“They were afraid,” reads the end of Mark 16:1-8. These women who went to the tomb left in fear, trembling at the turn of events that had happened there, confused and unsure of what had happened, mystified by what they had just heard, by what they had just seen.
Just a few hours before, when morning had just arrived, these women left their homes with spices to anoint the body of Jesus according to their customs. Things had been in such a rush the day that Jesus died, that day that we ironically call Good Friday. I can’t imagine that it seemed very good to the followers of Jesus at the time. Their teacher had been killed; the Sabbath was bearing down on them. They barely had time to remove Jesus’ body from the cross and place him in the tomb that had been given to them. There had been no time to prepare the body. Since the Sabbath was coming, and since to prepare the body would have been considered work, a task that you did not do on the Sabbath, they had to wait until the holy day was over. So after that Sabbath, on the morning of the first day of the next week, they set out to go to the tomb. The gospel of Mark makes a point of saying that the sun had risen! There was new light! This was a new morning and a new day! . . . but these three did not recognize this new light. They went on their way, walking through that fog of sadness and sorrow and grief that many of us have known. And as they walked along their way, they asked each other, “Who is going to roll away the stone?” They approached the tomb where Jesus had been laid in great sadness, asking, “Who is going to roll away the stone?”
And that question is a question that we might have asked too. There are times in our lives when we approach situations already convinced of the outcome; we are still expecting the stone to be there. We may have already settled in our minds what God is going to do AND what God is NOT going to do. Suffering can harm us so much sometimes that the suffering, a world colored by that suffering, is all we see. It is as if the sun is shining overhead, but where we are, where we live, it will always be cloudy. And death is a hard thing; some of you have lost loved ones in just this past year and know what it is like to walk through that fog, that sadness. You walk along with those questions of whether life will ever be the same again. And the truth is this: life will not be the same again.
These women going to the tomb may have desperately wanted life to be the same too. Oh that Jesus could’ve escaped the arrest and trial and have continued to do miracles, to heal, to teach, to live and be with us! But with tears in their eyes on the way to the tomb, these women knew that it would never be like that again. Yet, instead of experiencing what was new, they continued to mourn what was, to mourn the one that was dead.
There are deaths that we all experience in some shape or fashion. Reynolds Price writes of a “sort-of death” in his book A Whole New Life. He describes in detail his battle with a slow-growing tumor that took residence in his spine, slowly causing him to lose the ability to walk. This tumor will eventually take his life, but as of yet, it has not. He has taken so much radiation that he is not allowed to take any more. The treatment shrunk the tumor a bit, but it has continued to grow, albeit very, very slowly. And as he went from using a cane to a walker to a wheelchair, he wrote of his experience. He writes of losing abilities that he once had, of relying on people to perform tasks that he used to do with ease. And as he gets to the end of this book, he writes, “The kindest thing that anyone could have done for me, once I’d finished five weeks’ radiation, would have been to look me square in the eye and say this clearly, ‘Reynolds Price is dead. Who will you be now?’”
And what a hard question that is! “What was, is dead; what will you be now?” It is a question that looks suffering full in the face and says, “Now what?!” It is NOT a question that ignores suffering and death. It is NOT a question that says that the suffering did not happen. It is most certainly a question that asks, “What is next?” The time for mourning is over. Yes, death is hard; change is difficult; and hope can be hard to find. But we must ask ourselves, “What is next?” Whoever it was that we were then is now dead. We must join in God’s vision of who we are to be now. That is resurrection!
In much the same way, the Jesus that these women who were going to the tomb knew . . . that Jesus was dead. The risen Christ was now present with them and the world. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! This was an event that would re-order all of creation. This is an event that begins the redemption of the entire world. One of the reasons that we celebrate Easter when we do is that the spring, the new flowers, the green grass, all of this is a reminder of the new life that emerges after winter, winter being like a death of sorts! As we celebrated this morning in the Sunrise Service, we walked into this sanctuary in the dark with the light of our candles, the light of Christ’s resurrection. We participated again in God’s covenant with Israel. We participated in God’s promise of new breath and new life to the world and to each of us! Jesus’ resurrection changes the world . . . and brings light to the world.
And as these women found the empty tomb, this happening was an event so outside of their experience that they could not imagine it. It was shocking and frightening. They were filled with grief and sorrow at the death of Jesus. But now, this resurrection is something that they did not expect. It is something that they continue to have a difficult time experiencing even when the empty tomb is right in front of them. But then . . . maybe we can understand that in a way . . . that when we are overwhelmed by our sorrow or anger or hurt, resurrection is hard for us to believe.
But this is the struggle for these women who went to anoint the body of Jesus. And this is our struggle as well. We are there and participating in this event. We are being told, “the one you are looking for is not here; he is risen!” How is it that you experience this? How have you experienced resurrection?
Maybe for you it was the death of a loved one. You went through the time of the visitation and the funeral. You received all of the reminders of people’s love for you. You were reminded of God’s love for you during this difficult time. And in the midst of it all, even with people saying, “Your loved one is not here in this tomb,” the grief was overwhelming. And resurrection for you did not take three days . . . it took longer. And there are days when the pain is present, and then there are other days, the days that are increasing, the days when you are able to live into a new reality, a reality of hope and resurrection.
Maybe for you it was a broken relationship, a hurt that you suffered from a loved one, or a hurt that you inflicted on a loved one. Those can be very deep wounds, involving much pain. And having hope in that relationship . . . or any new relationship . . . takes time. For you, resurrection won’t take three days, but our God says, and our faith is, that resurrection comes.
Whatever pain that you are carrying, whether it is an abuse that you have suffered, a loss of family or job or your own sense of who you are, those pains are shared by the Jesus who was wounded and died on the cross. The sins that we carry and the sins that have been done to us are all there. All of it dies. And it is a profound truth that Paul writes in the book of Romans . . . that we are united with Christ in his death. Paul says that surely if we have been united in Christ’s death, we will also participate in resurrection too!
So what does that empty tomb mean to you?
Because we too are there that morning, walking through the dewy grass with tears in our eyes.
We confess that we may be expecting to find a body, not an empty tomb.
We are also shocked and frightened by what all of this may mean for our lives.
We are there. You are there. I am there. And as we proclaim our faith this morning, we should leave this place in order to live in such a way that shouts resurrection! God has redeemed the grave and conquered death!
As we proclaimed this morning, “Christ is risen,” your response was, “Christ is risen indeed!”
As we say these words once again, know that these words are for you; this resurrection is for you! This victory is for you and for the entire cosmos!
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!
Thanks be to God!