When the sabbath was over, 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. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
In John Irving’s novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, on Easter morning, Owen and his friend are in church listening to the Easter gospel being read. At the part about the women coming to the tomb in the early dawn, young Owen leans against his friend in the pew and whispers: “This is the part that always gives me the shivers.”
The Easter story does not answer our questions about the resurrection – how or when it happened. In Mark’s story, the resurrection happens off stage, behind the stone, before the women get there. The tomb gapes open, not so the risen Jesus can get out, but so the women can go in.
The messenger in white says to them: “Do not be alarmed,” or better: “Do not continue to be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus who was crucified.” Don’t forget, for Mark, Jesus’ death on the cross is the decisive event. The resurrection does not undo the crucifixion. The risen Lord still bears the wounds of our redemption. You are looking for Jesus who was crucified.
The messenger proclaims the Easter gospel: “He has been raised.” Passive tense. And just there Mark puts up a sign, God at work. It was not automatic; Jesus did not get up on his own. It is something done to him. The resurrection is God’s answer to the crucifixion. The silence of God at the Cross does not mean that God is absent. God is at work even when God is silent.
Then this, the women take to their heels, Mark says, with fear and amazement, running toward an unknown future. The tomb where we thought we would find Jesus’ dead body is not the place where the disciples of old or we, the disciples of today, will meet him. Rather it is in Galilee, in your life and mine, that we meet the risen Lord. God is the God of life. Jesus had to be raised from the dead, not in order to get us into heaven, but to get us into life here on earth. Here and now, Galilee, is the place where our sorrows and heart-aches turn to joy through his presence. That’s the part that always gives me the shivers.
Let me tell you a resurrection story.
Some years back during Holy Week, in Eugene, Oregon, where I was serving Central Presbyterian Church, some white supremacists fired armor-piercing bullets into Temple Beth Israel. Fortunately no one was hurt, but that ugly and brutal attack destroyed our illusions about the community. We wondered what would happen next.
We could not have foreseen the outpouring of support for the temple and the way people came together, Jews and Christians and Muslims, to say no to hate and yes to a new commitment to work together. The churches signed up volunteer sentinels who stood guard all that week outside the temple. On the night before Easter as we stood watch, a boy from our congregation came with his parents to be there. He told his father that he was afraid that someone might shoot him. His father said, that was what the hate-filled men wanted, that we would be afraid and would stay away. That was the very reason, the father said, why we needed to go and watch. So that those men could not decide how we would live our lives. That’s the part that always gives me the shivers!
That’s the miracle of Easter, the difference the presence of the living Christ can make. Yes, there are very real limits to our strength and energy and courage and our ability to cope with the struggles of life. But in Easter we are confronted with a love without limit, a hope beyond our imagining, and a Presence which will never fail.
Let us pray:
O God of trembling fear and awesome joy, you arise to shake the earth. Open our graves and give us back the past, so that all that has been buried may be set free and forgiven, and our lives may return to you, through our Risen Lord. Amen.
Rev. Rupert “Bo” Harris retired in 2006 and moved to Cambridge. Ordained in 1962, Rev. Harris has served congregations in Colorado, Oregon, Scotland, New Jersey, and New York. He is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate Rochester Divinity School. He and his wife, Janice, have three children and three grandchildren. He enjoys birding, biking, hiking, and singing.