Mark 16: 1-8
The dawn revealed ever so slightly a ribboned sky of deep blues and indigo, some magenta with varying hues of orange. As the sun began to rise over the mountains of Moab, over the Jordan River, and finally over the Mount of Olives Mary Magdalene, Mary, James mother, and Salome got the packages of spices they had purchased at the market and walked to Jesus’ tomb. The chill of the early morning made them wrap their scarves more tightly around their shoulders. There was no time when Jesus was crucified to properly prepare his body for burial since it was the Sabbath. So they went now, in the early morning of the first day of the week to anoint him.
They knew, more than likely, that Joseph of Arimethia had a very large stone placed in front of the tomb, so robbers wouldn’t break in and take Jesus’ body. But the problem for the women was that it was big and very heavy. All they wanted to do was see him, to touch his broken body for one last time and to slather on him the spices for burial and this boulder would make it extremely difficult for them to do so.
By the time they came down the hill towards the tomb the sun was beginning to shine and they saw an unbelievable and incredible sight. The stone had been rolled away from the cave tomb; their anxieties turned to fear, not surprising.
They went in panicked, their faces probably registered trepidation and fear. They didn’t see Jesus’ body but they did see someone dressed in white. He reassured them, “Do not be afraid. You’re looking for Jesus, but you see he’s not here, he has been raised.” The women stepped back with their jaws dropped open in disbelief. Then the man spoke, “Go tell the disciples and especially Peter the one who denied him; tell them that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee where they are to meet him.” Certainly this must have appeared to be some sort of cryptic message to the women.
They dropped their spice boxes, turned around and fled from the tomb. They hiked up their robes and began to run back on the same path that they had just traversed. Terror struck. Amazed. Quite afraid. They were seized with dread and told no one as they ran.
This is not quite the same feeling that we register today. The resurrection story that we celebrate today is joyful. Today we have come knowing that the tomb is already empty, that Jesus has accomplished everything that he was sent to do. He conquered death and sin and he soon will ascend to heaven to prepare a place for us. We come knowing this story in its entirety, and it’s a good one.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! It is our Easter mantra. It is a prophetic statement that we claim over and over again. And unlike those women who first encountered an empty grave, an empty grave does not scare us, we are NOT afraid. I don’t see any hair raised or terror struck faces here today. None of you were out of breath from running here today.
‘Christ is Risen’ was not a glorious resurrection phrase for them as it is for us; it would have been ambiguous and filled with more questions than answers. It wouldn’t be Christ is Risen! for the women but rather, Christ….is Risen? What do you mean he is rise? Their lives were changed no doubt to a new reality where they had to recast their vision, reassess their lives and build new ones with Jesus now dead but also gone.
We’ve come a long way from that first hour and those first few days. ‘We love to tell the story’ as Kate Hankey wrote in her hymn of so long ago, ‘we love to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love’. It is the story of redemption and hope and of God’s love for us. It is the story of life not death. It is a narrative that unfolded long ago in a distant land but continues to give us a lens through which we can see our lives.
We have all experienced resurrection at some point in time, probably often if we stop to think about it. Resurrection is a pivotal moment when you suddenly see dawn emerging out of the darkness of the night, when your torrential tears begin to subside, when your broken heart begins to mend, when just the mere sound of children’s voices or the springtime warble of a red bird once again brings you immeasurable joy after winter’s dark and short days. As Barbara Brown Taylor notes, “Resurrection begins in the dark” and I k now that we have all been in the dark, we are human.
Years ago a man named Bill dropped by my office one day and asked if he could just sit and talk. “Sure” I said, even though I was in the middle of writing a sermon and really didn’t want to be disturbed. Bill was a pipefitter and a crusty old man. He would sit and ‘witness’ to me like evangelicals do and I’d think to myself, come on Bill, I know all this stuff already, I know Jesus saves, I know about the ‘Footsteps in the Sand’ poem. He would always start off with something about ‘Footsteps in the Sand’. But God saved me and put me on mute so that I could listen and hear Bill’s story.
I finally realized that Bill came to tell me his story of redemption. He came to share with me, to witness and to tell me the same thing over and over again about his former addiction, his adult dysfunctional children who moved back home, and about his beloved wife who had passed on. He told me about how God picked him up every step of the way and carried him to a place where he could begin again with resurrection vision. For Bill out of the darkness had come light.
Often Bill came for a visit. And it’s almost as if the minute he sat down he pushed ‘play’ on his life’s tape recorder and when he left my office he would push ‘rewind’ to get ready for his next visit. Our talks were always the same. Through his visits I learned patience, and beyond that, that once someone has been redeemed and resurrected to a new vision of their life they cannot help but tell other people as often as they can. His message to me was I have been saved through Christ and an empty tomb is grace, unconditionally.
Christ’s resurrection does not leave us in the same place. It simply cannot. It does not leave us standing at an empty tomb wringing our hands, studded with fear. What’s the point of that? His resurrection asks us, ‘What is life?’ “What is my life, what is your life?” ‘How will you choose to live the life that you are given no matter what has happened to you?’ ‘Since you are a witness to the resurrection today what meaning will you make of your life that will embody a resurrection vision?’ A lot of people live lives of missed opportunities and broken dreams without ever coming out of the dark and accepting the gift of resurrection so they can see anew. Bill lived the vision for his life that freed him from his troubles and to see beyond his suffering, will you do so for yours as well? Will you live that vision so that Christ’s accomplished work here on earth was not in vain?
Christ is Risen! It’s the boldest statement that we will ever be asked to make in our lifetime because it says, I see anew. I can hope where the is none.
The Mary’s and Salome did eventually tell someone because, today, thousands of years later we say with conviction….Christ is Risen! We speak today for those women who were gripped with fear. We know there is nothing to fear, only the future. We may not knock on someone’s door just to chat and tell them the poem of Footsteps in the Sand but we can tell our own story. Each of us has one, you can’t fool me.
This is the Easter message. Christ’s story, our story, elaborately knit by incredible redeeming love. We must witness. If you don’t believe me this year, come back next year and check in, the doors are always open. By then I will have had a chance to rewind the tape to that old, old story of love…Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed!
So Be It!