A reflection of the story of Easter Day – according to Mark.
It’s hard to hear the story of Easter Day freshly. Some of us have heard it a hundred times before. Maybe it’s so familiar, that we think we know exactly what happens and what it means for us?
We might mix together elements of the various versions of the story: from John’s gospel, mixed with Luke’s or Matthew’s version. But this year, on the morning of Easter Day, we might hear only Mark’s version.
There’s something quite surprising about Mark’s version of the story. But can we hear it?
I invite you to read Mark’s version of the story again. And I invite you to read only the verses of the reading of Easter Day. Mark 16: 1-8.
And I invite you to listen differently, to listen freshly. Maybe not to listen, so much as to feel. Because the gospel of God’s love for us is not just an intellectual activity. It involves our whole being: body, mind, spirit, heart, will, strength.
See if you can touch into what is surprising in this story; especially about how it ends:
“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
How do you respond to this … with no visions of meeting the risen Jesus?
Is that all there is? They just ran away because they were afraid?
Yes, yes, we all know. Just a couple of sentences earlier we heard the words of a strange figure in the story, saying: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”
And, sure, this is a lot like the other gospel stories of the empty tomb. But the response of the women who loved Jesus, and who were brave enough to come to the tomb on that Easter morning … their response of running away in fear … that was different.
And doesn’t it raise a whole lot of questions?
If the body of Christ is no longer in the tomb, where is it? And how do we respond? How do we experience the risen Christ? What does this even mean?
Mark is the earliest of the four gospels in our bible, and it’s interesting that the gospel stories of experiencing the resurrected Jesus changed over time. In Mark, nobody meets Jesus; in Matthew his disciples see him; in Luke, Jesus eats with his followers; in John, Thomas touches Jesus’ wounded side. It seems the experience of meeting Jesus becomes less and less abstract over time. It deepens, and becomes more personal and more embodied.
From very early on in Christian history, before the gospels were written, believers speak about experiencing the resurrected Jesus and the transformation that it brings in their lives. They speak about this in their baptism. They die with Jesus and are raised with him in baptism. It is in our baptism that we experience the risen Christ alive in our midst.
Another early way of speaking about how we experience Christ alive in our midst, is through sharing the bread and wine in the celebration of the Last Supper. Believers recognise that the bread they share is the body of Christ. No longer dead in a tomb, the body of Christ is now infusing whole communities of Christians, giving them life.
A third understanding is that suggested very early on by Paul. The gathered people themselves are the Body of Christ. Christ is not in the tomb. Christ is in the gathered community which is sharing the life of God with all the world. As Gail Ramshaw says, “to search for the body of Christ, Christians do not excavate first-century tombs”; they gather together to hear scripture, pray, share bread and wine, share what they have with the poor, and share the life of God’s love, justice and peace with the world.
For the church, the meaning of the resurrection is to be found in baptism, in the weekly Eucharist, and the reality of the gathered people alive in the world and sharing the life of God.
So how so we make sense of Mark’s gospel with its strange ending, that says nothing about people discovering the risen Christ?
Well, here are my thoughts.
Mark begins his gospel with this sentence: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark ends his gospel with everyone fleeing in fear. And in between, he emphasises the very costly freedom that comes in following the way of Jesus.
For Mark, following Jesus is not a decision that can be made lightly. Mark goes to great pains to make it clear that Jesus’ followers constantly fail. Even Peter, who Mark casts as the great model of faith, finally denies and deserts Jesus.
I believe the ending of Mark’s gospel is not the ending of his gospel. When we read in chapter 1, verse 1: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, I read this as meaning that the whole gospel is the beginning. When we get to the end, the story has only just started, and we are to finish it. We are the disciples who continue that story of finding Christ alive in our midst.
Mark begins the story of the good news, and asks us how we choose to finish it: do we wish to continue to live closed lives held back by fear, or take the plunge to follow the way of Jesus, and see how we might experience the life of the risen Christ in our midst when we do?
What are the fears that hold your life back? What are the fears that hold back the life of our Church, of our communities, of our nation?
How might we choose to live in greater hope, believing in the possibility of resurrection life, with Christ alive in our midst? How will we continue Mark’s gospel story?
On Easter Day, may we celebrate the limitless and unbounded possibilities of life in God.
Reverend Denise Liersch, Moderator VicTas Synod