The events of the last few days were unbelievable, and they had flung these women’s lives into utter chaos. They were living with overwhelming grief with questions far beyond any answers they could see and that morning, all the questions were looming, with no answers anywhere close by.
But despite their mind-numbing grief and desperately tired bodies, they did what we all do when grief visits: wake up the next day, take one foot and put it in front of the other, keep doing what you have to do, and they made their way to the tomb to finish embalming his body.
I’ll bet it felt a little like sleep-walking, or, maybe like making your way through water with heavy weights strapped to your hands and feet.
I can only imagine the thoughts going through their heads as they walked toward the tomb.
Their eyes must have been raw from the crying.
But what else could they do but return, if only to pick up the pieces of their lives and try to make some sense out of what was left?
They wanted to start there. They had to start there, in the last place they’d seen Jesus, ground zero of whatever life they were going to have to rebuild, all the while desperately wishing for everything just to go back to the way it had been before.
Not an unreasonable wish. Just a week ago, Jesus had been teaching and preaching and healing and casting out demons and thousands of people were following him wherever he went. And as he came into the city, people laid down palm branches and cloaks before him as if he were a king triumphantly entering the city as they shouted “Hosanna” . . . which means “save us”.
The possibilities of everything that could happen for the Jewish people under his leadership were staggering. They were on the brink of revolution—these women knew it—and they had given up everything to follow.
They had to go back just in case . . . just in case there was any way to salvage what was or at the very least try to get things back to normal.
And so, they went to the tomb, early that morning but what was already a nightmare just gets worse.
The stone moved and the seal of the tomb broken. And when they peered around the corner into the tomb and saw, not his broken and lifeless body as they’d left it on Friday, but a young man wearing a white robe – I’m sure it completely freaked them out!
He told them not to be afraid. But, after everything they had just lived through pretty much the only thing they COULD feel, was fear. Afraid of the government; afraid of the Jewish leadership; afraid of each other; afraid of the future; afraid of this strange man wearing a white robe.
And then the man said to them, “Jesus is risen. He is not here.” Well, the he is not here part was obvious . . . But, he is risen? Unbelievable.
So, they turned away and left because they were afraid.
Now, let me ask you, if you were going to set out to prove something that seemed totally and utterly unbelievable, what would you do?
Well, whatever it is that one should do to tell this story, so people would believe it, the writer of Mark’s gospel does not do it. Here we are on Easter Sunday, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus and Mark’s gospel leaves out all the embellishments that answer our questions.
I guess I wasn’t the only one concerned about that. If you look at your Bible you’ll probably notice that the text of Mark’s gospel goes beyond the last verse we watched today, but those 11 verses are not in the original manuscripts; they were added later. That should be noted in the footnotes.
Someone thought, like me, that Mark forgot a couple essentials, things like . . .
- an appearance of Jesus to Mary near the tomb (you’ll read that in the Gospel of John)
- the enthusiastic rush of the women and Peter and John to run and tell everyone what the angels said, that Jesus was alive (you’ll read that in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels).
- Mark doesn’t even add in post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to underscore the fact that they had hard proof of Jesus’ resurrection (that’s in the longer ending of Mark’s gospel).
Nope, here in Mark there’s one little guy in a white robe sitting in the empty tomb who says Jesus has risen. And the women did NOT run to tell everyone what they knew.
Instead, Mark’s original text of the entire book recounting the life and ministry of Jesus and his death and his resurrection ends with verse 8, which reads: “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Why would the writer of Mark’s gospel tell such a compelling story of the life and ministry of Jesus and end in such a way that leaves us hanging?
Why wouldn’t he detail like the other gospels every appearance of Jesus, every expression of faith by his followers, every ounce of proof that the unbelievable actually happened?
After all, we need all the help we can get to believe that this man Jesus died . . . dead and crucified, spirit given up and gone, dead, dead, dead, just like we die, BUT then defied the grave and rose again.
But the way Mark leaves things, well, it’s not that easy.
On this, the most triumphant day of our faith, the day in which we embrace a divine conquest over death and pain, I think it might be worth it to consider that perhaps Mark intended the ending just like he wrote it.
In fact, maybe a trailing, open end, telling us what we know was certainly true—that Jesus’ followers were so desperately afraid for their lives, so confused and so bewildered by this turn of events that they ran away—is really the BEST way to end the story.
Because that wasn’t the end.
If that early morning 2000 years ago was the end, what we would have here is a very nice story about a great man who challenged a political system, loved and healed people, a static, encapsulated piece of historical lore that we could pull out once a year, dust off and read one more time, then carefully tuck away until next year.
Mark knew that the end of his written account was not actually the end of the story. In fact, what happened that morning in the cold breaking of the dawn . . . was just the beginning.
You see, nobody who found an empty tomb that morning believed that resurrection was even possible.
The only way they came to finally understand that their friend Jesus was, in actual fact, who he said he was, the only way the unbelievable became real to them was when they began to allow the story to reach its way into their lives and change them . . . until they were absolutely and positively compelled to finish the story for themselves, with their very lives.
And today, so far away from the events of the Gospel of Mark, if Easter will mean anything to you and me, just like the first disciples, we’re going to have to finish the story ourselves.
This glorious day is not about new clothes for Easter or ham or Easter eggs. It’s not about lilies or candles or beautiful music. Or what I believe is a pretty awesome online worship experience.
Easter is about people, like you and I, who are broken and need hope for our lives.
And we believe that to finish this story means to allow the resurrected Christ to enter our lives, transform our pain and our fear, and give us new life; healed and whole.
In our humanity, like the first disciples, we tend to turn from the tomb in utter defeat and crippling fear.
But we have seen the power of the resurrected Christ in our lives and in the world, and what was once so desperately unbelievable has now become an urgent proclamation.
What happens next is the real power of the Easter story. When the risen Savior take up residence in our hearts, shaping, changing, renewing, transforming, and making us agents of healing and hope in the world.
He is not here; he is risen, the man said, but that was only the beginning of the story. The women left, too scared to say anything to anyone.
But in less than 50 years the entire world would be transformed by the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
His radical mandate to love God and love each other, his offer of direct connection to God, the healing grace of his death and resurrection changed the women at the tomb . . . and changed the world, because those women had the courage to finish the story.
Now it’s our opportunity to turn from the empty tomb, maybe fearful and probably unsure, and allow the power of the resurrected Christ to enter our lives and transform them, until we are absolutely, positively compelled to finish this unbelievable story . . .
It began early that morning when three women, exhausted and grief-filled, made their way to the tomb. It began there . . . but the end is yours to live.