Mark’s account of the resurrection is by far the most enigmatic of the gospel writers:
When the Sabbath was past, 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. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that they stone had been rolled back–it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8)
We often overlook the strangeness of the question, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Why not bring along some strong men who might be able to budge the stone? Why not wait until they could reasonably expect others to gather with them and tackle the stone problem together? Would you ever go to a store after it has closed just hoping that you might run into the owner or a manager who could unlock it for you? Of course not.
There was no plan here, but only a compelling determination to do what they could to prepare Jesus’ body for its burial. They could wait no longer, and so they hurried off without any guarantee that they could accomplish what they set out to do.
In this question, we see a hint of the faith of Joseph of Arimathea, who two days earlier had buried the body of Jesus because he was seeking the Kingdom of God–how could this crucified, executed corpse bring about God’s reign and rule on the earth? We also see a glimmer of the faith of Isaac, who was content to believe his father Abraham that “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:8). This is an implicit trust and an unquestioning faith that is willing to move before all the puzzle pieces have come together.
But what is most strikingly odd about Mark’s account of the resurrection is the reaction of the women. If not for Mark’s story, we might expect them to leave the tomb singing and dancing with joy the great news: “Jesus is risen!” And indeed, we read in the other accounts that joy and proclamation do make up some part of the reaction of these women who were blessed to be the first messengers of the resurrection.
Mark, however, chooses to focus not on the joy, but the fear that overtook the women. Why is this? What is to fear if Jesus is risen, “just as he told you”?
In fact, the reason we stare at this story with puzzled reactions should teach us that we do not grasp the astonishing message of Easter Sunday. We domesticate the resurrection, making it an excuse to buy a new set of clothes and to go out to brunch with each other. We think we understand something like resurrection, but only because we have never really experienced it up close.
But just imagine this: my grandfather died just a little over two years ago. He was a tremendous man, and I look forward to seeing him again in glory. In fact, I very often think of the day when I will get to see him again because I miss him so much.
If, however, my grandfather happened to knock at my front door right now, my first reaction would not be joy. I would not greet him with a big hug and invite him in for something to eat so that we could catch up, as though he had simply been away on a long journey.
I would be terrified to see a dead man alive again.
One of our greatest problems is that we have become accustomed to death. Like those poor abused people who become accustomed to their abusers, we have accommodated death to be a normal part of our lives. We hate it, but we accept it. We rage against it, but we are resigned to it. We try with all our might to ignore it, but we assume its reality and finality.
The good news of Easter, then, should rattle us to the core of our beings. A dead man lives? Because this man was resurrected, others may live again too?
If Jesus Christ is risen, then the Kingdom of God has been established through his sufferings. If Jesus Christ is actually alive, then the work of Jesus to accomplish our salvation was finished. If Jesus was vindicated in his resurrection, then the curse has been lifted.
This should terrify us, and it should overjoy us. This should upset every pre-conceived idea of our lives, and it should re-orient everything to be seen in the light of Christ. Christ is risen, and therefore all things are new.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
This is Easter Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection.
Post Series on Mark 15:42-16:8:
- Three Glorious Days, Part I: The Day of Preparation (Mark 15:42-47)
- Three Glorious Days, Part II: The Sabbath of Holy Saturday (Mark 16:1a)
- Three Glorious Days, Part III: Easter Sunday (Mark 16:1-8)