Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 5, 2015—Easter Vigil
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Mark’s account of the resurrection of Jesus has a curious omission: the resurrected Jesus. Yes, if you look at the end of Chapter 16 in the gospel you’ll see that there are two endings in which Jesus appears to the disciples and, among other things, tells them they’ll be able to handle snakes without getting bitten. But the overwhelming majority of scholars agree that these endings were added on later by others who felt that Mark’s gospel needed a more appropriate resolution.
See, as the gospel was likely originally written, it ends with no appearance of the risen Jesus, merely the empty tomb. The women had come to the tomb just after sunrise to prepare the body for burial—a task they had been prevented from doing by the onset of the Sabbath on Friday. As they wonder who will roll the stone away from the tomb for them, they discover that the stone has already been rolled away and that inside the tomb was a young man, dressed in white, sitting off to the right side. And he says:
“Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”
The next thing, “overcome with terror and dread,” they flee from the tomb and say nothing to anyone because they were afraid. This is how the gospel ends. With an abrupt ending as the women flee from the tomb in terror.
I’ve long pictured how I would film this gospel: with a hand held camera and faded colors. As the women come running out of the tomb, the camera would chase after them as they ran away in terror and then suddenly cut to black. That ending would probably annoy a lot of people, the way that the ending of The Sopranos did, but it’d be faithful to the text. And people would understand the impulse to tack on an epilogue to the narrative.
But while others might focus on the unresolved nature of the narrative, there’s something else that leaps out at me.
II. THEY SAID NOTHING
“They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” The angel tells them to go and tell his disciples, especially Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee, where they will see him. And instead, they say nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Great, women at the tomb. You had one job. One. Tell the disciples what happened. And you said nothing to anyone because you were afraid.
III. WE SAY NOTHING
Of course, perhaps we should not be too hard on the women. We fail in precisely the same way all the time.
The women are told to go proclaim the Gospel message—Christ is Risen!—and to proclaim that Jesus has gone ahead to Galilee—Christ is with you!—and they do neither. But then again, how often do we do those things? How often do we proclaim the Gospel message, or are we, too, afraid?
If there’s one word that strikes fear in the hearts of many Christians, especially on the mainline side of the aisle, it’s “evangelism.” The word evokes distasteful experiences of having someone else’s beliefs forced down your throat. Of forced conversion, of religious intolerance, and of the kind of religious certainty that eliminates any expectation of dialogue, only capitulation. As a result, many Christians today are reluctant to broach the topic of faith with anyone. Fearful of being thought of as “one of those” Christians, most of us pass up opportunity after opportunity to share any aspect of the Gospel with a world that is in need of hearing it.
Even those of us Christians who are fond of speaking out, often do it in ways that miss the point. The messenger tells the women that Jesus will go ahead of them to Galilee where they will see him. That is, Jesus is going to go to where the people are—where the disciples live and spend their time. Jesus does not set up shop in Jerusalem and demand that people flock to him; he goes into the ordinary, the disreputable, the mundane. He doesn’t stay in cosmopolitan Jerusalem, he goes out into the countryside, the sticks, the backwater. The Jesus the women are called to proclaim is a Jesus who declares solidarity with the people where they are.
And so many of us proclaim a Jesus who tells people where they ought to be. So many are proclaiming a gospel that requires pre-conditions before being able to meet Jesus. That usually requires that you conform to the preacher’s expectations of what a Christian is supposed to look like before you’re able to receive anything from Jesus. But the message that the women are to proclaim is that Jesus has gone ahead, to where the people are.
But perhaps the most powerful way in which we fail to speak is to witness to God’s kingdom versus the powers and principalities of this world.
We are confronted on a daily basis by injustices and wrongs that are inimical to people who declare their fidelity to God, but how often do we make the point? Do we speak out when we witness our employers acting in an unjust manner or do we suck it up, because we need the paycheck and don’t want to rock the boat?
Do we grimace a little and remain silent when a friend or family member tells a racist, sexist, or homophobic joke, or do we risk the relationship by speaking to something greater than bigotry?
Do we speak out against a war machine that is intent on using drones to bomb countries far away, and often their children, or do we shy away from the conversation out of fear of a marauding evil half a world away? Do we speak out against Empire or do we avoid doing so for fear of looking unpatriotic?
Do we ever proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom when it really matters? Or does our fear of the earthly kingdoms keep us silent? Running away from the empty tomb and saying nothing to anyone?
IV. THE OBVIOUS PARADOX
Well, there is some good news here, after all. And you may have already figured it out. If they women never said anything to anyone, how are we here? Where did Christianity come from if no one ever spread the message that Jesus had risen? Forget Christianity, how did Mark know?
It’s clear that the women had to have said something to someone. Their fear did not last. It may have driven them from the tomb in terror, but they had to have spoken. How else would the disciples have known to go to Galilee? How else would there even be anyone to read Mark’s gospel?
And that’s a hopeful sign. For what it means is that we might be accustomed to fleeing from the Empty Tomb in terror, afraid to say anything to anyone, as the women did, but that we needn’t stay afraid to speak. Clearly, the women did say something to someone. Maybe they never got over their fear; perhaps they spoke out in spite of their fear.
Perhaps they spoke to the power of God to turn death into life, the coming Kingdom of God, the radical solidarity of God with us, and the demands of righteousness and justice, not because they lacked fear in what doing so might bring, but because they realized that the power of what had happened was so much greater than anything that might seek to dissuade them.
It’s no less the case with us. As fearful as we might be of proclaiming the Gospel, it is that Gospel that is more powerful than our fears. For the God who is capable of raising Jesus out of death, can raise us out of fear, so that we can respond to the words of God’s messenger and proclaim: Jesus has been raised. Go! He has gone ahead of us into Galilee. We will see him there.