If you are anything like me, you have been anticipating this Easter day for some time. Not only for the candy and flowers and the visit of the Easter bunny, wonderful as they are (the Easter bunny actually sent me my basket or box by UPS this year, arriving a little early—I think because he knew that clergy are busy on Easter morning, and because he’d be so busy visiting your houses last night). But that’s not why I have been looking forward to this day.
And not only so that we can resume eating or drinking whatever we may have given up for Lent. In my case, it was diet pop (that’s soda or tonic to most of you not fortunate enough to be from Minnesota or the Midwest). I did really well, too, but it was an epic spiritual battle sometimes. But that’s not why I’ve been anticipating Easter.
And finally, it’s not just because Easter seems to be a signal of spring—much as we need it. Yesterday, I was out and about in the gorgeous sunshine and I even saw some pretty purple crocuses sprouting up—much better than in Minnesota, where my family and friends are enjoying one of those classic white Easters people sing about, with a fresh coating of snow and an expected high today of 33. Last night it got down to 9 degrees. But the promise of spring is not why I have been anticipating Easter, either.
No, instead of all of that, it is the promise, and the reality of new life that Easter offers us. Our world—so broken, so lost, so marked and marred by the nails of crucifixion—needs Easter light, Easter life and Easter joy. We need the transformative hope that meets us and sometimes even confronts us, shaking the very foundations of our lives, especially when, like the women at the tomb, we are feeling lost, alone, afraid. We need good news. We need to be reminded that what we see and experience and expect are not all that there is. We need resurrection.
Often, when we feel buried under mountains of snow, or far worse, mountains of worry or despair, the promise of resurrection can seem far off and elusive, even when we are told to believe it, or sometimes especially when we are told to believe it—by the Bible, or by our friends and family, or certainly by some preacher in a pulpit. That’s why I find this morning’s unusual gospel story of the women at the tomb so compelling. It is so real and so human. So untidy, just like our lives a lot of the time, mixing faith and fear, doubt and hope.
Did you notice anything unusual about it? Did you notice that there’s no appearance of Jesus? Or that the women ran off, afraid? It even says that they were even afraid to tell anyone what they had seen and heard. You may have been thinking what kind of weird Easter gospel is this? Where’s the joy? Where’s the hope? As it happens, though, this passage in the Gospel of Mark is the very earliest gospel telling of the resurrection we know of, with its suspenseful ending: "So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had siezed them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." In fact, that’s how the gospel itself ends. In suspense and uncertainty. Eventually, later on, some monks decided that this wasn’t very satisfactory, definitely not very Eastery. They thought that the story needed a cheerier, more “happily ever after ending,” with Jesus actually appearing to his disciples, as in the other gospels. So they added a new ending, more traditional, more of what you would expect.
But in the very earliest version Jesus is not there—just the stone rolled away, the good news proclaimed by a mysterious messenger dressed in white (we are left to imagine who he is: an angel, the author of the gospel, or maybe even Jesus himself, unrecognizable in the moment), and the women running off, having been told that Jesus was alive and would meet his friends in Galilee, where they had lived before the last traumatic days in Jerusalem.
If Mark’s Easter narrative were a TV show, you might imagine after this scene, the words: “To be continued” flashing on the screen, perhaps a dramatic end of season cliff-hanger, or maybe, if it were a Star Wars movie, there would be the promise of a sequel coming in a couple years. Only, in the case of the gospel, this is all that Mark wrote. Leaving us, like the women at the tomb, unsure ourselves of what we should be believe. Sometimes, that’s exactly how resurrection, Easter faith is for us today, living as we do in such a state of brokenness, confusion, and uncertainty. Living in what too often seems to be a Good Friday world, in which we, like the woman at the tomb, are too often afraid, confused, and broken.
And, you know what, I think that’s probably how it really was on that first Easter morning so long ago. There were no chocolates or bunnies, and the good news was hard to believe. It was unexpected. It was even fearful. The unfolding story was not yet complete.
I think Mark wrote his gospel that way because if he had written, like the other evangelists, about how Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and then to Peter and John, his readers might have come to conclusion that resurrection is something that is done and finished. It was something amazing, fantastic, that happened a long time ago, but doesn’t have much to do with us here and now. People might have believed that Easter, resurrection was an event of the past, confined to the annals of history.
But that’s not what Mark believed, and its not what the first Christians believed. They believed that the resurrection story, the resurrection experience, was still unfolding, for Jesus’ friends long ago, and even for us and among us now. Mark wanted us to believe that Jesus’ life so long ago—his teaching and healing, his death and resurrection—was just the beginning of the Good News. He wanted us to believe that all of the events that happened in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, and Jerusalem, some 2000 years ago were really the opening few chapters of all that God would do for us and in us, among us and through us.
Mark wanted us to believe that we, too, might experience—in our own lives, in our own hearts, in our own souls—the earth-shaking power of God, the life-shaking power of resurrection. More than anything, he wanted us to believe that the risen and living Christ would meet us, too, on the road home, in our locked rooms, or in our locked hearts. He wanted us to believe that the Gospel story is our story, that the Good News of Jesus Christ is really and truly Good News for each and everyone of us.
Mark’s Easter gospel reminds us that risen Christ doesn’t belong only to Mary Magdalene, or to Peter or John, to those who knew and loved Jesus in the flesh in ancient days. Rather, the Christ belongs to us all. He belongs to anyone who longs for new life. He belongs to anyone in need of his healing touch. He belongs to anyone suffering oppression, degradation, or exclusion. Anyone longing for liberation. It is for them, for us, that the risen Christ appears—not a ghost, not an image, not even a life. But rather as life itself. New life. Radiant life. Liberating, God-filled life. Life that transforms sorrow to joy. Life that transforms fear into faith.
Easter is the awesome, fearsome, and liberating power of God. Easter is God’s power to bring new life out of disappointment, abundant life out of despair, and resurrection life out of death and the cross. Easter is God’s way of shaking the foundations of our lives, and transforming us, and the world, from the inside out. What we see and have experienced are just the beginning of an unfolding story, the opening chapter of the Good News. And the rest of the book? Well, it will be written by us, in our lives. In our very own resurrection lives.
Mark writes: ‘As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 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.”
This Easter, let’s join them on that road to Galilee, where we, too, will meet the risen and living Lord.
Alleluia Christ is Risen. Amen.
© The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell, PhD