Mark’s Resurrection Story Reflections and Preaching Directions

The lectionary text for this week is Mark 16:1-8, a resurrection account that many preachers would rather not use on Easter Sunday. It’s so short — only 8 verses. The characters and the narrative is so much more limited. Peter doesn’t show up, nor the disciple whom Jesus loved, nor Jesus himself. There’s no race to the tomb, no encounter in the garden. It’s Mary, Mary, Salome, and a young man dressed in white. Like so much of Mark’s gospel, the story is stripped to bare essentials. And then, of course, there is the ending. “For they were afraid.” In generations past, the debate raged about whether Mark really intended to end with verse 8, or perhaps a mouse ate the scroll or something. Scholars are now agreed that indeed Mark intended this strange ending — even concluding the whole gospel with a preposition (literally “…they were afraid for…”)! It’s an ending that leave the readers “holding the bag,” to now sort out for ourselves what all this means.

Short as it is, there are so many wonderful preaching directions in this text. Here are just a few…

1. This “Easter morning” is about as disorganized as it can be. The disciples come to the tomb about 18 hours after Jesus had died, as early as they could have, but way after anyone would want to anoint a body. It’s only on the way to the tomb that Mary, Mary, and Salome wonder how they will get in. And where are Peter, James, and John — the disciples closest to Jesus, invited to the Mount of Transfiguration, and the Garden of Gethsemane, the ones who could roll the stone back? Wouldn’t you expect them to be there? Of course — if Disney wrote this story they would be! Yet, it is into the midst of this disorganized Easter morning, that imbued with deep grief and betrayal, that the Lord is risen! For churches who struggle to get their act together, who are anxious about their own survival, this is such good news! For people who live in grief and pain, who are hiding in anguish, who don’t feel like being happy on Easter, this is such good news! The Lord is Risen, not into trumpets and flowers, but into a broken and hurting world.

2. “Go tell the disciples, especially Peter…” What a word of grace, as the young man in white singles out Peter to receive the good news of Easter morning. Even if you had no real knowledge of the gospels, and just quickly read through Mark, you would expect Peter to be there at the tomb. But in Mark’s gospel, he is not. The last we heard of Peter, he had denied Jesus. And now, the risen Lord is concerned for Peter’s anguish, and seeks him out, like the Shepherd who goes in search of the one, to make him whole again. What grace! The people who come to worship on Easter Sunday morning are like the disciples who come to the tomb; they’re there and they hear the good news. But what about those who are not there and desperately need to hear it, who like Peter are somewhere in anguish?  They too need to hear the good news, because it is “especially” for them.

3. “He’s going ahead of you into Galilee.” A few years ago, Pope Francis preached an Easter message on this text, in which he used Galilee as as symbol for baptism, for encounter with Jesus, and where you first came to faith. The young man in white sends the women back with a message for all the disciples to “go to Galilee” — where they all first encountered Jesus — and Jesus will meet them there, just as he said. This is call to rediscover the power of our baptism, to go back to the source and rekindle our faith by seeking a fresh encounter with Jesus. Here’s the text of the sermon and video. 

No which direction you take, the Easter Proclamation stands alone on the stage of Easter morning, while all the others characters are in startled amazement. He is Risen!

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