How the empty tomb provides all the ending we need
The Great Vigil of Easter | Mark 16:1-8
He isn’t here
They bought spices, then brought them to the tomb, to anoint him. Three women: Mary, Mary, and Salome. And they come out in the dark, shortly after the sun fades out of view on Saturday night. The Sabbath is over, so now they can get to work.
They can properly bury Jesus.
Only, when they get there, they are horrified because they actually can’t bury Jesus. He isn’t there.
These three women are surely Jesus’s most loyal, most devoted followers. They didn’t deny Jesus or run away like rabbits from the foxes. They are not the disciples who abandon him. These women stay, and they watch Jesus put up on the cross and they see him taken down and where his body is laid. They see where he is. They see his body. The women know that Jesus has died.
That’s why they come back with spices: because he is supposed to be dead. The law of nature and all: the dead stay dead.
And why they’re shocked that the dead isn’t. He isn’t here. The dead don’t disappear. They don’t get up and walk away. They stay where you leave them. But Jesus didn’t stay. He apparently did get up and walk away.
Where is he?
I like these women. I like that they did what the disciples couldn’t do. They are clearly more faithful than the the disciples. But even they don’t take Jesus at his word. They don’t believe him when he tells them that he will come back. Not really. They are closer to believing that than the disciples. But even they aren’t there. They don’t really expect him to rise again. They are preparing for a full tomb, not an empty one.
That Jesus has been liberated, unlocked, released is disturbing to one who expects the quiet solitude of a tomb. That it is occupied, but bears the wrong person, a living being, speaking to them is so very wrong. It would be unsettling to the faithful, whose faith is stuck on the first day: who have witnessed Jesus’s death and expect that state to be permanent. We’d disbelieve it ourselves.
He is supposed to be here, but he isn’t here. So where is he?
The figure in white tells them where they will find Jesus and what he wants them to do.
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.
just as he told you. He told you that he would be back, that you’d see him in Galilee. Now go, tell people. Go!
Now, of course, the text doesn’t end nice and tidy like the other gospels do. It doesn’t have them all seeing Jesus and living happily ever after (apparently). It doesn’t wrap it up in a bow for us. Instead, it leaves us hanging. Go, tell people! and they run away afraid. The End.
Here’s why this is the best ending of all: it doesn’t wrap it up for us. It says they run away, yes. But is there a church today? Did those disciples hear the good news of the resurrection? Did they make it to Galilee? Of course they did!
And we know this, not because the text tells us, but because the text was eventually written, some 4 decades later. The writer of Mark does for us the old writer’s adage: show, don’t tell. The writer shows us (in a nontraditional way, I’ll grant you) that the women get there eventually. They get to the disciples and they proclaim the good news. They just had to get there, first. They had to compose themselves. They had to believe it themselves, first.
And the proof is the church.
The great Easter message is not found in the proofs, in the proving of Jesus’s coming to us, but simply that he isn’t here! He isn’t in the tomb. He isn’t locked up. He was raised and has left the tomb. He isn’t trapped by death or locked away in a permanent state of burial. No amount of spices and oils can prepare him for where he is going.
This is our Easter message: Jesus lives! He isn’t locked away, imprisoned in a dead man’s tomb. He isn’t here.
Tonight, in these stories we’ve shared of freedom, of liberation, of not only the power of GOD, but the relationship of humanity to GOD, we’ve heard witness in history to the character of GOD.
Then in our welcoming of Jackson, we are shown the character of GOD through the waters of baptism and through one another.
And in sharing in the baptismal covenant, we are reminded of our own relationship to GOD, revealing to one another the new lives as new creations we have struck.
And tonight we celebrate with one another with great thanks and joy that we have the opportunity to write our own ending to the story: that the open-ended story didn’t end with the disciples or with those women, running away afraid. But that we have the opportunity to serve and believe and make the lives GOD has invited us to make; to live as we are called to live; to go forth to our own Galilees to meet our friends and families and proclaim to one another Jesus lives! The tomb was empty, he isn’t here! We’re going to see him!