My Easter Sunday message.
I love Mark’s gospel. Each one of the gospels we have in the New Testament, there are others that didn’t make it in, have something different about them. For me, John is the most reflective and pictorial; Luke the most inclusive; Matthew, the most Jewish in structure, and Mark, dear Mark, breathless in his pace, spare in his description, racing pell mell through to the end. And what do we find when we arrive there? We find trembling and bewildered women, running away from Jesus’ tomb! No Jesus. No resurrection appearances. No resurrection to speak of, just an empty tomb and the suggestion from “a young man dressed in a white robe” that, and if this isn’t stating the blindingly obvious, “he is not here!”
No kidding? The tomb is empty. Jesus is gone. He is not here. That, the women, can see for themselves.
They’d come, on the eighth day. The Sabbath had passed, a new day has dawned. We don’t count the eighth day; we get to seven and begin all over again. But in the Bible the eighth day is special. On the 8th day the Eternal One made a covenant with Abraham. On the 8th day, Aaron was consecrated priest. David was the 8th son of his father; he was the youngest and initially not included in the count, but he eventually became Israel’s king. On the 8th day a new born boy was circumcised. On this day, ordinary life enters a new reality in God. (Thanks to Nico ter Linden for this thought)
The Sabbath day is passed, the 8th day has come, the first day of the week, the first day of a new reality. And the women have come. Where would the church be without them, though we have tried in various ways to hide them away and shut them up for centuries? But here they are and with a job to do. They have come to anoint the body. They have the spices; they just lack the muscle for the stone.
But the muscle’s not needed and neither are the spices. There is nothing to move and no body to anoint. Just a man in white and as for Jesus, he is not here.
Later editors of Mark can’t cope with the way he ends the story. That can’t be right, they think, and add what they think are better endings. In a similar way, various Gospel writers added explanations to Jesus’ sayings. We like to tie things up; we like things neat.
But Mark’s end for Jesus was like his life, full of mystery, full of potential, because the situation is left open, because the story has no ending. Because Jesus’ hearers, because Mark’s readers, are invited to find their own endings, their own meaning. The ways forward from encounter with Jesus or his stories are left open for us, pregnant with possibility. They’re not set before us as finished products, as fixed destinations.
Instead, they are opportunities to explore. Some of us don’t like that; we fear people exploring. Like those who didn’t want the Bible translated into the language people spoke in everyday life because then the power would move from the priests, and who knew what people might begin to think when left to think for themselves? But Jesus won’t be tied down by image, or language, or creed, or stained glass window or even by a tomb. He is not here. A man in white says so, a man Matthew will soon turn into an angel, and add a couple of guards for good measure. And the women are afraid, and they run away.
He is not here. So, if not here, where is he? Gone into Galilee. This is the new reality the women find on this 8th day, this day of new beginnings. Jesus is not with them as he was.
He is not with them as a body in a tomb, to be remembered with tears, as one whose mission had failed, and whose way had proved futile. Jesus is not here, but he will be with them in a new way.
What was the man in white telling them? He’s telling them to go home, and to tell the rest of Jesus’ followers to go home. Not that it’s all over; not in that sense. Just go home and let it continue.
All that you began over these last years with Jesus; go home and you’ll find he’s with you still. Go home and when you do what you did with him, it will be as if he never left you. His death cannot take from you all that he was and is for you. What do I say in my song?*
I talk of “a love so affirming, Jesus’ death cannot remove his strength from his people, his way from their will;” a love, a strength, a will that means freedom for the prisoner and full bellies for the hungry. A mission continued; a life that lives on.
Go back to Galilee says our white clothed messenger. There you will meet Jesus, he says. Back in your familiar lanes and houses, back in your workplaces and markets, back on the boat and on the shore, back in your fields, that’s where you will meet him. And when? Whenever you do what you did with him; whenever you do what he did.
And that’s the truth of it, then and now. Get lost in a debate about the nature of Jesus’ resurrection body and we miss the point
Lischer says that “the purpose of the Gospels was never to provide an exhaustive history but to make Polaroids of Jesus the church could hold up in a hospital, prison, ghetto, or cemetery, so that we would know him when we meet him.”
So, this Easter day, let’s celebrate that empty tomb, let’s remember that death could not hold Jesus in its embrace.
Then let us go, back to Galilee, back to our own Galilees, back to our own streets and houses, back to our own workplaces and shops. And let’s meet Jesus again in what we do for our neighbours, for friend or stranger, and, too, in what they do for us. He is not here. Go to Galilee. There you will find him. Amen.
Come join our journey and come as you are,
And share in God’s gracious compassion and care.
Yes, come hear our story of wise men and fools,
Of rulers with riches and tradesmen with tools.
Come share our story of one who lived love;
A love so affirming death could not remove
His strength from his people, his way from their will:
Release for the prisoner, for the hungry their fill.
Come along with us and share in our dream
That what lies before us is more than it seems.
Come tell us your story, your hopes and your fears
And let us bear with you in laughter and tears.
Come then together, the journey goes on
Though waters be calm or the storm rages long,
For God is before us, behind and above,
The God to be found in the living of love.
© Julyan Drew, 2003 Tune Slane.