Summary: Tells why the end of the gospel of Mark is fear not joy.
I have a friend named Gerry, who I came to know through being a chaplain at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville Pennsylvania. A few years ago she told me a story about an event she had late one night while on duty. She was called to the bedside of a woman who had a severe heart attack. By the time she got there the woman had been pronounced dead. All the staff had gone except a doctor and a nurse. At first Gerry turned to leave, but she sensed God tell her to stay. So she entered the room and sat next to the woman’s body. She told the remaining doctor and nurse that she wanted to pray for the woman and her family. As she began to pray she felt the Spirit praying through her. Suddenly, the dead woman bolted straight up and cried, “What’s going on here?” I don’t know who was more frightened, the woman, the staff or Gerry. Fear is a natural thing. It’s a reaction to the unexpected. And I don’t know about you but I haven’t had too many dead people sit up on me, and I don’t want to! I think we can understand and sympathize with the women in our gospel story today.
Mark describes how, when the women heard the message that Jesus arose from the dead, and saw his empty tomb, they turned tail and ran, “because they were afraid”. Those are the last words of the Gospel of Mark - “they were afraid”. The real human response to Easter is fear - not joy, fear. The women had spent the last few years with Jesus. They had come to know him intimately and love him deeply. He was their teacher, their pastor, their promised Messiah. But in the past few days, dark dreadful days, they had seen him arrested, tried and crucified. They were there when they took his body from the cross, and they stood by while the stone was rolled over his grave. Then in the early morning hours of the third day they returned to finish the work of burial, to anoint his body with spices and then to go home and try to find a way to go on with life. This is how you grieve, this is how you mourn. This is what you do to face death and loss. We know this pattern. But none of us have ever faced an empty tomb. The woman could cope with the death of Jesus. Terrible as it was, they knew what to do. But what do you do with a resurrection? No one’s ever risen before. There is no Emily Post or ‘Miss Manners.’ No support groups or help lines. No one to take your hand and say “Honey, I’ve been there before”. No one’s ever dealt with an empty tomb. And that is frightening. Everything the women understood about life was in turmoil. In that one incredible moment death was shattered, and the world they knew, the realities they had lived with were turned upside down. As someone once said, "if death is not the end, then all the cards in the deck may be wild." Nothing is secure and fixed now. God had come. Jesus Christ is risen. Life could never be the same. The women couldn’t even begin to understand what life on this side of the resurrection was all about. They simply knew that is Jesus was indeed alive, risen from death itself Then somehow their lives would never be the same again. And that is frightening.
The women had come to the tomb that morning thinking that the story of Jesus Christ had come to an end, that it was all over between them and Jesus. To their astonishment, and to their great fear, they found it was NOT over. They met instead an empty tomb, and an angel who said “he is going before you to Galilee, there you will see him.” Mark wanted us to realize even the resurrection is not the end, not even a “happily ever after” end. Instead Mark opened his Gospel with the words “This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” And he seems to have ended his gospel just like that. “He is going before you... you will see him.” Perhaps that is what frightened the women the most. It was the reality that God was not finished with them - or with us; and that we would be confronted by the risen Christ - the really risen Christ as we go through life, as we go along our way. Mark challenges us to believe not simply that Christ is alive - and even this story has a happy ending. But rather that the beginning of the good news of salvation is here and now - with you. Jesus goes ahead of us and we can expect, we will encounter the Christ - here and now - in our very lives. And so Mark’s final word is “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”