Click here for the audio.
Put yourself in the shoes of Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome for just a moment. On that first Easter Sunday, they are, hands down, the bravest people anywhere. They are on their way to the grave of an executed criminal, someone the Roman Empire declared an enemy of the state. They are simply following their religious custom of anointing the body as it begins to decay so that no one might be offended by the smell. They are doing what was the custom of women in that period, and but this was no ordinary occasion. They had at least heard about, but likely seen, the stone that was rolled in front of the tomb where Jesus had been placed after he died. The tension was palpable, and certainly understandable. Maybe it was just to break the silence or acknowledge the situation or maybe looking for a reason to turn around and go back that someone said, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” Imagine their surprise when they got to the spot and saw that the stone was already removed. With equal parts daring and curiosity, they peered into the tomb, probably not knowing what they were going to find, and certainly not planning on finding a man in a white robe. “Do not be alarmed,” he said, probably knowing how they would feel before they did. (“Easier said than done,” they probably thought!) “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” Maybe he kept talking because he didn’t want them to leave or maybe because they weren’t asking any questions and he needed to get it all out. “Look,” he said, “there is the place they laid Him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” The young man sitting there wasn’t offering up evidence of the resurrection, by the way, when he pointed to the spot where Jesus had been. He is underscoring the reality both of Jesus’ death and his being raised to life.
So they went, as the white-robed young man said, but they did not tell anyone “for they were afraid.” Or at least that’s how Mark’s Gospel originally ended. Of course we know they told. They had to have told. How else would Peter and the other disciples have gotten to Galilee to see him? There were some revisions to the story later on, maybe to correct the record of Mark’s account or maybe to tell a different side of the story.
It would be easy to be critical of Mary, Mary, and Salome. After all, we’ve got 2,000 years of history and they were living right then. We read this story and we might think, “WAIT A MINUTE!!! This is exactly what Jesus had been talking about all throughout his ministry! This was the moment! He talked about the Temple being torn down and built back up in three days. THIS IS THE THIRD DAY!” I mean, I get why they fled the tomb, but why, at least in Mark’s telling of the story, did they not tell anyone? There are lots of answers or at least ideas about why.
In way too many situations, then and now, truth is trumped by fear, especially when what we thought we knew to be true suddenly changes. The truth for these followers of Jesus was that he had died. He died in a brutal, unfair, unexpected way, and their dreams and hopes for a liberated Israel and God’s reign on earth had been dashed. Going to the tomb that morning, they expected to find further evidence of what they knew to be true: That Jesus was dead.
When they arrived at the tomb, they found that what had been true on Friday was now anything but true. And it was “Not True” in more powerful, awe-filled way than they could ever have imagined. They had gone to the tomb looking for closure, but instead, they found an opening. The dream was alive. Jesus was alive. God’s love for the world existed in ways that they could not comprehend. And they had no idea what to do with that. Jesus had talked about resurrection over and over, but seeing it with their own eyes was too much.
How many times in our own lives have we let fear override what we knew to be true? How many times have we not been able to witness resurrection because we were too convinced that it wasn’t possible? Easter matters because it is the chance for us to see and proclaim real resurrection. We are witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus every. Single. Day. in nearly everyone and everything we encounter. Resurrection is now, and it is tomorrow, and next month, and every day in between and beyond. Resurrection means that something unbelievably amazing is happening. What we see now may look similar to what we knew previously, but it’s enough different to know that God has done something new, and in many cases, totally unexpected.
Earlier this week, our bishop, The Rt. Rev. Rob Skirving, sent me an email, reminding that 250 years ago, George Whitefield preached at Christ Church, New Bern, on Easter Sunday. It was April 7, 1765. George Whitefield was an Anglican priest and a key leader of the Great Awakening, a religious movement in England and her colonies. He was known as a fiery and inspiring preacher. “So, no pressure or anything,” Bishop Skirving said.
|The Rev. George Whitefield|
It didn’t take much effort to find several of Whitefield’s Easter sermons, though none were credited with having been here in New Bern. But his messages were about the importance of the resurrection, that the “how” wasn’t so much important, but the “why” was what mattered. The “why” for George Whitefield, and for all followers of Christ in every generation, is about the faithful, life-giving power of God. But it is our responsibility as followers and seekers to tell the story of the Resurrection.
When we leave this place today, we have a choice to make: Are we going to share the story of Jesus’ Resurrection or are we going to keep it ourselves?
The story of the Resurrection is our story. And the story continues in each of us. It is a story of sending out, to proclaim that God is at work every day in every moment in every corner of the world. The young man in the tomb instructs the women to tell the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee, just as he said. The story of the Resurrection is a story of God’s promises kept in ways that baffle our minds and leave us in awe. Don’t let your hearing of the Resurrection story today be the end. Because we know that it isn’t really the end of the story.
When you tell the story of the Resurrection, be bold. Be proud. Be as triumphant as Christ was when he walked out the tomb.. Let your life ring out that familiar phrase: Alleluia! Christ is Risen!