April 4, 2021: Easter Sunday
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
This is the joyful day we’ve been waiting for during the long purple season of Lent. It’s the day when we feel the anticipation of hope fulfilled, when we can shout “alleluia” with joy, when we follow the women to find the empty tomb. It’s my favorite day of the year, because this day is the day that we celebrate Christ’s utter and complete victory over death and the grave, because the tomb was empty and he was not there! Last night we shot off fireworks to celebrate this truth, and today we hear hymns of praise and gather with families, seeing the hope of new life on the horizon just as much in the hope of the resurrection as in the hope of a world renewed by freedom from the specter of the pandemic.
But there’s a curious detail in our gospel reading that we are reminded of every three years. Mark is a bit of an odd duck as far as the gospels go, and one of the strangest parts of how he retells the amazing story of Jesus’ resurrection, his triumph over the grave, his bursting the bonds of death, is a very noticeable lack of Jesus showing up in the story.
See, the women—those faithful, ever-present women who, we should remember, did not flee or betray or deny like their male counterparts—were going to the tomb to anoint his dead body. They were distracted, discussing the horrible details of the last week, trying to process their grief that was interrupted by the Sabbath rest, wondering who would remove the stone so they could go about their duty to cleanse and anoint their teacher’s body. They were living in a world where the dead stay dead, where the possibility of resurrection wasn’t even on their radar. It was a world where things would keep going basically how they always had, because despite all of his great miracles and healings and teachings, Jesus died like any other failed would-be Messiah. But then they looked up, right?
They looked up, lifted their eyes from the world as it is, lifted their eyes from how things have always been, lifted their eyes from the fog of grief that had consumed them since they saw his lifeless body pulled down from the cross, and saw something entirely unexpected. The stone that they were worrying about had been rolled away. Who did it? Who would remove the stone? And why? But their questions just multiplied when they got to the entrance and saw—a young man? In white? It’s not Jesus, but why would the body snatcher stick around?
Then this young man started saying things that made absolutely no sense. “You look for Jesus; he’s not here. He has been raised, just as he said!”
Not here? Why would this graverobber be so bold about proclaiming how he desecrated their Lord’s tomb? How could he be so cheery about such a sacrilege? And what does he mean “he has been raised?” The dead don’t rise, not until the End of Days when God will reign in glory forever!
But as the moments turned to seconds, and the seconds turned to minutes, these faithful women started to realize that this was no graverobber. Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary mother of James had been with Jesus since the start of his ministry, always there. They had attended to his disciples, learned about the kingdom of God, seen Jesus perform miracle after miracle. And then the memories came flooding back—how he told them what was going to happen. How he knew, somehow, that he was going to be betrayed, and tried in a sham trial, and crucified. And he had always finished these predictions with the same cryptic announcement: and then he would be raised. They didn’t get it. Until now, that is.
And then, with all these things on their mind, the two Marys and Salome fled, in terror and amazement, and as Mark reports it, they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid!
But…wait. That’s it? That’s how it ends? They fled, and that’s the end of Mark’s gospel. No appearance of Jesus. No appearance in the upper room to eat some broiled fish. No great commission on a high mountain. No “put your hand in the wounds of my hands and side.” No glorious ascension with predictions of coming back the same way. Nothing. It just ends! How unsatisfying, and uncomfortable!
But Mark ended his gospel that way for a reason. It’s a story that begs for a conclusion, and Mark is looking at us to do it. Because haven’t we seen the risen Lord too? Haven’t we experienced his resurrection, and been changed forever by it? This ending is so wide open because we are being invited by God to add to the story of the good news of Jesus Christ. We are called by God to add to the wonders that Jesus has done, stepping into the story of how God’s salvation has arrived and is changing the world forever! This gospel seems unfinished because God’s redeeming work to bring the kingdom is unfinished!
So where do you fit in this story of God’s salvation? What is your part in following up on the fear and terror and amazement of the women who fled from the tomb? How are you called to share the world-changing good news that “he is not here; he has been raised!” Because hope has been brought into the world by the empty tomb of Jesus, and it is carried out into the world by you! Share the good news and keep writing the story, because this isn’t some dusty old historical account of a long-dead rabbi; this is the good news of the now-living Savior of the World who is still bringing life and hope and salvation!
Keep writing the story of the good news of Jesus Christ by letting his resurrection shape your life: feed the poor and clothe the naked, share forgiveness and show the world what reconciliation looks like, give hope to the despairing by showing them the way that Jesus brings you new life. This story is unfinished, so keep writing a new page by bringing that resurrection hope and saving love to the farthest parts of the world.
Christ is risen, and the tomb is empty. He is not there because he is in the world, in you and me, at work in the goodness of sharing food at the food shelf and coats at the coat drive; he is working through you when you protect your neighbor by wearing a mask and getting a vaccination; he is fulfilling the hope of abundant life when we make summer softball happen or donate blood or write our representatives about just policies.
This story is unfinished, so add your own pages. Tell how he is at work even now. Because this is only the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Christ is risen! Alleluia!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!