The messenger proclaims, “He has risen! He is not here!”
But in the Gospel of Mark the women run away and tell no one because they are afraid. I don’t know about you but I want these women to get excited, burst out in song, do a little jig, toss confetti, throw a party, something. For all I care they could even go home and gather eggs from the hens, but then dye them all the colors of Spring. They could even tell their children the eggs came from bunnies. I just want them to do something exciting, something out of the ordinary. You know? Celebrate!
But apparently, according to Mark, they don’t feel like celebrating. They feel like hiding. Like running away into some secluded spot where they can sort this thing out. What’s happened to their Savior, really? After the horrific events of the past few days their brains just cannot process one more shock. This is overload, overboard, and they don’t know what to do or what to say, and so they say nothing.
Now in Matthew, in Luke, and in John the women run to the disciples and share the news. In those three Gospels, the women are the very first human beings to proclaim the Good News. But for whatever reason, the book of Mark tells the story differently: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.
In this sense, Mark is the most unsatisfying of all four resurrection accounts. The tomb is empty . . . and it stays a secret. But before we get too disappointed by Mark’s ending, let’s rewind and start at the beginning.
First, I want you to think back on a day when you had to wake up extra early. It was still dark when you pulled yourself out of bed, the world around you hushed in sleep. There is something almost surreal about being awake when the world is still sleeping, like you’ve entered a different realm. Quieter, darker, slower, calmer.
Now think back on a day after someone you loved died. It was almost surreal, too, wasn’t it? When you weren’t doubled over in grief, you were too shocked to believe it really, actually just happened. It was like you had entered a different realm. Darker for sure and eerily quiet because the voice of your loved one was gone forever. Maybe you called their voicemail just to interrupt the stillness, to remember the sound of their voice. The world all around you was still bustling away like normal, and that was so strange you couldn’t comprehend it. How everyone else could just keep on living like the world hadn’t been irrevocably and definitely altered. How everyone else could walk, and work, and breathe as if there wasn’t now a huge hole in the universe, a suffocating absence stealing your oxygen by the second. It is like entering a different realm, when someone dies.
The women in the Gospel woke quite early, and it was not only dark outside, it was dark in their very souls. It had been dark since Friday, at noon, when the Scriptures report that the light of the sun failed and the sky went black and Jesus called out into the gathering darkness, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” The Light of Jesus was snuffed out, and if the sun came back out after that, the women hadn’t noticed. It was all darkness to them.
On this particular morning, they worked silently side by side in the morning darkness, gathering their spices. It didn’t quite seem real, and I suppose that is how they kept moving, how they kept from breaking down. Most of men had fled in fear, so the women set out for the tomb alone, unguarded and unappreciated. Perhaps they should have been frightened, but they had each other, and that was a comfort. They knew a love stronger than death, and that gave them courage. Like mothers, they had an innate sense of devotion and nurturing, so they cared for their Lord, though he was dead. Like lovers, they had a passion that defied death, and so they would not abandon him, even now.
Each woman was still hovering over the cliff of her grief—it was just now the third day, and that wasn’t enough time to dive in. They were still just peaking over the edge, wondering what it would feel like when they fell in and crashed against the jagged rocks of their pain and disappointment, what it would be like when the huge wave of anguish finally washed over their battered selves and swallowed them up. But for now they remained poised in their state of shock, waiting for the reality of heartache to hit them full force.
It was a bit of a relief, really, to head to the tomb. It gave them something to do, it broke them out of the paralysis of shock. One woman wondered to herself if seeing the body again would bring finality and closure—if she would calmly dress the body with dignity or if she would barely be able to bring herself to face the lifeless body, the man in whom she’d put all her hope.
Another woman asked aloud, “Who will roll away the stone?” It was the first word anyone had said all morning, and the practicality of the question posed a nice distraction from the deeper emotions. They were talking it over, and they didn’t notice the light of the son, just beginning to peak out over the horizon.
The women were still debating their options when they looked up and found their dilemma already resolved. The stone was been rolled away. Was it Peter? Had it been John? Did one of them work up enough bravery to come out of hiding? Did a disciple wake early to get the tomb ready for the women?
Whoever did it, the women were grateful, and they walked on in, unsuspecting. Most of us walk through life unsuspecting too. We come across something odd, and our minds create an explanation where there is none. We are not prepared to be bowled over by miracle, to discover that God is at work in the world after all, to learn that everything can change in the blink of an eye.
So I think we can relate to these women that what they saw when they walked into the tomb was so disorienting they could hardly breathe, much less think. Jesus’ body wasn’t there. A young man was there, but he was very much alive, and they had never seen him before. “Don’t be alarmed,” he smiled.
They stared warily back at him, and tried to revive their lungs and repel the fog from their brains so they could figure out what was going on.
“He has risen. He is not here. Look! Over there, the place where they laid him—empty! So go, tell his disciples and Peter. He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
And that was the most surreal moment of them all. There was dead silence and no one dared draw a breath. Then Salome noticed that her legs were quivering, like she might fall right over, and Mary was trembling from head to foot. Their bodies were reacting faster than their minds could catch up, and all the confusion gave them a great fright, and they shuffled backwards out of the tomb very slowly until their feet hit the wet grass, and then it became a dead sprint, and they ran and they ran and they didn’t say a word . . .
Every time God turns out to be even bigger than your ideas about God, and your ideas of God come crashing down about you like someone’s taken a baseball bat to your shrine of idols, you are stunned speechless. You had thought you were faithful, you had thought you had this figured out, you had thought . . . but everything you thought you knew about the world is suddenly being questioned, and you’d rather hide than face it. The women’s first instinct was to run, and the Gospel of Mark doesn’t give us a clue what these women did with themselves after the initial shock.
Of course, the other three Gospels have satisfying reports of the women rushing to the disciples and sharing the news. It is not unreasonable to assume that even in Mark, the women eventually do tell someone, though it isn’t recorded. I mean, presumably they told someone, because how else did the author of Mark get his story about them? Furthermore, we can suppose from their courage in sticking with Jesus all the way to his death and from their bravery in returning to the tomb in the first place, these women will find their courage once again.
But there must be a reason Mark ends so abruptly. In Greek, verse 8 actually ends midsentence. Later in Christian history, other Christians will insert verses 9-20 to conclude the Gospel and finish the story for us. Your own Bible probably explains this in a footnote, or vv.9-20 may appear in italics or in brackets, to indicate the last half of the chapter didn’t appear in the original manuscripts. It was added later, presumably because later Christians figured we all needed better closure.
But why wasn’t there closure in the first place?? Why does the Gospel of Mark end midsentence in its original manuscript?
It reminds me of those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books that I read as a kid. Instead of providing one ending, there were multiple alternatives, and as the reader, you got to pick which ending you wanted. Maybe Mark wants us to understand that the story is left in our own hands. God invades a dying, hostile world with life and with love, but then we are left with a bit of choice as to what we will do with the story, and while it scares me to know that God trusts us enough to give us such a responsibility, it inspires me too.
You and I are left with a charge—to carry Easter around in our hearts, and to let Christ’s light shine forth from our very souls. Which all sounds well and good when we are sitting politely dressed in our Easter best, filling ourselves up on beautiful music and sugar-packed candy. It is harder to believe in Easter on Monday morning. It is much more of a challenge to carry hope in your heart when your body is failing you—or when your bills are piled high or when your kid is sick or when your relationships are strained.
But even for the women in the Gospel, the most faithful followers of Christ, who loved him even through death—even for them, Easter was a terror they fled before it was a song they sung. It was too hard to believe, it was too strange to understand, it was too different to embrace. It was all too big for them in the beginning, and I suspect that even after they overcame their initial fears, there were days they still had their doubts. I mean, they were banking on the words of a stranger—the young man in white who caught them by surprise. But of course, for the rest of Christian history, we would all be banking on the witness of those before us, trusting the community to tell us the truth, believing them when they say “God is alive” even when we can’t see Him. That is big risk, and at times we will run for our lives. But then we will return, for our lives, because Christ will be beckoning us home, and offering us the life. Our friends will remind us, “He is risen, He lives!” We will trust them. We will trust that we too can rise up from the graveyards of our brokenness. Instead of meandering through our dark places unsuspecting, we will open our eyes wide and look for signs of resurrection, even in the midst of grief and pain and loss.
My friends, will the story end here, as it did in Mark, or will it live on, in you? May Easter be like an egg in your heart—it will crack open, and you will jump, but then it will spill over and its joy will run over and through you, and you will be dripping in its goo, unable to remove the cling, but you will be laughing and dancing, celebrating like a child, delighted that this mess of a miracle made its way to you. You’ll lose a bit of dignity, but you’ll gain a lot of joy, and Hope will show you where to go from here. Amen.