RCL Year B
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
The Real Story
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
What’s the real story of the empty tomb on the Third Day?
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John offer us the accounts that had been handed down to them and that they researched using the records they had. The four Gospel stories are similar, but their details vary.
Mark’s Gospel is thought to be the earliest account written, the shortest one, and his wasn’t penned until some 35 or 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Later, Matthew and Luke told longer versions and embellished them. John, much later, added his own theology to what he knew of Jesus’ life. And that was probably 60 years, at least, after the fact. We see how, with very few written documents, details and projections were added with each oral telling. And so we look for the Truth, and we don’t worry so much about the discrepancies in the details.
The Gospel lesson we read today was written by Mark. By the way, scholars suggest that Mark is the young man who fled the Garden of Gethsemane on that fateful night of Jesus’ arrest, wearing only a towel that was snatched away. Mark, along with the others, knew what it was to deny Jesus. He is also known to have been Peter’s scribe after the Resurrection, writing down Peter’s words as he spoke them. So his accounts, the briefest and those containing the fewest theological overtones, are the most straightforward of the four Gospels. His stories of Jesus must have come right from Peter as he taught and Mark recorded.
What does this most simple, and perhaps most accurate account of the Resurrection teach us? First, of course, Jesus is not dead. He has been raised! His followers will meet him again in Galilee, just as he had promised. Death has not had the last word; God has.
We know that all Jesus’ disciples deserted him when the danger came too near. All except the women, who stayed at the cross until he died. If John is “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” he stayed there too. But when they came to the tomb that morning the women, even the women, found the place of fear that was too much for them. And I have to say that finding a tomb empty where I knew there to have been a body, hearing the words of Resurrection from a young man who may have been an angel, feeling all of life and nature turned upside down, could be a genuine place of denial for me. Mark tells us that at first there was not joy but that they were “alarmed,” that “terror and amazement” seized them, that they were afraid. Too afraid to stay at the tomb; too afraid to say anything to anyone. They ran away.
The place of denial. Each of us has one, somewhere, maybe more than one. It’s good for us to question ourselves about these, to name them.
The pressures of our culture are great. If we lived in the first century we might not find it so hard to give our possessions to the community of believers; to hold everything in common, not to accumulate a lot of stuff we don’t need. That’s what all the “followers of the Way” did. But it’s next to impossible today to come to do that, although there are a very few communities where this is done.
We say we live in a “Christian society,” or in a time when Christianity is the predominant faith and way of life. But we know that “Christian values” have been misconstrued to support personal fears. We see that not only is there gross discrimination among races and people of various gender orientations, and even in the growing chasms between the wealthy and the poor, but prejudice still drives those who are in the places where our laws are made. When you get to the bottom of it, it’s fear. It’s a place where people find their place of denial, their departure from the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection.
Bigoted jokes, prejudicial hiring practices, discrepancy in educational opportunities and wages, the reality of poverty and homelessness in our time, war, capital punishment – these and other sorrows in our world are things we all agree are wrong and should be addressed and changed. Yet, it’s safer to remain silent, with heads turned away. These are the places where some find that they will run away, as the disciples did and as the women did, finally. From the danger at Gethsemane and at the cross, and even from the unknown they found at the empty tomb, the Resurrection.
God spoke God’s final word that morning: Death, sin, injustice did not that day nor in any time have the list word. They all work against God’s good Creation. The reason for Jesus’ life and death and resurrection is that we are made in the image of God. God has acted. We have no reason to fear.
But the reality of the resurrection, whatever the details are, means that we are called to live into it. God draws us in to God’s purpose: to bring an end to injustice and to make the values we know to be Christian values the ones that will change our society and the world for good.
Yes, we live in a time and a place when Christianity is accepted and honored. But that may be because we aren’t causing enough waves on the sea of status quo in our time and place. As Jesus shows us, following his way, embracing all the implications of loving one another as he loved us, is not a way to be chosen lightly. If we’re on the right path, it’s full of bumps and turns, rejection and ridicule and possible death. If we don’t see this, we fool ourselves. If we don’t see the place where we, too, might flee from the tomb in alarm and terror and fear, we strike out unarmed.
Mark sees all the people of the story as they are: human and beloved of God. The resounding message of Mark’s Gospel is this: God’s action, God’s promise to redeem our sinfulness, does not depend on our acting perfectly. It never, never did. In the end, even in our daily lives, we find our places of denial. And in those places we find not death but life. Not blame and guilt but God acting to transform it all into life for God’s good purpose. The verdict is clear: The worst that human beings could do, one to another, even to God’s Son, God redeems.
All our joys and all our sorrows, all our losses and failings, our hopes and our fears – even death, the shroud that is cast over all people – are in God’s hands. God’s promise of salvation to Israel, and God’s promise to us, always rests on God’s faithfulness. On God’s action. And that never fails. Hell today is vanquished! Heaven is won today!
Whatever the details of that morning 2000 years ago, God raised Jesus from death. God raises us from despair and failure, fear, pain and death. That’s Easter’s promise. The stories of Easter Day are told to reassure us and to inspire us to reach for the heights. To go out from the empty tomb not in fear of what we’ll encounter but in confidence that with God, we can be more than we can be alone. To proclaim with joy and conviction what God has done for us and for all people. To meet Jesus where he promised to be: on the streets, in our neighbors, in one another.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!