Mark’s gospel is the oldest and the shortest of the written gospels. We are certain that the writers of Matthew and Luke used Mark as a primary source for their gospels. It is likely that John was also aware of Mark’s work from tradition. Mark used established oral tradition to develop his stories and later Christian writers relied on Mark’s research. This is significant for us because it is this gospel that establishes the fundamental narrative about Jesus’ life, teaching, and miracles; this is the story that starts it all and sets the stage for our understanding of who Jesus is, how he lived, and how he died. This is the story that we might logically count on to give us the inside scoop about what happened at Easter and what it was like after the Resurrection. So, it is that we choose to read this story today. We have come through Lent challenged to look critically at ourselves and seek ways to become more like the people Jesus wants us to be. It has been a long six weeks and we are ready to celebrate; we are ready to greet the Living Christ.
But Mark’s story doesn’t let us do that. Mark does not make Jesus available to us. In this version of the story, Jesus’ friends arrive at the empty tomb expecting to have trouble opening it so they can anoint the body. What they find, however, is a messenger who tells them, “Oh, you came to see Jesus? Sorry, you just missed him.” The implication is that Jesus had better things to do than sit around the empty tomb waiting. Mark wants us to realize that there is a sense of urgency about this Resurrected Jesus and we don’t have time to sit around and ponder whether or not we believe in this sort of thing. There is work to be done, so gather the troops and meet me at the frontline – in Galilee. The angelic messenger in this story tells the frightened women to go and tell the Disciples, especially Peter, that they need to get moving and go back to Galilee. This is a reminder to them that Jesus told them, back in Chapter 14, that was what he was going to do. So if these guys want to see Jesus, they are going to have to go after him.
This is a very different version from the other stories where Jesus appears to frightened followers behind closed doors. In Mark’s story it is the Disciples who must get moving and follow after Jesus. Sounds like the makings of a good discipleship metaphor to me. We need to think back to what it was like at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. This is where his ministry began; Mark spends nine chapters telling stories about Jesus in Galilee. So maybe these women get the idea that what Jesus means is they get to go back to the “good old days” in Galilee; back to the teaching and the miracles, before everyone got so angry. Things would be just like they used to be, only better.
That is not what Jesus has in mind, at least the way Mark sees it. When Mark tells the story of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee he shows us a relentless journey of power and urgency. His stories are concise and to the point as he describes teaching, healing, and other miracles. But Mark’s story is also filled with misunderstandings…Jesus sees that the disciples don’t really get it, so he cautions them to keep quiet. He even tells people who have been healed not to tell others what happened to them. The issue is that Jesus doesn’t want people talking about him until they really understand who he is and what he’s about. He sees that they are getting it wrong and he doesn’t want them telling the wrong “good news”. Maybe it’s the difference between the Washington Post and The National Enquirer – get your facts straight BEFORE you publish. In the end, Jesus had to SHOW them who he was by going to the cross. Now it is time to finish the story so they know how to tell it right.
So, here we are at Easter. The tomb is empty; Jesus is nowhere to be found. This invitation to go to Galilee sounds like an invitation to re-think the whole story. As they gather themselves and travel to Galilee, the Disciples will have the chance to think back over everything that has gone on and all that Jesus said. Then they can compare that whole story to the part where Jesus showed them who he is and what he came to do. When they reach Galilee they will get to see him again and get their next set of instructions. Only…Mark ends the story with a cliff-hanger. “When the women ran from the tomb, they were confused and shaking all over. They were too afraid to tell anyone what had happened.” Holy Cow! – Now what?! If they are too afraid to tell anyone, then maybe the rest of the story never happens. Apparently, the story got out – right? But, I think the point may be found in why Mark chose the cliff hanger ending.
This gospel leads us through a frenetic journey of action and energy that is focused on Jesus’ encounters with real people who need him. Throughout the story, his closest followers watch, but don’t seem to grasp the full truth; they listen, but they don’t seem to hear the love. Finally, Jesus brings everything to its thematic conclusion by surrendering himself to the cross to demonstrate the truth and the love he has been trying to get them to understand. Ultimately, he is raised from the dead and returns to where it all began in Galilee. He waits there for the disciples to come to him and say, “Aha! Now we get it and we are ready to go; we are ready to do; we are ready to be the disciples you called us to be.” The women at the tomb are terrified and amazed – no surprise there – and they are justifiably afraid to tell anyone what they have seen and heard. Who’s going to believe them anyway? People will think they’re crazy. People will treat them differently if they go around saying they believe in the Resurrected Christ.
So, here we are – It’s Easter Sunday again and the tomb is still empty. We say we believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and that he has gone ahead of us into Galilee – into the mission field. We declare our faith when we say The Apostles Creed, when we pray The Lord’s Prayer. But, I wonder, are we too afraid to tell? I believe that Mark is asking us to think about this story from the perspective of how it illuminates the character and identity of Jesus and how it calls us to behave in this light. This powerful and dynamic man who is revealed in the earlier ministry stories of Mark’s gospel can only be fully appreciated when we also see him as “the crucified one” who sacrificed himself and then is raised from the dead to show us the power of God.
Mark’s cliff-hanger ending challenges us as well. The two images of Jesus as the dynamic, miracle-working Rabbi and the passive, silent victim of false arrest and execution are not resolved in Mark’s gospel. He leaves us to decide for ourselves who Jesus is. Mark leaves us wondering what will happen if the women – and us – are too afraid to tell. The women at the tomb are clearly in shock and, we must assume, that they recover and go on to tell the disciples what the angel told them. But we also need to recover from the shock of this revelation of Jesus and do what we are called to do. We are called to return to “Galilee” – to the place where Jesus’ ministry begins with us and among us and through us. We are challenged to go back out into the world where Jesus has gone before us. If we want to see Jesus, we will have to go after him. Whatever he is up to out there, we need to be part of it. This morning, as we sing our “alleluia’s” and proclaim the Risen Christ, let us pray that we may also go from this place without fear and tell everyone that Jesus Christ is Lord and He is alive! That is what Disciples do. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.