April 1, 2018
St. Jacob’s and Trinity Lutheran Churches
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
“Alleluia! He is risen. He is risen indeed!” This Easter greeting for Christians for centuries has a ring of triumphant joy about it. It should. This day marks the culmination of our Lord and Saviors mission in life amongst humanity. He was handed over to the chief priests and elders Maundy Thursday. He was executed on Good Friday. But he was raised from the dead sometime in the early hours of Easter morning. For us, as St. Paul concludes chapter six of his letter to the Romans, “The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
But that first Easter morning did not have the women who found the tomb empty saying to each other like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz did on receiving a medal for courage, “Oh Joy! Oh rapture! Jesus rose like he said.” The Gospel of Mark has a very different ending. “So 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.”
It is no wonder that among their feelings was a combination of fear and amazement. Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James and Joses, and Salome have come to anoint Jesus’ body. It is a time for grieving, crying over him, thinking of his impact on their lives, and doing a final service to one so important and so unjustly treated.
It is only on the way that more mundane reality intrudes. They wonder, “Who is going to roll the stone away from the tomb’s entrance?” The stone was set in a slanted gutter. It would take more than their backs and arms to move it. They really could use a couple of strong men with a lever. Question unanswered they proceed not sure if they will be able to provide their planned act of care.
Then the first real shock occurs. Removing the stone won’t be a problem because someone has already moved it. Given the mood of many the most likely explanation would be grave robbers or enemies coming to desecrate the body. It was not an uncommon practice. In the early Christian centuries someone’s doctrines would be declared heretical long after the person’s death. They would dig the bones up and scatter them. I recently finished a book on Oliver Cromwell. When the Stuarts returned a few years after his death the exhumed his body from Westminster Abby and executed it.
The need to be sure is greater than their fear they enter the tomb to and encounter an alarming surprise. A young man in a white robe is sitting. Grave robbers do not stick around. He has startling news. First they hear what God’s messengers have been saying for centuries, a word of assurance. “Do not be alarmed.”
He shows he knows why they are there. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.” He announces the Good News, “He has been raised; he is not here.”
He concludes with words one would only apply to someone alive, giving the command God had given Abraham and which Jesus will give his disciples, “Go.” Specifically they are told to go to the disciples and Peter who denied Jesus. Tell them he has gone ahead to Galilee and that they would see him there, just as Jesus had said he would.
Now we come to the abrupt ending. It is quite possible that the conclusion became separated and lost, or written at a different place and never added. Then again it might be the ending, and a very appropriate one.
Mark starts his Gospel, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Which like the other three gospels is quite unique. Matthew opens providing background, “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Luke commences like a historian, “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write and orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things which you have been instructed.” John harkens back to before this planet was created, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” From the start Mark speaks of a story that continues.
In Mark many times people are asking “Who is this Jesus?” The book ends with ‘What do we do with the Good News Jesus Christ the Son of God has been raised from the dead and is very much alive and will engage his disciples.
At this point, the two Mary’s and Salome have not seen the risen Lord. They could find themselves on the horn of the dilemma many have wrestled with: If true this is the most important news ever received and if not people are being told to follow a false prophet.
What they have seen and heard has already begun to move them from great grief to another direction. When they first saw the young man in white they were alarmed. The word conveys the idea of heightened awareness, fear, or excitement anticipating danger. Now there is a mixture of great trembling (The NRSW ‘terror’ overdoes it) and astonishment which leads to flight and silence. The shift is dealing with something so important and overwhelming they cannot stop to exchange civil greetings or share such news with anyone they happen to come across. There is much to keep spirits, minds and hearts on race speed. They are not remaining at the tomb they are going.
The fact that we are here and from other gospels we know what they ultimately did. They informed the eleven and other disciples about what they had seen and heard.
We can be grateful that the Good News gave the women a fresh frame of reference to absorb in their grief. We can be grateful that their flight from the tomb after hearing the messenger in white is not the end of the Gospel, but it is where we become part, receiving and allowing the Good News of Jesus resurrection to work within us and affect our relations with others. Celebrate this great Holy Day. Alleluia! Christ is risen! HAPPY EASTER! Amen.