Sunday, April 16, 2006

Day of Resurrection - Year B

What epitaph do you write on an empty tomb? Do you still write letters of condolence? Do you still bring a casserole? This was unfamiliar territory. People didn’t know what to do. What is proper protocol in these circumstances?

After reading Mark’s gospel, everything seems up in the air. Nothing is resolved. Jesus doesn’t even show up. All the women at the tomb find is a young man dressed in white and they trust that he is telling them the truth. It’s like a whole section has been lopped off. A page has been torn out. The story doesn’t feel like it’s finished.

On Holy Week, not long ago, biblical scholar Reynolds Price sat one evening and read from his translation of Mark’s gospel at a university library. It was a spell-binding story told by a master story-teller. When he got to the final episode, the final chapter, he closed his book, and the crowd sat stunned silence for a long time.

On the way out the door, a graduate student asked his professor, “Did they ever get the point?”


“Jesus’ students, his disciples. Did they ever get the point?”

“No,” the professor responded, “they never get the point. They were as clueless by Easter as they were at Christmas. Welcome to discipleship in Mark.”

Of course, Mark doesn’t tell the story of Jesus’ birth, but the professor’s point is well taken. The disciples, even the ones who stayed with Jesus through the crucifixion couldn’t figure out what was happening when they found the tomb empty. They didn’t know how to finish the story.

“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.” That’s how Mark’s gospel ends.

Terror. Amazement. Fear. The last few days were hard enough – but this? They expected to see a dead body, but even that is denied them. An absolute stranger has told them their friend has been raised from the dead. Why should they believe him? All they have to go on is an empty tomb, and goodness knows there could have been many less-divine explanations for the absence of Jesus’ body.

The way Mark tells it, the two Marys and Salome don’t run back to tell the other disciples that Jesus has risen, probably because they hadn’t seen him with their own eyes. According to Mark, Mary Magdalene didn’t mistake Jesus for the gardener. Jesus didn’t ask her why she was crying.

Which is Mark’s point. We are those women coming to the tomb who have no experience of meeting the risen Jesus in the flesh. We hear the witness of strangers: he is not here. He has been raised. Do we trust that witness? Do we believe the stories? Do we allow ourselves to be swallowed up whole by the news we cannot see, cannot touch, cannot smell or hear or taste?

It’s a bit like the story of the pastor’s kid who was told by her mother that she should wash her hands before dinner because there were germs living in all that dirt she was playing with. She refused and complained, “Germs and Jesus! Germs and Jesus! That’s all I ever hear around this house but I’ve never seen either one!”

Yet though we cannot see germs with our naked eyes, we’ve come to believe they are really there. Though we cannot see Jesus, can we, too, come to believe in his living presence?

Where is Jesus, then, if he has been raised? The heavenly witness at the tomb says, “He is going ahead of you to Galilee.” To Galilee – the normal, home base of the first disciples. Jesus isn’t going to be found in the tomb, or the synagogue, or even the church, he is going to be found where life is lived. There you will see him – not in the holy city or the temple, for he has left that behind. He won’t be found in the cemetery because he’s defeated death. But he’ll be found hiding in our lives.

We may have no profound experience of the Risen Jesus – we have not placed our hands in his wounded side or in the nail holes in his hands and feet – but we can meet him in OUR Galilee, teaching and healing strangers, eating and drinking with new found friends.

“He is not here.” That’s the hard part. The part we may never get entirely used to, the part that will still ache years after he disappeared from the tomb.

But, “he is going ahead of you to Galilee.” That’s the part that’s tough to understand, but it can transform our lives of tragedy and pain into odes of joy when we trust it. Jesus is no longer behind those women, an event in their past. He is going on ahead of them. He is their future. He is the one they will meet and meet and meet again in unexpected places and strange times.

And Jesus is our future. He is the one we will meet and meet again and again in unexpected ways. He will never leave us, and the promise of the transforming power of his resurrection will continue to surprise, again and again, until all the world speaks of his resurrection love, a love that triumphs over evil, death, and sin.

Mark’s story feels unfinished, because it is meant to be unfinished. It is meant for you and I to take it up where he left off, to figure out for ourselves how this story will end. Frightening, isn’t it? We each have the opportunity to finish the story in our own lives and in our lives together. Jesus Christ died and rose again that he might meet you here. He has come to bring you new life. Resurrection life.

What will you do with the news? Will you hear the words of the young man at the tomb?

“You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here…He is going on ahead of you, you will see him.”

How will you finish the story? How will WE finish the story? Amen.


Blogger Steven Carr said...

Why was the thief on the cross not clueless about Jesus and his coming Kingdom?

Perhaps because he had not spent 3 years with Jesus, seen all his miracles, saw Moses and Elijah return to Earth, been given the secret of the Kingdom of God (Mark 4) and been personally given the power to raise the dead (Matthew 10:7)

With those sorts of handicaps, little wonder the disciples were clueless.

How different they are from modern Christians who just have to read a book and believe.

10:17 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home