Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB, 8 April 2012.
Readings for Lectionary Year B: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, John 20:1-18, Alternate Gospel Mark 16:1-8
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.” (Mk 16:7)
1 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. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.
For the women going to the tomb that morning in Mark’s gospel, their expectations were limited. They were going to tend to the body. That was their intention. Nothing more. Jesus was dead, they knew that as fact.
What are your expectations this Easter Sunday? What were your intentions in coming here? Hold that thought, I’ll come back to it.
3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”
The Mary’s and Salome went with a plan to anoint the body, but did not know how they were going to get at the body. They ask one another, who will roll the stone away for us? Clearly they didn’t have a plan for moving the stone. Perhaps they were going to ask a passer-by for help, we simply don’t know. Mark, the most laconic storyteller of the evangelists, simply mentions their lack of preparation to deal with the stone and somehow that seems very real to me. It seems true to human nature to me that the women would cling to their sense of duty, even though the rock, like the death of the man behind the rock, had crushed their hopes.
What the women find is something they could not have foreseen. The rock, which Mark, delighting in concrete facts, tells us “was very large” (Mk 16:4) has been rolled away and a young man is sitting in the tomb where the body should have been laying. Is the young man an angel? If this gospel had been Luke or Matthew, we would be told that, but Mark simply gives us one sparse detail, that he is wearing a “white robe”.
What follows however is very angelic, in the sense of the original meaning of the word angel as messenger, for the young man has good news:
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.” (Mk 16:6-7)
In John’s resurrection story, a traditional gospel reading for Easter Sunday, Mary actually meets the risen Christ in the garden by the tomb. Here, we have to settle for the messenger’s saying that Jesus has gone ahead of his friends and followers. Go tell the disciples, the young man says, and then go find Jesus. He’s waiting for you, just like he said he would be (Jesus tells the disciples in Mark’s account of the Last Supper that “after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee” (Mk 14:28).
Much has been written about Mark’s abrupt ending, with the women fleeing the tomb in fear and telling no one, and much has been written about the final lines of Mark (16:9-20) which almost everyone things is a subsequent addition by someone who was dissatisfied with Mark’s lack of resolution to the story. We could talk about these endings, but let’s talk about something more interesting. Let’s talk about you and why you are here today.
I asked you earlier to think about the expectations that led you here today.
Perhaps you came here because of you devotion to Jesus, and your desire to follow him. That is wonderful if you did, for that call to follow him is one that Jesus gives to all of us in our turn.
Perhaps you came here out of a sense of religious obligation. Again, that’s wonderful if you did come for this reason, because a great many couldn’t be bothered, and religious obligation was why the women came to the tomb to do the ceremonial annointing.
Perhaps you came here out of a sense of hoplessness. Perhaps there is something in your life that is equivalent to death, or something that is styming you as certainly as the great rock keeps the women out of tomb, and like the women, you have no idea how to move it? If so, then the good news of the gospel is indeed for you.
Whatever our reason for coming here today, the good news of Christ’s resurrection impacts us all.
If you came here because of your devotion to Jesus, then the words of the messenger to go into the world and tell others about his resurrection are especially relevant. The resurrection is a gift, a wonderful surprise that you can bring to others through your life, through your words, and through your relationships with others.
If you came here because of a sense of religious obligation, then the words of the messenger about Jesus not being here may apply particularly to you. Just as the women left with their obligatory annointing undone and forgotten, you may be called to set aside your ideas of religion and obligation. You are challenged instead to follow a living, surprising God who is somewhere out there in the intersection of your life and the real world. Go find him.
If you came here out of a sense of hopelessness, if you came here burdened and mourning, then the messenge that Jesus, “who was crucified …has been raised” is especially for you. Someone rolled back that rock. Someone raised Jesus from the dead. Someone isn’t going to stop there. That someone is the loving and creating God whose love and re-creation await you. Will you go look for him?
At the end of Mark’s gospel, as I said, the women flee the tomb in fearful silence. Two thousand years later, we do not flee this church. We go instead to a time of sharing, freindship and of course, because it’s church, food. But the same risen Christ is out there waiting for us. He remains faithful to his promise to go ahead of us. The same words of the messenger apply to us.
Don’t be afraid.
Go find him.
For the Lord is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.