The angel tells the women to go spread the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, but instead they flee in terror and amazement and say nothing to anyone, because they are afraid. The end.
Such a cliff-hanger for the story to end this way in Mark. In fact, it is so unsatisfying that two writers in the early centuries tacked on their own endings. But this reading today is the original end to the gospel. The women fled in terror and amazement and said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
This is the same gospel that starts this way: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1).
How do we hold those two parts of this text together? The beginning of the good news … and they fled in terror and amazement and said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Does that sound like good news? How is it in any way good news?
Jesus spends the whole gospel of Mark healing people, preaching, teaching, serving the poor, the sick, the least, the last, and the lost. Every time he does some wonderful thing for people, he says, “Yeah, but don’t tell anybody.” He says it so often that in Mark we call him the secret Messiah. And of course, those people can’t keep the secret—they go out and blab all about him. I mean, what else are you supposed to do if people are noticing that all of a sudden you have regained your sight? Do you say, “Oh, um, yeah, no story to tell there.” No! You say, “There was this guy named Jesus, and he performed this miracle. He gave me my sight back. He gave me my life back! I am a different person now.” There is no way you keep that kind of good news a secret. And as a result, Jesus is mobbed by people who want that kind of transformation for themselves or for their loved ones. Heal me, Jesus! Change my life, too!
So in this passage, this resurrection story that we read today, the angel finally tells people, Yes, spread the word, tell the good news. Well, okay, backtrack: he starts out by saying, as they all do, “Do not be alarmed.” “Fear not.” Because, you know, you see an angel—that is bound to get your heart racing at least a little. Right? So: Do not be alarmed. Do the women listen to this? No. They are highly alarmed.
The angel continues: Jesus is raised. See? He’s not here. He will meet you in Galilee. Go and tell the others.
Go and tell the others. No. Too weird.
Two things come up in this moment. The first is that, despite everything these women have experienced of Jesus, they are still too bound by fear to spread the good news. This is so human. This is me at plenty of moments in my life, and perhaps it is you, too: An opportunity arises for us to do the right thing, to face the awful truth, to speak the prophetic word … and we say nothing. We are too afraid. It’s too inconvenient. Whatever the excuse—we don’t spread the good news. We flee in terror and amazement and say nothing, because we are afraid. Those women? I’m right there with them.
The second thing I notice is that the angel sends them back to Galilee, which is where this story began. We may think of the story of Jesus beginning in a stable in Bethlehem, which is not in Galilee. But in Mark the story begins in Galilee, which is significantly north of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The disciples come from Galilee. That is home turf for them. And Jesus is sending them back to where it all began. Tell people the stories again. Heal them—more and more of them. They’re still there, still need that transformational healing, preaching, teaching—that good news. Take it back to them.
We just welcomed seven people into membership here at Prospect. One of the things we discussed in our new members information sessions was what we’re supposed to believe. And I said it’s less about believing x, y, or z; it’s more about picking really good questions to wrestle with, and then doing the wrestling work together. We may all come up with different answers—and that’s okay. Our answers may change over time—and that’s okay, too. I mention this because one of the good questions we wrestle with is what we believe happened in this story of resurrection. Some people believe that this story happened literally the way it’s depicted: that Jesus was crucified and then rose from the tomb. Others understand the story more metaphorically. There is no right or wrong answer, and this is a question that we can’t actually answer definitively. Who knows what actually happened there?
So if we can’t actually know, what do we do with this story? Why tell it? What is the message here?
The only reason to keep telling this story is if its power continues to transform lives—our own and the people with whom we share the good news. Clearly the women did eventually say something, because this is a story of good news and resurrection. The narrative may end in fear and failure, but what we already know from verse 1 of this gospel is that the story is one of good news and it does not end in fear and failure. In fact, it does not end at all. It goes back to the beginning, to the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Each disciple gets to learn for themselves how to dare to spread that good news. Each of us, as followers of the risen Christ, gets to do the same.
The story of Jesus is unique and powerful. It continues to transform lives even today. But its general outline has been replayed repeatedly throughout history. Someone who serves the poor and the outcast with love and who speaks prophetically to the powers that be is killed because the message is too revolutionary, too dangerous to those who value power more than love.
I’m thinking of Gandhi, who wasn’t Christian but who embodied many of the same principles that propelled Jesus’ ministry. And Gandhi was assassinated because the message was too uncomfortable.
I’m thinking of Alexei Novalni, who has dared to speak a prophetic message to Vladimir Putin and the whole Russian government and who is paying the price in prison this very day. He has mobilized a massive opposition movement against the Russian government.
I’m thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated on this day, April 4, in 1968. As the most articulate and recognizable leader of the Civil Rights Movement, he was tracked by the FBI. He was arrested. He was vilified by those who felt threatened by his message of equality and justice for everyone—and by “everyone” he meant the Black people of this country, who have continued to live under the oppression of racism long after slavery was officially abolished.
I’m thinking of George Floyd, a big, strong, Black man who did not set out to become a martyr but whose murder by a white police officer sparked renewed insistence on justice, equality, and a public recognition in this country that Black lives matter.
I’m thinking of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980 because his prophetic voice on behalf of the oppressed poor people of El Salvador in the face of the corrupt wealthy and the military made him a target. He was shot in church as he was in the act of preaching. Romero stood up for the poor and the oppressed. Of those who opposed this holy work, he once wrote, “If they kill me, I shall rise again in the people of El Salvador.” And of course “el Salvador” translates as “the Savior.” So he says, “If they kill me, I shall rise again in the people of the Savior.” Christ’s people are those who say yes and follow him to the cross and beyond, to death and back. Christ’s people are also the poor, the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned, the sick. Anyone who experiences oppression or is cast out.
So on this Easter Sunday we celebrate that crucifixion did not have the last word. And we celebrate the truth-tellers who dare to speak that prophetic word in their time and their place. And we dare ourselves to follow the model, to be such bold people, knowing that it is dangerous work and we may pay the price.
Do we dare to declare ourselves followers of Jesus in this time and place? The mainline church is shrinking—not just in the UCC, but across denominations. People are turned off by church and seek to fulfill their spiritual needs elsewhere. Perhaps because the Church, like the women at the tomb, is not spreading the good news, is not living up to its primary tasks.
Walter Brueggemann, a professor and author, says this:
The church has two principle tasks in our time, I propose:
...to practice grief in the face of denial by truth-telling;
...to practice hope in the face of despair by promise-telling.
Both of these practices that are respectively grounded in the crucifixion and the resurrection counter the dominant narrative of scarcity, fear, greed, and violence. They counter frontally by the performance of abundance, courage, generosity, and peaceableness:
Abundance in the face of scarcity;
Courage in the face of fear;
Generosity in the face of greed, and
Peaceableness in the face of violence.
This is an urgent time to help church folk see clearly the contradiction between our narrative of faith and the narrative that dominates our society. We are a community that for good reason,
...Resists denial and tells the truth,
...Refuses despair and tells the hope.
There can be no resurrection if there is no crucifixion. There is no genuine praise if there has been no honest lament, protest, and complaint.
[Walter Brueggemann, September 1, 2020, Walter Brueggemann: Fall 2020: How Do We Not Live in Despair? | Day 1]
So we see Jesus crucified and know him to be truly dead. We grieve his loss. Along with the disciples we gather in fear and uncertainty, not knowing what to do in the absence of our leader. Only when we have experienced the depths of sorrow and lament can we truly experience the good news. Christ is risen. Christ will meet us where we live. Christ continues to heal, to preach, to teach, to transform. Christ continues to lift a prophetic voice, to say that Black lives matter, immigrant lives matter, LGBTQ lives matter, women’s lives matter, those experiencing poverty and homelessness matter. Climate change is real, and it means that how we treat the environment matters. This pandemic is real: how we care for each other could mean the difference between getting sick or even dying, and staying well. Making sure people of all colors and incomes get vaccinated is a justice issue.
We may be tempted to go straight from Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem to Easter Sunday—from one celebration to the next. But we risk missing the depth of this story if we skip the poignancy of Maundy Thursday, the violence of Good Friday, the grief and despair of Holy Saturday. Easter Sunday is about good news beyond all expectation, good news viewed through the lens of tears, despair, lament, alarm, terror, failure, and amazement. It is good news that sees the truth in all its awfulness and says, “Nevertheless.”
So on this Easter Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the continuing presence an resilience of the Holy in the world and in us, the steadfast invitation for us to serve, to care, to change the world, whoever we are, wherever and whenever we are, however we are. We celebrate that the story isn’t over. The story begins again and again. Dare to spread the good news. Christ is risen. Christ will meet us where we live. God’s love surpasses human attempts to assassinate it. Spirit is resilient in us and in all who practice resurrection. Thanks be to God! Happy Easter! Amen.