Christ is risen! Now what?

Easter Sunday reflections on Mark 16 vs1-8

What are you expecting of God? We marvel that no one in the story seemed to anticipate the resurrection even though they’d been repeatedly told by Jesus, and even though we can see in their scriptures some foreshadowing, as we heard in Isaiah 53. Yet somehow everyone missed it. Everyone was surprised. No one expected what God ultimately did.

What are you expecting of God? Once you realize what God has done, now what? Think about these women at the tomb – they’ve come to finish the burial rites that were rushed because the Sabbath evening fell. So Joseph of Arimathia and Nicodemus quickly took the body of Jesus after receiving consent from Pilate, and they lay it in a borrowed tomb. It was necessary that the body not be left exposed, as a mitzvoth to honor the dead and save the land from being cursed. And their work had to be done before sunset on Friday, the beginning of the Sabbath. So now the women come to the tomb to finish. They realize while they are on the way that they should have brought some of the men with them to help roll away the stone and open the tomb. They arrive and the stone is rolled away. A young man is there (notice no angel in Mark’s story – his lacks the power and glory found in the other accounts) and he speaks to them – “He is not here. He has been raised.”

Good news! The one who had died is now alive! We will not go back to the way things were, but forward to a new way, a new life. But that’s not what we want, is it. We don’t want to go forward, we want those we have lost restored and brought back. Jesus is not brought back to life, but taken forward through death to new life. Even though they will see and experience him, they will not be allowed to hold onto him for long. This is not the good news for which we had hoped. This is not what we thought God was going to do. Christ is risen. Now what?

The young man instructs the women to go and tell the others. Their next steps are clearly laid out for them. But they are frightened – “terror and amazement has seized them” – and they said nothing to anyone. That’s how Mark originally ended his gospel. Later generations would add two alternate endings because, like us, they felt Mark’s ending unsatisfactory. They knew that more happened – Matthew, Luke and John give several more details over 40 days. But for Mark, at the time he was writing, this ending seemed appropriate. His church was asking the same question we are asking today, “Christ is risen, now what?”

Marks’ gospel was written during or just after the Jewish revolt which began in 68 AD and included the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans in 70. To be a Jew of any sort (even one who was a Jesus follower) was a dangerous thing in Mark’s day. It is believed that Mark’s mother owned the home in Jerusalem with the upper room where the Last Supper was shared by Jesus and his disciples (Acts 12) – probably when Mark himself was 10 or 12 years old. Later, when he was a young man, he traveled with Paul and then with Barnabas. He had first-hand knowledge of the events of Jesus’ last week, including the resurrection and the days which followed. The disciples were hiding back in the same house on Easter when Jesus showed up in the locked room and asked for something to eat (Luke 24). Mark knew what Jesus wanted the disciples to do in response to the resurrection, he was a part of their response. And yet, at the time of his writing, it made sense to end his sermon in this way:

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.

With what was Mark’s church struggling? With what do we struggle on this Easter morning?

Perhaps the women struggled to believe that what they heard is true. The women had repeatedly heard Jesus say that he would be raised again. This young man in white told them it has come true. And yet the go away in silence and fear. It seems incredible, unbelievable, inconceivable. Mark’s church was witnessing what to them must have seemed like the end of their world. Jews and Christians alike were under attack. The Temple had been destroyed. With such tragedies surrounding them, did they begin to question God’s faithfulness. Did they begin to wonder if God could or would bring resurrection to the church? Were things too far gone to be restored? It is too big to wrap our minds around. We struggle just to believe it. Christ is risen! Now what?

Perhaps the women struggled out of fear that they would be in danger. After all, Jesus had been killed. The apostles were hiding in the upper room. They had reason to fear. Mark’s church, likewise, could relate to such fear. The tide had turned and again it was dangerous to be a follower of Jesus. Standing up for God among a religiously diverse community risked not only neighbor, business and family relationships. Proclaiming faith could cost Mark’s church members their lives. What about us? What is at risk for us as followers of Jesus? Do you risk rejection from coworkers, business associates, neighbors, friends and family? Are you able to live out your faith fully in the face of a religiously diverse? Christ is risen! Now what?

Perhaps the women feared because they knew that they could not live up to what the resurrection would mean. If Jesus were raised from death, then nothing would ever be the same. All their relationships would be transformed; their commitment to community, their relationship with money and material things. It is not that Jesus would ask too much, but that they could not live up to this. This would be too much grace, too much mercy, too much love. Was this the fear of Mark’s church? Did they fear that they could not live up to the claim of the resurrection on their lives? Not that God was too small, but that they were too small for God’s greatness. They were unworthy to receive God’s power in their lives, and through them bringing redemption to the world. Is this our fear today? Are we like these Easter women who experience the resurrection power of God in their lives but fear to step into it fully, fear that we will fall and fail? Do we doubt not God but ourselves? It seems easier to live in silent fear than to risk everything for God.

Did Mark close his gospel this way so that we would know that we are not alone in our Easter fear; that others have been overwhelmed by all that the resurrection means? Are you afraid to go and live an Easter life? Are you afraid to let the full power of the resurrection flow through you to transform your life and world? If you are afraid, you are not alone. But the story does not end there. Christ is risen! Now what? Will we hide from all that God’s resurrection power desires to accomplish among us, in us, through us in the world? Or will we receive this good news? Will we celebrate it, live it, share it fully, in spite of our fears?

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