+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
We just heard what might be the most jarring thing you encounter this entire day. When the joyful strains of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”, “Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds”, and “Christ is Risen! Alleluia!” are echoing into the distance, you might hear among them a discordant note that lingers long afterwards. Maybe it’s just me, but the part of Mark’s telling of that happy morning that sticks with me every time is that last verse, the final words of the entire gospel, the sentence that hangs in the air and refuses to be silenced:
So [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:8, New Revised Standard Version)
Terror? Fear? Aren’t those the emotions of Good Friday, the day the world came crashing down on everyone who had staked their hopes and dreams on Jesus of Nazareth? Aren’t those the emotions of the disciples who fled from Jesus in his moment of need and locked themselves away from the world? Why would such amazing news inspire those kind of feelings in these faithful women, and why would they keep that amazing news to themselves?
It’s difficult, I think, for us to place ourselves in the position of Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome. Most of us have heard this story and its parallels from the other gospels so many times that we are almost numb to the shock of it all. These women had witnessed the burial of their Lord just days earlier. They saw Joseph prepare the body of Jesus, place it in the tomb, and roll that heavy stone across the opening in the rock to seal it. Perhaps most importantly, until the moment of that angel’s message, they hadn’t dared to dream that resurrection was possible in their own time. Sure, they believed in resurrection. They had heard Jesus speak of it before. They knew that the Scriptures spoke of a day when those who died in the Lord would rise. But it had not been a reality until that day; in their experience, people who died stayed dead. The one exception – Lazarus, whose story is told in John’s gospel – had been raised by Jesus, and death had claimed him on the cross on that fateful Friday.
We certainly can’t blame the women for their reaction, then. On the one hand, their reaction is totally natural given the circumstances. On the other hand, if we’re honest with ourselves – if we dig deep enough – there’s a sense in which fear is still present in our own encounters with this text. It’s not as prominent, to be sure. We usually approach this text and this celebration with joy because we are largely familiar with what it means for the world – at least in the abstract. Let’s take it out of the abstract, though. What does this story tell us if it not this: that because of the power of God made manifest in the life of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, nothing is as it seems. Even now, almost two thousand years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, human beings still operate with the basic assumption that death is final. We need to be reminded that resurrection is real or risk falling back into despair. Perhaps more surprisingly, we have the same sense of finality or fixedness about many other things that are of much less consequence. How many of us feel stuck in one area of our lives or another? What situations seem to be beyond hope in your life? Do you feel trapped in the familiar and the routine? Do you wonder if it is possible for you to break free of your fear and step out toward a new horizon? Brothers and sisters, the resurrection of Christ announces the end of business as usual. The apostle Paul puts it this way in Second Corinthians: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation! Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Now I don’t mean to suggest that the resurrection means that we will receive everything that we want or desire. I do mean, however, that if Christ has been raised, then God has broken down every barrier and made anything possible. Because of Christ’s resurrection, a group of cowardly disciples found the strength to spread the good news of Jesus throughout the known world. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we who were far off from God have been brought into relationship with God and with one another. Because of Christ’s resurrection, death no longer has the final word.
And so, dear friends in Christ, as we sing of the victory of God in Christ, let us also ponder how the good news of resurrection breaks through our fear and gives us the courage to see new life and possibility where we once saw no way forward. Let us trust that because death has died, the brokenness of our world – the hatred and strife and violence and fear and selfishness of our sin-scarred existence – will be renewed and restored by God’s grace. Finally, let us live as people whose lives are marked by the cross and whose futures are illuminated by the resurrection dawn.
Christ is risen indeed! Thanks be to God! Alleluia! Amen!