Toorak Uniting Church

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Resurrection

Mark 16: 1 – 8
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
20 April 2003

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Biblical scholars are pretty sure that Mark's gospel originally ended at verse 8. So the bit of the gospel we read today would be the finishing of the story about Jesus as Mark told it. An open end, as you may have noticed, with a promise of resurrection appearances but no actual report of them.
At the same time it is quite certain that these 8 verses are, together with a reference to the resurrection by Paul in 1Corinthians, the oldest report on the happenings on that first Easter Sunday we have.

The story as Mark tells it is sketchy. The further we move on in time, from Matthew to Luke to John, the more detailed the reports of the resurrection become. The more detail seems to be added.
Mark only provides us with the basics and leaves his readers to wonder about the rest. Leaving what he apparently deems too awesome and mysterious to the imagination. Only reporting on facts as he knew them:

A couple of women are going to the grave (it is not sure how many exactly there were because there could be Mary and the mother of James or Mary could actually be the mother of James, the text can be read either way). Grief stricken, wanting to anoint their master, looking for a way to pay their respects to somebody that they've loved dearly, had expected a lot from and who has ended his life in a miserable way dying on a cross. They seem to be confused. On their way with ointments and herbs they talk among themselves of the stone at the entrance of the grave that will be impossible to move.

Didn't they think before they set out?
What do they think they're doing?
Surely they should have turned back as soon as they realised there was no point?

Some of you who have been in a situation of shock and bereavement will recognise what they're doing though. It is only human. Everything taken out of their hands cruelly and unexpectedly people will do totally illogical things in an attempt to put things "right" at least in some way and gain some control over what has happened.
They've got up before dawn, probably after a sleepless night, to go and see if there is anything at all they can do to bring some respect to their dead master.
Blow the stone, we will cross that bridge when we get to it!
Their confusion shows how much they loved this man and how deep the happenings of the last couple of days must have shocked them.
They have not finished with him, their bereavement raw and deep.

It is dawn when they get there and to their surprise and horror the stone is not where it should have been. It is rolled to one side and the entrance to the tomb is open. Not until they are in the tomb and see a white robed young man sitting where Jesus's body should have been however is it that they seem to react.

Translations vary on this but the meaning of the word that is used in the Greek here is a word that elsewhere in the gospel of Mark is used whenever people meet the divine in the work of Jesus and take a step back in awe and fear lacking understanding.

They are on Holy Ground and they know it.

This feeling is confirmed by the words of the young man in white. He knows what they are looking for and he is able to tell them that Jesus is no longer there. He has been raised. And he is going before them to Galilee where they will see him.

This of course is one of the greatest mysteries of Faith. Spelled out by this mysterious young man in just a couple of words.

He has been raised.

People don't rise from the dead. They might in a century from now when the techniques for freezing people and thawing them again are so much improved that indeed the dead may be raised to new life. But then in Palestine, where bodies start to decompose within the day it was impossible.

And yet. Something happened. Something that changed everything.

Mark does not go into detail, and perhaps we should not either. Leave it at the mystery it is. That somehow the Lord did die but was raised to life again to go before us.

That it is not a twentieth century thing to have trouble believing that is clear from the reaction of the women.

Again Mark doesn't go into detail, but he does report that the women are so scared that they run away and don't tell anything to anybody. Did they think they would be ridiculed? Women beside themselves with grief seeing and hearing things that weren't there? Afraid that others might accuse them of having stolen the body (which actually happened, Jewish writings some time later report the body "stolen" by disciples). Would the other disciples have thought they'd gone mad? They were only women after all. Their testimony not even valid in a court of law, who would take them seriously?

Go and tell the others and Peter (even he who had renounced being a disciple in everybody's hearing) that he is going before you to Galilee.

They never did. (According to Mark).

And yet.

Here we are today, celebrating Easter, celebrating the emergence of life out of death, celebrating a love of God that is more powerful than those forces that took the life of an innocent, a light that shines in the darkness even where all there seems to be left is death and darkness.

Maybe that is the most real proof of all that it is true, that our Lord was raised from the dead and lives today. He has gone on before them, is going on before us. To Galilee, the place where it all started, where the first people started to follow him and where after his death the first Christian Communities will emerge, and beyond, to the ends of the earth.

We might recognise ourselves in the women when we are trying to follow Him today in a world where Christianity is at low tide. Where we may be ridiculed for our faith in the Lord, or believing that death and destruction will not have the last word in this world of ours.

It might not be easy to see who will roll the stone away this time. The future of the world, of the Church and perhaps even of our faith may seem a dead end street at times in a world where most people have turned away from it. A big stone blocking the way, taking away any views of a promising future.

Perhaps though, when we would care to look up, no longer absorbed in our worries about it, we will find it already gone. God working, still creating life in death, still bringing light to utter darkness. If only we would care to see it and accept it: a trail of light going on ahead of us, calling us to follow.
God is dead some people might say, use your brains, get real, nothing is ever going to change, death and suffering, violence and war just an inevitable part of human existence.

Easter says that is not true. Easter says that where innocents die and things go horribly wrong, where darkness reigns and death takes its toll, that God is there, holding on, loving, bringing back what is lost, going before us without ever quitting. Even where it is his own son that is murdered without too much thought and care. Calling people to go and follow in His footsteps, humble, without much ado doing what has to be done to make a difference, promising He will take care of the rest.

Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2003


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