Do you know anyone who flips to the last page of a book before reading the rest, in order to see how the story ends?
If so, they would be pretty disappointed by the last page and last paragraphs of Mark’s gospel. It doesn’t feel like a complete story, “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. That’s all, folks. And it’s no April fool’s prank, either. Mark’s cliffhanger seems more like the middle of a story than the end. Did the women go and tell the disciples? Did they go to Galilee to meet a risen Jesus? Or did they run home and lock the door?
As readers we enter into the story and share some of what those women may have been thinking. What happened to Jesus? The body’s gone, there’s a random stranger that says he’s not in the tomb, but headed to Galilee? Should we believe him?
As frustrating and awkward as Mark’s story is, in truth it shares a lot in common with the stories of our lives…stories that aren’t at the end, but somewhere in the middle. Maybe your life feels like a cliffhanger, stuck in an awkward, unresolved place. Our lives are a jumbled mess of the things that the women were feeling on that fateful morning: fear, apprehension, suspicion and disbelief, hope and possibility. Maybe you aren’t really sure about the resurrection yourself.
All we’ve got this morning is an empty tomb. But with the stone rolled away, possibility and hope emerges. The tomb that covered up the death and suffering of a messiah has been opened, the stone rolled away. The dark, cold tombs of the women—tombs of fear, loss and hopelessness have been cracked open. The dark, cold tombs inside of us—tombs of self-hate, addiction, anger, pain, uncertainty—these, too, have been opened, releasing us from their icy confinement. We no longer need to walk through life anxious and afraid, wondering who will roll the stone away.
The empty tomb is a reminder that resurrection is real, even if we’re still left asking questions. The empty tomb is a hint that new life has emerged, and it is out in the world.
In the spring of 2015, parts of Nepal crumbled in the wake of a catastrophic earthquake, killing over 8,000 people and affecting nearly 8 million, many of whom were left homeless. Lutheran Disaster Response, with the help of Lutheran World Relief were some of the first responders and continued to help rebuild over the past three years. Today, they have helped rebuild nearly 300 homes and 20 schools, improving the lives of nearly 50,000 Nepalese. New life, indeed.
This past week, on Palm Sunday, a group of folks here at Ascension made a delivery of frozen meals, assembled right here in our fellowship hall, to local seniors in need. I was told the story of one particularly excited senior who couldn’t stop talking about the palm branch she received with the meal. Think about the new life that emerged for her, in the form of compassion, a hearty meal, and a green palm frond. Or how about the new life that arises as we support and accompany refugees from war-torn and oppressive places, leaving their tombs behind for a new start in a new place. Or how about the new life we’ve as a congregation, on the path to becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation, putting action and intention behind our welcome to everyone, no matter where they’re from, what they look like, who they love, or what they believe?
This only scratches the surface of resurrection and the appearance of the risen Christ in our lives. The one who gave up his life, dying on the cross to show you and me the depth of God’s love isn’t buried in some tomb. He is here, with us, in community and in bread and wine. He is out, in the world, in all the Galilee’s of our lives. And he promises that we will see him, just like he said.
So we stand at the entrance of our own empty tombs, caught in the middle of the story, left with a choice. What direction will the story take? What ending will you write? Do we run away or do we go, rejoicing, telling others about the resurrection and new life that we’ve seen?
Today’s story may at first appear to be the end, but really there’s much more to be told. St. Paul reminds us that the story of the risen Christ continues in you and me, in the mission of the church, in the body of Christ. We become the ones beckoned from the empty tomb, to go and tell the others.
Today is a celebration of new life and the promise that God has swallowed up death forever. As people of the resurrection, we have nothing to fear: no stone, no terror group, no bully, no unjust policy, no discriminatory agenda, no diagnosis, no wall, not even death itself. The empty tomb moves us from possibility to reality, ready to meet the risen Christ and discover resurrection all around us.