Rev. Teri Peterson
What if it’s True?
April 12 2009, Easter
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, 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.’ 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.
“They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That’s it? That’s all we’ve got? Is that any way to end a story? No happy ending, tied up in a pretty little bow? No wrap-up, no recap, no “the end”? I’d grown to expect better from Mark, a man who knew how to tell a story.
But then again, the beginning of his gospel seems to be missing something too—he starts just by saying “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” No manger scene, no wise men, no shepherds. Just “the beginning of the good news.” And here we are, seemingly at the end of the gospel, the good news, and all we get is “terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
I don’t know about you, but fear is not an emotion I tend to equate with Easter. Sure, it’s what the women and the other disciples must have been feeling on Thursday night, on Friday, even on Saturday—that fear that comes with grief: wondering how things could have gone so wrong, if they could have done something differently, what to do now. That’s a fear I understand. Even that Sunday morning, walking to the tomb, I understand fear—fear of not being able to open the tomb, fear of seeing the body again, fear that this final act of care for another will somehow make this whole nightmare more…well…final.
But then comes the next shock in a string of shocking days: He Is Not Here.
This pronouncement by the angel seems like the best news ever—The angel reminds us that Jesus said he would be back, he would live again, and now he’s not in the tomb! Isn’t that great? There should be laughter and cheers and tears of joy! But instead we get terror and amazement, fear and silence.
Why? Why terror and fear? Why not tell anyone? Why end the story this way?
I don’t know what the women were thinking that morning when they ran away in fear. I don’t know what most of us are thinking when we run away from good news either. I do know what I would be thinking if I were those women, though:
What if it’s true?
What if the grave wasn’t robbed but God has truly broken the bonds of death?
What if it’s true that Jesus, who was dead, is now alive, having burst out of the tomb, and is now cavorting around in Galilee?
What if it’s true, what we’ve been saying all these weeks together—that God is doing a NEW THING, even now it springs forth…can’t we see it?
If all those things are true, then the things Jesus said and did must be true too, and the things he asked us to do, the calling he gave us, the standard he set, the love he poured on us and commanded us to share—those must also be true.
And now I’m just as scared as those women must have been!
If it’s true, if Christ is alive, then nothing in the world is what we thought. Death is not the final word. Darkness does not win. Hate and violence are powerless. Even though the world looks the same—it’s not. Nothing is the same on a morning like this. And then, once you know that, what do you say? We can’t just run back to the disciples, or into the Temple, or out into the streets, and say “guess what? Jesus is alive again and everything is great!” There’s a reason the story doesn’t end like that.
Instead, the story ends with silence. The women run away and say nothing to anyone. But even without words, their story gets out. Once God has broken the bonds of death, there’s no WAY we can expect God to keep quiet! God isn’t willing to stay in the tomb, and God isn’t willing to stay in our nice little boxes constructed out of fear, either. God is out, alive, dancing around the world, making everything different. And we know it—we have walked through pain, we have been blinded by grief, we have been frustrated and angry and anxious, but we still know it, because we, too, have witnessed resurrection, that awesome power God has to do THE new thing, whether we’re looking or not, even if we’re silent in our fear.
Even without words, the story gets out. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here today, would we? Yet here we are, whether in fear or joy, part of the story of God’s love that smashed all our notions of how the world works. Here we are, part of the circle of God’s grace that just keeps widening, in spite of our fear, in spite of our timid voices, in spite of our failings. What if it’s true? What if nothing is the way we thought? What if God is still doing a new thing, still breaking bonds, still shattering stones, still shedding graveclothes? Will we leave this place to continue the story?
Because it’s not over, you know. Mark doesn’t give us an ending because, as he said in his first sentence, he’s only telling the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Fear, death, and loss are not the last words. The good news—news of love, grace, and hope—keeps going. Christ is risen indeed!