The Secret Messiah and the Secret Resurrection

The women see that the stone is rolled away. The major impediment blocking their path to Jesus has been removed through no effort on their part. The women see the young man—let’s just go ahead and call him an angel—at the tomb, they see that Jesus’ body is gone but the linen wrap for it is still there, and they flee in terror. The end. If you pick up one of those pew Bibles and turn to the end of the Gospel of Mark, you’ll see that there are several other endings. Those were tacked on by later theologians who found this ending so unsatisfactory that they had to write their own. “Ahh! You can’t call that an ending! It’s like falling off a cliff and not landing!” So they added their own. But the original gospel ended here, and that’s what we’re going to wrestle with today, because what kind of ending is that?! The women “went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The end.


This is the same gospel that opens like this: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). The author who calls this good news is the same person who ends the story with women fleeing from the tomb and saying nothing to anyone because they are afraid. We get to hold this beginning and this ending together and say, “How is this Good News?”


The irony is that all the way through this gospel, Jesus has been trying to be a Secret Messiah. Jesus heals the blind and says, “But don’t tell anyone.” How else do you explain to the people who have always known you that all of a sudden you can see? So people do keep spreading the good news of Jesus’ healing ministry, and crowds come flocking so much that Jesus and the disciples can hardly get a moment to eat. Jesus tries to ditch the crowds frequently in this gospel. He gets in a boat and crosses the Sea of Galilee. But the crowds see where he’s headed and run around the top of the lake so they can greet him on the other side.


The one time when Jesus’ followers—the women at the tomb—are told to spread the Good News about Jesus, they’re too terrified to say anything to anyone.


The Good News of Easter is that we are all invited into the metaphor of resurrection, of leaving behind the parts of ourselves and our community that are broken, dead, and finding new life in serving God and each other. We are all invited to participate in resurrection—not just at Easter, but always. Resurrection—following the risen Christ—is not a spectator sport.


Resurrection of the dead is plural—not just Jesus. In early Christian art, Jesus is shown pulling Adam and Eve out of the grave: Adam representing earth, and Eve representing life. Resurrection is about everyone, not just Jesus.


Some Christians who hold a more literal interpretation of the resurrection see it as a literal resuscitation of Jesus’ body and it only happens to Jesus. John Dominic Crossan says that if resurrection is the metaphor that frames our reality, it is for everyone, for the whole community to arise out of death into new life in God.


Crossan says that Jesus’ ministry is about participation. Look who Jesus preaches to: those who have been cast out to the margins and told they don’t matter—people who feel oppressed and victimized and taxed right off their land and powerless. The power of Jesus’ ministry is to see and hear and love exactly those people and to empower them to find their voices and to participate. Jesus’ parables make people participate and collaborate with God.


Let’s go back to this reading about the women at Jesus’ tomb. Unlike the other disciples, these three women—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Joses, and Salome—stay with Jesus to the end. They watch him die. They watch from a distance as Joseph of Arimathea wraps the body in linen, puts it in a tomb, and rolls a huge stone in front of it. They notice that Joseph does not anoint the body with herbs, according to Jewish custom, so they decide to take care of that. But they know there’s going to be this huge stone blocking their path to Jesus.


So now I invite you to think metaphorically for a moment, because that’s where these texts become so rich. The women expect their path to Jesus to be blocked, but, through no effort on their part, the way is actually made clear. That is the work of grace. God is always inviting us to draw near, to participate in our own resurrection, our own rebirth into new life. And whatever you think might hold you back or block your way to God—it doesn’t have to. It can be rolled away like that stone.


The opening of this gospel says, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” (Mark 1:2). And here at the end, the angel says to the women that Jesus “is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7). The whole gospel is circular: in its end is its beginning. Only this time, when Jesus goes ahead of them to Galilee, it is the disciples who will pick up the mantle of his ministry and carry it forward. And that is also the invitation to us as disciples down through the ages.


In the book Say to This Mountain, we read:

This epilogue presents us with the most dangerous of memories, a living one; the most subversive of stories, a never-ending one. Mark’s resurrection tradition offers no visions of glory or triumph. It leaves us only with a God who hears our brokenhearted cries before the stone of impediment, and with the executed-but-risen-Nazarene who calls us to discipleship as many times as it takes. . . .


The genius of this “incomplete” ending, like a painting lacking the finishing stroke, is that it demands a response from its audience. Mark leaves us not with a neat resolution but with a terrible ultimatum. Who will tell this “good news”? For it is not only the women who “know”—we know now as well. If we wish the story of discipleship to continue, we cannot remain mere spectators.


Will we respond? If we are honest, we will admit that the cross is so intimidating, and our blindness so pervasive, that we can only answer, “We believe; help us in our unbelief!” (9:24).  . . . Even our best efforts at faithfulness seem inevitably to founder. But all that is part of the story, too. For it is at the point of failure and disillusionment that the invitation comes again. Then our discipleship journey either truly ends or truly begins.

[Ched Myers et al., Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996), 208-09.]


Jesus meets us at our points of greatest brokenness, greatest grief, and says, “Follow me. Follow me beyond death into new life.”

“spring song”
by Lucille Clifton

the green of Jesus
is breaking the ground
and the sweet
smell of delicious Jesus
is opening the house and
the dance of Jesus music
has hold of the air and
the world is turning
in the body of Jesus and
the future is possible

My friends, the future is possible. The invitation is for all of us: Meet Jesus in Galilee—or Seattle, or wherever you are. Spread the Good News. Practice resurrection. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah! Amen.

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