(Note: This week we had a little difficulty with our sound system and I had to re-record the first paragraph of the sermon. Click here to listen.)
All of the men who followed Jesus had tried their best to crawl into the deepest holes they could find in Jerusalem and see if they could pull the hole in after them. They had seen and heard of the brutal death that Jesus suffered, and they knew that one wrong move could put them in a similar situation. They were afraid and who could blame them? Would any of us do any different if we were in that situation? Try to put yourself in these disciples’ shoes for a minute. A week ago, Jesus entered the city to the “Hosannas” of the multitude, and over the course of the week those shouts changed to those of “Crucify Him!” The mob had been stirred up and the Romans were on alert. The entire city was just coming off the rest day of Passover and everybody was waiting to see if new violence would erupt, most likely directed at those who had openly followed Jesus. I wonder how many of us might have decided that discretion was the better part of valor and stayed hidden, I probably would have. But there were these women who followed Jesus, probably just as scared as the men, but they knew there was a job that had to be done. The body had to be prepared. On Saturday after the sun went down they went out and bought the spices they would need for the next morning. One thing to note is that the Jewish day begins and ends at sunset, so they had an hour or so to get what they needed. They woke up early the next morning and crept out to the tomb afraid of what they would find when they got there. When they got to the tomb it was open. Think about what might have been going through their heads when they saw the huge stone rolled out from in front of the tomb. Those poor women, already in a great deal of fear encountered the unexpected. Jesus wasn’t in the tomb anymore. The scriptures don’t tell us how long it took them to build up the courage to look inside. When they did look inside, all they saw was a young man in a white robe sitting up at the end of the stone Jesus body had been laid on. There was probably blood still on the stone, and the women, in their fear assumed the worst, that the body must have been stolen. On our end of history, we know what happened here, but those women had just suffered through two horrendous days, the loss of hope that came with seeing Jesus brutally killed, and now this. The “young man” in the tomb probably didn’t need a lot of insight or people skills to see the panic that was setting in and tried, unsuccessfully, to reassure the women. Having already confessed that I probably wouldn’t have been there, if I was, I think this would have been the last straw for me as well. Those women fled in terror and amazement, not daring to believe what was said to them, maybe not even having those words register in their minds until after the panic had faded.
The oldest manuscripts we have end the gospel of Mark at the end of verse 8, the rest was added in after other accounts had been written, and I think take something away from the purpose of the Gospel. As you read through Mark, there is a breathless excitement that runs through the whole book. Mark is filled with action, urgency and immediacy and keeps on going in this breathless style that tells of what Jesus did, and what he was thinking, and what his reactions were, and how he just kept plowing forward to this climactic conclusion of the death and resurrection, leaving the listeners wanting to find out what happened next. Listen again to the ending of the gospel.
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But 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. 7But 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.” 8So 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. Mark 16:1-8
There is a question here, underlying this text that we need to consider: what are we going to do with this message now that we have received it? This ending gives us an invitation and some instruction on how to proceed. The first words out of the young man’s mouth are “Do not be afraid/ alarmed.” In this narrative, it is pretty obvious that it must have taken a while for that to sink in. I think that we also can learn from this advice. We have a lot of fear broadcast into our lives. The news is on 24/7 with all kinds of stories on what is killing, or is going to eventually kill, you, the world is falling apart and you need to protect yourselves and your families. (This report brought to you by Bob’s Bunkers, providers of quality hidey holes. Survive climate change, asteroids, the Russian…ahem Muslim invasion, the breakdown of law and order, or the apocalypse of your choice in comfort and security.) Fear sells, and boy do advertisers, politicians, and news anchors know it. We are bombarded by messages that tell us to be afraid, be very afraid, and coincidently to buy a product, vote for a politician, or listen to the next piece of news in order to get a fleeting illusion of security or protection. When we believe those lies, the way we interact with the world comes to resemble that of the women and disciples, hiding behind the walls of our churches and homes and having less and less direct interaction with others. Believing these lies is a symptom of an incomplete faith, and the Young man in the tomb tells us what the cause is: We are looking for a dead, crucified Jesus in the tomb and not finding him. When we make decisions and live from a place of fear, we are forgetting about the resurrection. In terror and amazement we run away from the empty tomb.
The good news is that Jesus was completely aware of this and is right here with a message that He is going ahead of us and we will see him. The living Christ is here and the living Christ is with us, we only need to silence ourselves, turn off the TV, the computer, the phone, and the tablets, put down the newspapers and the magazines, pick up a bible, start praying and listen. When we focus instead on the good news of hope, on His kingdom and His way of being and doing what is right, we live in the victory of the resurrection. We then live in a world in which peace becomes not only possible, but the only possible choice. Through the presence of the resurrected Christ, another world is breaking into this one, and though there is still fear and everything is not as God intended it, we are given the ability to live into the values of that other world. We become witnesses to the existence and desirability of God’s way through word and deed, because we walk in the presence of Christ. This gospel ends with an invitation, and I want to extend that same invitation to you. Christ is right here with us, waiting for each of us to accept the peace that comes from following Him. Each of us has some way in which we fail, in which we allow the fears of life to sneak in and dictate some piece of our values, to treat some other group or person as someone less than a beloved bearer of the image of God, even to see ourselves as people less than beloved children of God. Now is the time for us to turn away from that which holds us back and prevents us from fully taking hold of the promised life of wholeness and well-being. Through the resurrection we have a Christ who is present to teach us himself if we would only listen.
As we enter into our time of open worship let me encourage you to listen with an attitude of humble obedience. In that attitude we enter into communion with God and each other, and I pray that each person in this room would be filled with the presence of God, that each of you would hear God’s voice speaking in the silence of your soul, and that you would obey that voice. He is risen! He is here! Let us listen together and place our lives in God’s hands as Jesus did before us.