“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. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 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. 7 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.” 8 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.”
Easter, April 8, 2012
Mark 16:1-8, Telling the Easter Story
Doug Scalise, Brewster Baptist Church
Telling the Easter Story from BBC Staff on Vimeo.
The message of Easter doesn’t change from year to year. When this morning comes around we remember again, regardless of what is happening in the world that might tempt us to believe otherwise, that God is able to bring hope where there is despair, joy where there is grief, love where there is indifference, trust where there is fear, new life where there is death.
The women who come to the tomb in Mark 16 are not only grieving as some of us are today who have lost a loved one, but they are in the shock that comes in the first days of grief and loss because a relatively young person they love was killed in an act of violence. Today there are too many grieving people who find themselves in a similar place as these women. All throughout our nation and indeed the world – families of little children, teenagers, and adults are mourning the loss of loved ones who were killed by acts of violence. The women we meet that first Easter morning can relate to those who are grieving such losses.
While some of their names are probably unfamiliar to us, what do we know about these grieving women who came to the tomb – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome?
In Mark 15:40 we see that they are present at a distance when Jesus is dying on the cross which tells us they have the courage to risk being publicly associated with Christ. Do we have similar courage to be publicly associated with Jesus in our time?
In Mark 15:41 we learn that the women, followed Jesus and provided for his needs when he was in Galilee. They have not just been casual observers in the crowd. They have committed themselves to following Jesus, serving him, and providing resources to support his ministry. Have we committed ourselves to following Jesus, seeking to serve him and sharing our resources to support the Lord’s work today?
In Mark 15:47 we discover they stayed long enough after Jesus died to see Joseph of Arimathea take down Christ’s body and they went to see the tomb where Joseph placed the remains. They care enough to stay to the end. Sometimes it isn’t possible for us to do that after someone has died, but I know how much it means to families when people come to a service and stay to go to a reception to greet the family and share their love and support. These women stay.
And in this morning’s scripture in Mark 16:1-2 the women are portrayed as going to the tomb at the first possible moment on Sunday morning to anoint Jesus’ body. In all these snapshots we see the women are examples of a desperately needed virtue in our world today – compassion.
Sharing God’s compassion and love is the primary way of living out our faith. As the women went to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week, the question foremost in their minds was who would roll away the large stone blocking the entrance to the tomb so they could anoint Jesus’ dead body. They are worrying about who will roll away the stone for them because that obstacle is too large for them to move on their own, but when they arrive God has already taken care of it. Often times in life we spend many wasted hours worrying about things that never take place or that we never have to face. God has gone before us and cleared the path, made a way, or rolled away the stone. This is a lesson of Easter morning that is often overlooked in the amazing news of Jesus’ resurrection, but it is a very important thing to remember. Rather than worrying about how we will roll away stones that are so large and heavy and seemingly immovable and getting all stressed out about it and putting pressure on ourselves to figure it out, we’re invited to learn from the women’s experience to trust God for our future.
Hannah Whitall Smith author of The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, wrote, “Most Christians are like a man who was toiling along the road, bending under a heavy burden, when a wagon overtook him, and the driver kindly offered to help him on his journey. He joyfully accepted the offer, but when seated, continued to bend beneath his burden, which he still kept on his shoulders. “Why do you not lay down your burden?” asked the kind-hearted driver. “Oh!” replied the man, “I feel that it is almost too much to ask you to carry me, and I could not think of letting you carry my burden too.” And so Christians, who have given themselves into the care and keeping of the Lord Jesus, still continue to bend beneath the weight of their burden, and often go weary and heavy-laden throughout the whole length of their journey.”
The women are acting in love and devotion in going to the tomb, but they are burdened with worry about the stone blocking their path. Yet God has already gone ahead of them, even as God goes ahead of us to prepare the way for us when are seeking to live in faith and obedience. If you have a stone you’re worried about rolling away this morning, I encourage you to release your burden to God and trust the Mighty One to roll it away for you.
The women are shocked not only that the stone has been rolled away but also to discover a young man robed in white who tells them not to be alarmed and then shares the unbelievable news about Jesus of Nazareth, “He has been raised; he is not here.” The women are charged to tell the other disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee, just as he told them. This reminder from the messenger is meant to assure the women that Jesus had already told them what was to happen before he was crucified. Verse 8 records their response to this incomprehensible experience, “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.”
We can understand being afraid, I’d be pretty shook up meeting a divine messenger in the early morning light of a cemetery where my loved one was supposed to be buried, wouldn’t you? The late Dr. Ken McFarland told the story of a man who worked on the 4:00 p.m. to midnight shift at a factory, and he always walked home after work. One night the moon was shining so bright, like it was the last few nights, he decided to take a shortcut through the cemetery, which would save him a half-mile walk. It went smoothly so he began to make the shortcut through the cemetery his regular route. One night he was strolling through the cemetery, unaware that during the day a grave had been dug in the center of his path. He stepped right into the grave and immediately started desperately trying to get out. His best efforts failed him, and after a few minutes, he decided to relax and wait until morning when someone would help him out.
He sat down in the corner and was half asleep when a drunken man stumbled into the same grave. His arrival woke up the shift worker since the drunk was desperately trying to climb out of the dark grave, clawing at its sides. The worker reached out his hand to calm the frightened man. Touching him on the leg he said, “Friend, you can’t get out of here…” but he did! It is amazing what we can do when we’re motivated.
I imagine the women fleeing from the tomb with the same speed as the drunken man in that story. Give the women credit. They are the last at the cross, the first at the tomb, and they are still looking for ways to serve Jesus. They are not portrayed as hiding in a room or going fishing to forget their troubles like some other disciples we could name. The women had the courage to go to the tomb but they fled in trembling fear and ecstasy.
There is something about Mark’s resurrection story that distinguishes it from our memories of Easter and from the other gospels. I’ll give you a hint, someone is missing and it isn’t the Easter Bunny. No Jesus! In Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus appears to the women or the other disciples to take away their fear and doubt and to give final instructions. But Mark ends literally almost in mid-sentence and there is no appearance of the risen Jesus following the report of the young man that Jesus has been raised. A good study Bible will make plain in its notes that Mark’s gospel ended at verse 8. The verses that come after are a later addition. Mark ends like an interactive, unfinished story and we are invited to write the next chapter.
We are invited and challenged to become part of God’s plan to tell others the Easter story. The messenger told the women, “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.” The message for them and for us is this: Jesus goes before us, just as he told us. Jesus goes ahead and to see him we need to keep trusting his word and keep moving forward in life. In the command of the messenger lies the promise of forgiveness, hope, and new life.
The promise of forgiveness is that Jesus doesn’t give up on us when we fail. That is why Peter is specifically mentioned. He was the leader among the disciples and the one who denied Jesus three times. Yet Jesus is looking forward to seeing him in Galilee as well. Peter will be forgiven. Forgiveness gives people second chances. Even when we have failed Jesus, he still goes on before us telling us what to do next on our journey of life and faith, if we’re ready to resume following him with all our heart. Part of the hope of Easter is a fresh start and renewed purpose for disciples who have denied and betrayed Jesus. We can betray our friend Jesus in many ways: when we give in to the pressures of temptations and trials, when we have spoken words or made decisions that contradict who God calls us to be; when we have forsaken our commitments, neglected the poor, ignored the lost, or failed to devote our time and resources to matters of eternal consequence.
Jesus knows how his disciples fail him then and now, yet he still goes before us, inviting us to meet him and to resume the journey together. The messenger knows who the women are looking for – they are looking for Jesus. Who or what are you looking for today? Where are you looking for answers to life’s most important questions? A man went to a fortuneteller, hoping that she would be able to look into her crystal ball and make some stock market or lottery predictions. “My fee,” said the fortuneteller, “is $100. For that amount you may ask two questions.” The client winced and said, “Wow, isn’t that a lot of money for just two questions?” “Yes,” the fortuneteller replied. “What’s your second question?”
This is a year when many of us have questions about the meaning and purpose of life. We need to hear the Easter message that God can bring resurrection out of crucifixion, hope out of hopelessness, joy out of sorrow, purpose out of a lack of direction. For Mark, the joy of Easter, comes when we share the good news of the resurrection. God can use anybody – frightened women fleeing an empty tomb or even you and me. We can be scared and still act with compassion, faith, and courage. Courage is doing the right thing in spite of our fear. God can use us regardless of our fears, weaknesses and faults.
We are blessed to know how the story ends for Jesus, He has been raised, and he is exalted.
How will it end for us and for others God wants us to tell? “He has been raised; he is not here,” is the message from the angel that gives new hope to all of us. Even and especially to those who are grieving.
Like the women, may we have courage to risk being publicly associated with Christ.
Like them may we commit our selves to following Jesus, serving him, and providing resources to support his ministry.
Like the women may we experience God moving away stones that we’re worried about so that they are no longer barriers or obstacles for God’s future for us.
May God grant us faith to continue our life following Jesus as we tell others the good news that Christ is risen.
Prayer (adapted from a prayer by Joyce Rupp)
Come, meet us
In the garden of our lives.
Lure us into elation.
Revive our silent hope.
Coax our dormant dreams.
Raise up our neglected gratitude.
Entice our tired enthusiasm.
Give life to our faltering relationships.
Roll back the stone of our indifference.
Unwrap the deadness in our spiritual lives.
Risen One, Send us forth as disciples of your unwavering love,
messengers of your unlimited joy.
Resurrected One, May we become Ever more convinced
That your presence lives on, And on, and on. Amen
Go now as God’s chosen witnesses to testify that Christ has been raised and that we are raised with him.
Do not look for him among the dead, but be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
And may God raise you from all that would entomb and bury you;
May Christ call you by name and go ahead of you;
And may the Holy Spirit empower you for all that is good.
Let us depart in peace and joy to love and serve the Lord.
In the name of Christ, Amen.