Easter Sunday 1 April

Mark 16:1-8

We have a difficulty with this last chapter. Your Bible probably has a note saying that verses 9-16 do not appear in the earliest manuscripts. English Bibles continue to include this section, but many scholars are of the view that it was a later addition, perhaps because it was believed that Mark’s ending was too abrupt. For the sake of this final devotion, I am going to assume that Mark’s original Gospel finished at v8, whether that is right or wrong. Let’s not be distracted by the question.

Mark has devoted 1700 words to the Passion of Jesus from the beginning of the Last Supper to the Burial, but only 180 words to the Resurrection. (Even if we added vv9-16, it would add only another 170 words to that count.)

Mark devotes far more space to the Passion than the Joy. Read Matthew and John for the Joy. Luke is somewhat muted. But Mark focuses on the hours of Passion. We speak of the work of Christ on the cross. What work can you do when you are nailed to a Roman cross? What work indeed! Jesus assumed our sins. He bore the burden of our sins. He nailed them in his own body to the cross. His death was the propitiation (there’s a word not much used – I’ll explain it another day, not now) for our sins.

What does that tell us? Of course, we are well accustomed to the glorious joy of the resurrection. Of course, we know with Paul, that if Christ be not resurrected, then our faith is in vain and we of all people are most miserable. Of course, we know that the fact of his resurrection is also the promise of his return: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

And yet. Mark’s so-short resurrection narrative forces us to rethink our normal joyful response to this day. We have to be faithful to Mark, here. He uses the word alarmed twice within the space of just a few words. Even after the angel has told the women the good news, Mark describes them as trembling, bewildered and afraid.

What are we to do with this? Let’s imagine a story…

A blind man has been living in Jerusalem. He has been waiting for Jesus to come to town. He has heard about Jesus healing people, all over Galilee and the Decapolis and even outside the borders of Israel. But he hasn’t come to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, when Jesus finally did come, the man wasn’t able to get to meet him before Jesus was arrested and killed. The blind man is filled with sadness; he knows he will never be healed now. Three days later, he hears that Jesus has risen from the dead. But he has a problem. How can he verify such astonishing and unbelievable news? He cannot see the evidence of the empty tomb. He cannot see the risen Christ.

But, you say, others can tell him. He could hear the voice of Christ.

So let us make our man deaf as well. For that matter, let us make him a woman, too. She will have even less chance of managing to get in contact with him. But, you say, she could be taken to the tomb, and allowed to feel and touch it. She could put her hands in the holes in Jesus’ feet and hands and side. Her hope could be vindicated.

So, let us now make her blind, deaf, female and distant. Let us say she lives in Ethiopia. Now what real difference is there between this woman and you or me?
Remember the beginning of Mark’s Gospel? The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

This angelic news is just the beginning for Mark’s women, and for us. They have yet to see the resurrected Jesus – and so have we. We are still to live in the present age, the now of pain, fear and bewilderment.

Of course we know Jesus rose from the dead. We can quite easily marshal sufficient evidence to demonstrate without a doubt that Jesus really did rise from the dead. I am 100% certain that there was a genuine, bodily resurrection from a corpse to a living, transformed person. I will argue the necessity of such information. It is a very important apologetic for the defence of faith.

But if we only concentrate on the cold factuality of the resurrection, we run the risk of missing the potential of the transcendence. Because the transcendence cannot be seen in the empty tomb or the angel’s presence alone. The transcendence consists in the promise of all that the resurrection holds for our future, and even for the future of the cosmos. The factual argument looks back; the promise looks forward.

Paul (Romans 8) says that the whole of creation is groaning, waiting for the liberation from its bondage to decay; we, too, he says, are groaning in anticipation of the glorious future which awaits us because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Alan Lewis wrote:
The light which shone on the third day, at the new creation’s daybreak, casts its rays forward toward the end of days, when it will burn away every form of evil, fully banish darkness, and allow the whole of heaven and earth to enjoy with Christ the tearless, deathless freedom of cosmic redemption.[1]

Although you and I live this side of the resurrection, we are in fact living as Mark’s women were living. They had heard the news, but had not seen the risen Lord. They were told of the Joy, but had still to live in the world of terror and pain. In the meantime, they had to trust the word, as we do: You will see him, just as he told you.

But unlike the disciples and the women in Mark’s Gospel, we have read the end of the book! We live surrounded by death and suffering, but knowing the promise of life, joy, love and peace. Our bodily lives are lived in frailty, but we live our spiritual lives in the certainty of His life. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ, who lives in me.

Regardless of the darkness by which we might be surrounded at this particular moment of time, or place of geography, we have an obligation (Rom. 8:12) to live our lives in positive affirmation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ which guarantees that all will finally be redeemed. The Eucharist is our celebration of that affirmation.

That Joy will overcome Despair. That Light will overcome Darkness. That Life will overcome Death. That the Struggle and the Suffering are worth the Reward. That the Son of God, the Messiah, is with us, is for us, and nothing can separate us from his love. That the Gospel which began with such promise, will end in the Great Wedding Banquet, as the Heavenly Bridegroom welcomes the Bride to his eternal Home.

[1] Alan E. Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), 74.

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