Read Mark 16:1-8
The end. I think it is obvious why most of us prefer John’s account of the resurrection instead of this one. If we, with these women who were closest to him, thought that following Jesus was going to give us hope in a way that feels triumphant and victorious, that idea ends right here. Resurrection is joyful, trumpet-blowing news … eventually. But at first it means you know nothing about how this life works anymore. These women knew their role, anointing the body. Quiet, pious, behind-the-scenes work, which they had no doubt done before and would do again, according to the traditions that had been passed down to them. Now Jesus, whom they had seen crucified, was no longer dead, and they were commanded go and announce God’s message to all the male disciples. (Who wouldn’t believe them until they saw for themselves.) This not only changes what these women know to be one of the guarantees of life (death), but who they know how to be. It’s amazing news that also terrifies them.
We’re looking into the empty tomb today too. It’s an amazing and terrifying thing to say as a congregation: “Our old way of life and expectations of church died. What might life after that death look like?” You face questions of belonging for a group that feels like a family and imagining what the legacy is of this mission start that got so much of your time, energy and love. I am wondering with you: what new life can come of this? Eventually, those first women must have told people about the empty tomb, since the word got out that Jesus rose from the dead, and we have other gospels which tell us they did. But Mark’s scared ending resonates, in this time and place. We can trust the truth of it, because we have known resurrection that feels more like a punch in the gut than Easter lilies and butterflies.
Thankfully we have to another Gospel to read: John 20:1-18
Mary Magdalene’s first reaction to the disappearance of Jesus’ body was grief on top of grief. Now she wasn’t just weeping because Jesus whom she loved was dead, but because she couldn’t even grieve properly. Counselors sometimes call this “complicated grief.” Maybe your relationship with the deceased was strained or you feel guilt along with the loss you are grieving or you think it’s not a publicly-acceptable reason to grieve (sometimes people wrongly feel like they can’t publicly grieve a loss such as a miscarriage or leaving a job when you chose to take another job, something like that). When our grief is complicated, and there’s no resolution, the unresolved grief can come out sideways as anger or destructive behaviors. So don’t bury your grief too quickly. Mary does the best thing possible: reaching out to others who can share in her grief. Peter and John went to the tomb, but then left again. Mary was still there weeping. In my mind, they let Mary down. Those two inner circle disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration, John says “they saw and believed, even though they didn’t yet understand the resurrection.” But here’s something they do know: Mary is one of them, and she is seriously grieving. That is not complicated. You might not know what resurrection means yet for this faith community and your faith life in particular, but you know how to support one another in times of loss. Thank you for showing up today, and for staying with each other for more than a glance in the tomb.
This is where Jesus meets us, just outside the empty tomb, so we know for certain that there is life after even complicated grief. We have plenty of gardeners here, who, when you speak to each other by name and with love, will reveal that Jesus is alive and making plans. We are seen; we are known; we are loved. Mary, Peter, John: No matter how you react to the empty tomb, the Gospel is on the loose! We are just figuring out how we are going to participate in that.