Isaiah 25:6-9+Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24+Mark 16:1-8
…and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)
That’s it? This is how the greatest story ever told actually ends? “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid?” Seriously?
Matthew has the Great Commission and Luke the Road to Emmaus. John has Mary Magdalene and so-called “Doubting” Thomas. But Mark has…nothing?
If you open your bible to the ending of Mark’s gospel, you will of course see that there is more, another twelve verses, in fact. But the original Mark, the earliest manuscripts, end with the women saying nothing out of fear. In truth, I think it’s the most authentic way for it to end.
Of course they were afraid. They had just endured the most harrowing ordeal, watching their friend, their family member, tortured and executed in a most brutal way. They had no idea if they might be next. They are doing what women do in such circumstances – going out before the world begins to stir in order to anoint the broken body of Jesus who had hastily been taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb.
Talking amongst themselves as they hurry along in the early morning light, they are caught short as they see that the stone, the one they are worried about moving, has already been pushed aside. If this were a horror movie, we would hear the ominous music as they slowly approached the opening while in our heads we would be telling them not to go in. But apparently, they don’t hesitate and enter the tomb where they are greeted by a young man, dressed in white, who tells them that Jesus is not there. He has been raised from the dead. Go tell the disciples and then head back to Galilee where Jesus will meet you. And what do they do? They are seized by terror and amazement and tell no one.
Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus repeatedly instructs people around him – those he has healed or from whom he has cast out demons – not to tell anyone about him. Rivers of ink have been spilled on this “Messianic secret,” because it isn’t really a secret because they all tell anyways. And yet, here we are at the end when the women are supposed to go and tell, and they don’t. Preaching professor Fred Craddock once asked, “Is this any way to run a resurrection?”
In her collected letters called “The Habit of Being,” Flannery O’Connor wrote
I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.
The thing these women have longed for more than anything, for the promises Jesus made to be true, is, in this moment, more than they can bear or comprehend. Courage came easy when Jesus was out in front, comforting and comfortable as an electric blanket. But even if he had risen from the dead, they knew the path he walked to get there – right through the cross. And now, maybe that’s what will be asked of them.
The risen Jesus is going home, to Galilee, from where he will ascend into heaven. The women and the disciples, if they go home, will not be escaping on some heaven-bound elevator. No, they will continue the work of living among those who may not have believed in Jesus or who made fun of those who followed Jesus. Imagine returning home with nothing but a tale of sorrow and woe after all the excitement of heading to Jerusalem for the Passover when Jesus would finally challenge the might of Rome and the religious authorities. But that’s not how it happened. He was arrested and crucified. And the women are now supposed to go tell their families, their neighbors, their friends that Jesus is not really dead? No wonder they are afraid.
Any of you who have left home and moved far away know what it is like to return. It doesn’t matter how much you have changed or what you have accomplished or how much therapy you have undergone, when you go home, you are whoever you were when you left for those you left behind. Just as Jesus was rejected in his hometown of Nazareth and could work no miracles, these disciples, women and men, will be going home empty-handed save for some fantastical tale about an empty tomb. Unlike in the other gospel accounts, they haven’t even seen the risen Lord. They have only been told.
But they have been changed. The time they have spent with Jesus has changed them. They were sent out to heal and to teach, had experiences they never imagined having, and they remember that Jesus told them all of this was going to happen. And it has. Jesus told them that he would meet them in Galilee. Peter who denied him is invited. The disciples who fell away are invited. The women are invited. We’re all invited to meet the risen Lord, to start anew, putting away our fear, and proclaiming the Good News that Christ is Risen.
Faith is not always a warm, fuzzy electric blanket. It surely is not about certainty. As often than not, fear and trembling are perfectly appropriate reactions. Faith leads to and through the cross. What we know on Easter morning is that the cross is not the end. Not for Jesus, and not for us.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!