Rev. Don Beyers, Christ Church, Bolton
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
When I imagine that first Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene and the other women went to the tomb to tend to the body of their beloved Jesus, I picture in my mind women filled with laughter and joy as they find Jesus’ tomb empty and learn from an angel that he is risen from the dead. My heart races as I watch Mary Magdalene run from the tomb to tell the men to get out of their fear and anxiety and to come back with her to see the wonder she has found. I do not think of the following as their response: “Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8) To be quite honest, Mark’s account of the resurrection almost seems like a let down. I almost want yell out to Mark and say, “Really, you’re going to end the greatest story ever told with three women leaving in fear and restrained from telling anyone anything?!”
Mark’s account of the resurrection is the most baffling of all New Testament accounts. Unlike John, Mark ends his gospel account not with triumph or joy but rather with confusion and despair. For the longest time I’ve avoided using Mark’s Gospel account on Easter, instead favouring John’s version. You see, every Easter the preacher gets to chose which gospel to read on Sunday. We’re always offered a choice between John and Mark. And every year since ordination, I’ve chosen John. I feel more comfortable with John. He keeps things tidy and neat. Mark on the other hand, well, he just makes things complicated.
As I prayed and reflected upon this year’s Easter celebrations, I was drawn to Mark’s version rather than John’s. The more I prayed, the more I began to see the resurrection is not so clear-cut and easy to understand. Although I firmly believe Jesus rose from the dead, and proclaim that loudly, I know too that it doesn’t always seem like Jesus rose from the dead. The world hasn’t seem to have changed much from that day. Perhaps that is the point. Perhaps Mark is pushing us to not see the story of the resurrection as something distant in the past, but ever present to us and unfolding before us, and that his version of the story is for us. He wants us to put ourselves into the story. It’s not Mary Magdalen that is to run from the tomb and proclaim Jesus as risen, but us.
Mark’s Gospel account has perplexed theologians and scholars for centuries. Where the other gospels give a much more complete account of the resurrection, Mark leaves us in suspense. There was even some question among scholars whether or not Mark even wrote this part of the story; earlier editions of Mark’s gospel conclude with the burial of Jesus. And the additional verses that follow the section read today were likely added at a later time, thus leaving us with two different conclusions to Mark’s Gospel.
In recent times, however, scholars have come to believe that Mark’s version of the resurrection was intentional. When situated in the overall narrative of Mark’s Gospel, it is clear that he purposefully left the resurrection scene unresolved. As scripture scholar Mary Healy notes in her commentary,
Throughout his work Mark has portrayed misunderstanding, fear, failure, and flight on the part of Jesus’ chosen disciples. He has depicted the shortcoming of even the leader of the early Church, Peter, with relentless candour. He has brought his readers on a journey of discipleship as we too are confronted with Jesus’ startling words, astonishing claims, awesome deeds, and divine logic that overturns all human ways of thinking. Like the original disciples, we have had to come to grips with the mystery of God’s plan for the crucified Messiah.
In an ever so clever way, Mark draws us into the story and forces us to wrestle and respond to the announcement of Jesus’ victory from death. How will we respond?
Mark figured you and I would likely know well what followed Jesus’ resurrection and the disciples’ eventual response to it. Yet he doesn’t want us to simply leave it to the apostles and disciples to be the only ones to proclaim the good news of God’s triumph over sin and death by the raising of his son Jesus from the dead. Nor does he want us to depend only on the evidence of the resurrected Jesus, as he leave us without tangible evidence. Instead, Mark knew that seeing is not always believing; it is by faith that we come to approach the empty tomb and believe.
Although the resurrection of Jesus took place well over two millennia, we remain standing at the empty tomb. We are caught in the suspense of the day, mystified — and perhaps even confused — as to what is to happen next. Despite our popular imagination that everything was brought to completion on the first Easter morning, the truth is the story of the resurrection is still unfolding in our lives. The Christian Church has long proclaimed that Jesus rose from the dead and that we await his final coming and the resurrection of all humanity and creation on the last day. In the meantime, we live in a liminal time — an in-between period between the first and the final resurrection — and we groan and yearn for the day when all shall be made new in Christ as St. Paul reminds us in his Epistle to the Romans:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:19-23)
So if you find yourself baffled by this Easter mourning and the empty tomb, lean into your bewilderment for that is where the Lord wants you to be. As you sit at the empty tomb, ask Jesus to show himself to you and how he wants you to go out into the world, not like Mary Magdalene in silence, but proclaiming the good news of life in the most ambiguous of times and places. Let your loving service of others be a tangible sign that indeed Jesus has risen from the dead and now breaths life into our mortal bodies and all of creation.
Perhaps Mark’s Gospel story of the Resurrection is the finest of them all; for he maintains both the joy and the tension of this day. Indeed, Jesus has risen from the dead. Yet we await for the final day when all creation shall be created anew on the day of the final resurrection and life of the world to come. In the meantime, let us run from the tomb and proclaim, through word and deed, that Christ has risen. Amen.