Oh no...not Mark!
In the past, when I’ve had the responsibility for negotiating with the lectionary options for Easter Sunday I’ve always, ALWAYS opted for St John’s account.
For a one thing, I love the drama of Peter and John racing to the tomb and John lacking the courage to actually go in once he gets there…
Turns out speed isn’t everything!
And of course, for all women in ministry, there’s the overwhelming delight of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the her risen Lord in the garden, encouraging us as we celebrate the apostle to the apostles, the one sent with the good news of resurrection.
With that on offer, why would anyone EVER choose Mark – with its abrupt, disconcerting ending?
“Terror and amazement had seized them and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid”.
That’s not the big finish that a gospel deserves!
On one level, the sentence is obviously nonsense.
They said nothing to anyone….If that were so, we wouldn’t know this version of the story at all – so clearly in the fullness of time they found the courage to share their experience, as instructed by the angel.
Even so, it’s undeniable that Mark’s ending is not the Happy Ever After that fairy tales would choose. Turns out that's a good thing. This is not fairy tale but gospel truth. ...
All the way through his gospel Mark has tended towards bare facts – his narrative constantly driven forward from one event to the next with no poetic flourishes or philosophical pauses. Even if he had encountered Mary in the garden, Mark’s Jesus would not have given us that majestic promise
“I am ascending to my father and your father, to my God and your God” and thus joined up the dots not only confirming his identity, but what would happen next….
So, it’s typical that this gospel does not so much conclude as stop.
And that, I think, makes it the perfect gospel for Easter Sunday 2021.
Look around you.
Look into yourself.
We aren’t at the stage of beautiful language and wonderful resonances with Genesis (fall and redemption both in a garden).
Many of us are exhausted.
We are still dealing with ambiguity, anxiety and fear
We long for everything to be tidied up and restored to how it used to be – but the truth is that isn’t going to happen.
People have died
Others have had their lives changed beyond recognition.
Even for those of us who have had a relatively easy pandemic (a bit like having a “good war”) there will be long-term consequences that we’ve not yet really grasped.
We may find ourselves hiding behind locked doors,afraid to mix and mingle.
We may find it hard to plan anything, in case those plans are thwarted once again
We may have lost our trust in those responsible for organising our society
We may have learned uncomfortable things about ourselves and about our neighbours that we wish we could forget.
When we emerge from our long long Holy Saturday into the light of the post-lockdown world it won’t be all plain sailing and Hallelujahs
Writing in the New York Times on “The Unsettling Power of Easter” Esau McCaulley puts it thus
“Easter is a frightening prospect. For the women, the only thing more terrifying than a world with Jesus dead was one in which he was alive.
We know what to do with grief and despair. We have a place for it. WE have rituals that surround it (though we know, too, how raw the pain has been for those who’ve had to confront grief without those shaping, containing rituals)...
The women did not go to the tomb looking for hope. They were searching for a place to grieve….The terrifying prospect of Easter is that God called these women to return to the same world that crucified Jesus, with a very dangerous gift: hope in the power of God, the unending reservoir of forgiveness and an abundance of love.
It would make them look like fools. Who could believe such a thing?”
The women are sent back to the same world that crucified Jesus with the unsettling gift of hope.
We’re living in that world too.
It is by no means unimaginable that we would, that we do, crucify Christ again.
As we look at the dark stories that continue to dominate the news across the world, there can be no doubt of that.
On Good Friday Ben Okafur, black musician and prophet, shared an image of a black Christ crucified, with the words “I can’t breathe”.
You don’t need me to underline the message.
We continue to crucify Christ and sometimes it might well seem easier if he would stay decently dead and buried because then there would be no point in looking for, hoping for, praying for transformation, no hope to take forward.
We could leave the tomb sealed and just get on with a good long lament.
But – think how the women pondered the challenge of that massive stone sealing the tomb – then discovered that God had already done the heavy lifting for them, leaving them with no choice but to engage with the new, unexpected, disturbing landscape of hope.
They learned at first hand what we still experience today.
The Resurrection HAS broken in with all its unsettling power and while we too may be afraid, it’s our turn to respond to it.
We are the fools who encounter that disturbing, demanding good news – and now we are called to embody it, to be good news in our turn.
The world remains broken – and as we emerge from the tombs of lock-down though there will be rejoicing, there will be much that is in sore need of healing.
As we begin to engage with that work, where can we look but to the empty tomb? Christ HAS gone ahead of us into our Galilees, the familiar landscapes of our hurtful, hurting world. If we look, we will see him there, just as he has told us…and when we see him we can join in with his work of reconciliation, look with his eyes of compassion, contend for justice in his name.
The tomb is behind us
Let us set out to live as Easter people, transformed by that wild unsettling glorious hope.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!