An Easter Sermon from Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
Christ is Risen!
Let’s flee in terror and amazement, saying nothing to anyone because we are afraid! Hallelujah!
That’s not how it is supposed to go.
Mark’s account of Easter morning is noticeably different than the other 3 gospels.
Jesus makes zero resurrection appearances here.
He isn’t mistaken for the gardener, as he is in John’s gospel.
He doesn’t walk on the road to Emmaus, as he does in Luke.
He doesn’t appear to the disciples or to the crowds.
We just have a messenger in white, sitting in the tomb, waiting for the women to arrive. And like all heavenly messengers, or angels, this one tells the women not to be afraid.
And that doesn’t seem to work so well, does it?
But it doesn’t deter the messenger. He tells them, “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.”
And their response?
“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.”
And here Mark ends his gospel. In the Greek, it even ends on a preposition, causing Mark’s 8th grade grammar teacher to hang her head and weep!
Your bibles have some other verses after this ending—both a shorter and a longer ending. But scholars agree that these endings were added on by editors trying to help Mark out. “Surely he couldn’t have meant to end there?”
Yet, it appears that he did.
And before you flee in terror and amazement, headed for a church that is reading one of the other resurrection stories, let me invite you to spend some time this week with your discomfort over this ending.
Because, no matter what happens next for the fleeing women and the disciples, there is a real ending taking place in this story. Jesus is dead. They were headed to the tomb to anoint his dead body with spices, after all, not to take him a sandwich and a change of clothes.
They are not looking for a risen Jesus. They are looking for his body. Their trip to the tomb is a last act of devotion to the man they had supported and followed. As they were coming to make peace with the death of Jesus, they were also making peace with the death of God.
Some commentators have argued that the fact they were coming to anoint a dead body indicated an act of faithlessness on their part. And perhaps so. But where were the rest of the followers? And really, what were those women, on the first Easter, supposed to expect?
Yes, Jesus had told them about what was going to happen. But how could they wrap their minds around that? Resurrection of the dead was a belief held by some Jews, but it was never about the resurrection of one person. It was about the resurrection of all followers at the end of days. How were they supposed to imagine this?
And, quite frankly, we’ve had 2,000 years to wrap our minds around it, and it still seems like staggering news.
I appreciate Mark’s willingness to remind us to pause—even if it involves terror and amazement—before we move on to the good news of the resurrection.
Even though the text says the women fled in terror, sayin’ nothin’ to nobody, “what happens at the tomb, stays at the tomb”, as it were—
we know that isn’t quite right.
They must have told people what they had seen.
Because 2000 years later, we are here in our proverbial Easter bonnets to celebrate the Good News that the tomb is not the final resting place.
The stone was rolled away. Grave clothes abandoned.
New Life conquered death in ways we do not understand and still hesitate to believe are true, yet we’ve had glimpses of grace that help us live in faith and hope.
I wonder if the fear and terror and amazement that caused the women to flee was, in part, because new life is terrifying. As painful as death is, we know how to respond to it. We show up with our burial spices and mourn what we have lost.
New life, however, where we thought we would only see death, is unexpected and startling. No wonder the women fled in terror.
Many of us have been celebrating Easter our whole lives. We’ve heard about the empty tomb and the resurrection.
But think about the last time you experienced a new thing. A really different, earth shattering thing. It is unsettling and disarming. You feel like everything you thought you knew is up for grabs.
Do you remember the first time you heard about email or the internet? Watch this clip from the Today show in 1994.
We laugh at this. But are we any different?
A few years ago, I saw a story about neutrinos.
I confess I had never given any thought to neutrinos, which are subatomic particles, until I learned that scientists had just done an experiment in which neutrinos traveled faster than the speed of light.
Which, apparently, is impossible. According to Einstein and E=MC2 and all that, nothing travels faster than light. Nothing.
So even the scientists who led the experiment, who read the results that showed these neutrinos traveling faster than they ought, were asking other scientists to look over the data and figure out what they did wrong. Because, clearly, they couldn’t be right.
I’m clearly not the person to interpret what we’ve really discovered about neutrinos, but I find it interesting that even the authors of the study were having a hard time coming to terms with new information about what they knew to be true about the way the world works.
Honestly, the way we experience terror and amazement and disbelief around new things doesn’t even have to be about important things like whether or not Einstein was right about the speed of light.
When Winco rearranged the layout of the grocery store last year, I nearly cried. Why did they have to move things around???
So the women. They get to the tomb to anoint their loved one’s dead body and they discover a whole new world. A whole new understanding of life and death and resurrection. And new life brings change.
And change is a four letter word.
And it scares us so bad that we often run away in terror and amazement, saying nothing to anyone.
What happened next for the women, do you think?
When they stopped to catch their breath on the side of the road.
“what just happened back there?”
“I have no idea. But could it be true? He had told us to go to Galilee? Galilee is where it all started. Maybe we should go see?”
“But it can’t be true?”
“Well. He did always say things that never quite made sense at the time. Maybe they make more sense now. All that crazy talk about suffering and rejection and death and resurrection—maybe we just didn’t know what he was talking about at the time.”
Mark doesn’t tell us what the women said.
Somehow they got past terror and amazement.
Somehow they remembered things Jesus had said about himself as he had been with them and taught them and heard those comments again in light of what they had just experienced at the empty tomb.
And then the women went and proclaimed. They preached, even. They proclaimed it to their friends, the men who were hiding in an upper room.
And 2,000 years later, we’ve gathered because people throughout the years have also experienced new life after death and have told others about it.
Which brings us to what is left for us to do.
Jesus has been raised. He does not need our help with either his resurrection or anyone else’s salvation, for that matter. Jesus does not need our defense—if he can defeat death, he can handle internet trolls and wedding cakes.
But death is still all around us. And there are still people who think the tomb is where the story ends. Jesus needs us to be able to adapt and respond to new life—he doesn’t need our burial spices any more. We need to set those down in the empty tomb and leave them there.
Jesus needs our witness. We get to tell the world that new life is possible in ways we cannot even yet imagine. More than telling the world, we need to invite them to come and see for themselves.
And then we need to help each other overcome our terror and amazement so we can live into this new life God offers. We are called to get past our terror and amazement and speak of the amazing things we have seen and to share GOOD NEWS of God’s love in a world that is sorely in need of comfort, blessing, and love.
There is a new story waiting to be told.
Thanks be to God.