Easter Vigil, April 7, 2012
Scholars believe that this reading from Mark’s Gospel is the original ending of the gospel. It seems an unlikely ending for the good news of Jesus Christ. Since the women remained at the cross we might think they would grasp the resurrection when it is announced to them. However, their fear, terror and amazement get the better of them and they too flee. Not an auspicious ending to the good news, but it does reflect our common human response to suffering, uncertainty and the unknown.
We can sympathize with the women. Our own fear, terror and amazement get the better of us sometimes. The prospect of suffering and the threat of death can send us fleeing to denial, to the safety of non-involvement. Fear has great power over us. Consciously or unconsciously it can dictate many of our actions.
Unless we are able to find a deeper center within us, fear can be an obstruction in our lives. Fear can be like that very large stone rolled over the entrance to the tomb. It can keep us from hearing and believing the good news of Jesus Christ. It can be the obstruction between us and the resurrected life. It can block us from being open to strangers. Fear can hold us back from entering the way of the cross. It can be an impediment to life fully lived.
Perhaps that is why scriptures repeat the message over and over: “Fear not.” More than 175 times we read in Scripture: “Do not be afraid.” Though there are many good reasons to be afraid, the story of God’s relationship with the people shows over and over that there are even better reasons not to be afraid. Time and again, God opens a way for life to emerge in the midst of their fears.
Fear is not the last word in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mark writes, “The women said nothing to anyone,” but the Word got out, pun intended. Not fear nor flight, not denial nor abandonment can stop the Holy One in the quest to give us life to the full. “When the women looked up, they saw that the stone… had already been rolled back.” In the midst of our confusion and fear, God opens a way to more abundant life.
Jesus’ life shows us that the way of discipleship is the way of the cross. That may evoke fear in us, but our fear does not need to keep us from following Jesus. Faith can exist alongside fear. The message of the young man in the tomb is that we will find Jesus not in the tomb but in our daily lives. He goes before us. The disciples are sent back to the place where their journey began, their daily lives in Galilee. They start again, this time with the experience of Jesus’ presence with them at every turn.
Now we who have heard this story and have lived it tonight are the ones to add the next chapter. The Gospel is open-ended. Whatever our past, we can begin again. We are sent back to our daily lives to look for Jesus’ living presence among us. Now that we know the story, we will see him in the sick, those in prison, the poor, in all who suffer, in friends and strangers alike. We see him in our assembly and in the bread and wine we share. Christ has been raised; He is going before us in all our daily activities. Thanks be to God.