wasn’t just confusing metaphors—he meant it, that he was coming back for them.
We can even sit back, and watch as those very specific promises, those very specific invitations to particular people, become the promises and invitations that will resound throughout the centuries, in every time and place that God’s people gather.
Friends, you may not ever find yourself standing around a campfire in Jerusalem or on a mountain in Galilee. But wherever you are, wherever you find yourself, because of this day, this story, you can be assured that Jesus has gone ahead of you–and waits for you there. You will not find what you seek in the tomb.
Christ is risen! Christ is risen! Christ is risen!
Jesus is alive and at work within us and among us and through us. Thanks be to God! Alleluia! Amen.
That, my friends, is what we celebrate when we gather around this table. This feast, set for us by Christ himself, is a feast of remembrance, communion, and hope.
Whenever we gather here, we remember that Jesus lived, died, and rose again for our sake.
We celebrate that Jesus has gone ahead of us, and meets us here, in this place.
We rejoice boldly in the resurrection hope that when God’s kingdom has come in its fullness, we will gather again with all the saints.