Mark 16:1-8 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. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But 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. 7But 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.’ 8So 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.
Years ago before I became a pastor, I spent a year as a chaplain in a hospital, much of it in the critical care unit. Every morning, I’d do the normal things of getting ready for the day. And by 9 o’clock, I would have entered an alternate world, where each person I encountered was on the verge of tragedy, where each hour, death could come or perhaps they might get better. Sometimes the patients would know just how critical it all was, but mostly they were fairly out of it. It was the faces of their loved ones that revealed the vulnerability. You could see how their daily lives were on hold, how their usual expectations for a day had been turned upside down- because their loved one was the one in the bed, and they weren’t sure of what the next hour would bring, let alone the night or next day. I would do what chaplains do: I'd sit with these shell-shocked people, pray with them, cry with them, bring them cups of tea or coffee and tissues. And then I'd go on to the next room and into the next world of grief. All day long.
Then at 5 o’clock, I would walk through the sliding glass doors to the street, and go home to my husband and see my neighbors and friends.
And they might say something like, "Hey, you want to go get a beer?" And I would think incredulously, "You want to go out? I'm wiped out. I feel like I should be at a funeral."
It was the strangest thing- to have gone from tragedy to normal life. It was practically another world. It would take me a little while to adjust, to move from one world to the other. Suffering from emotional whiplash, I wasn’t always able to make the transition quickly and let go of the tragedies and grief I had witnessed.
In our gospel text today, we hear Mark’s account of the good news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Mark tells it from the perspective of the women who had hosted Jesus in his ministry in Galilee, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. They were the ones who stood by his side and witnessed his execution.
They were the ones who bought spices to anoint his body, according to the traditions of their people. They were the ones who got up early in the morning, at the first light, to go to the tomb, and they were the ones who were working through the logistics of who would open the tomb for them.
There’s a lot of backstory in the first 4 verses of the gospel today, a lot of time encapsulated in those few short sentences. They were buying the spices, deciding what time to meet, figuring out who’s going to open the tomb… these women were preoccupied with funeral matters. Their everyday lives were on hold as they addressed the needs that arose with the death of their rabbi and the desertion of his disciples.
And where were the disciples that morning? Were they hiding out and afraid? Was it too dangerous to be seen in public, for fear of being arrested? Or were they so grief-stricken that they were immobilized, their limbs weighed down with deep sadness? Wherever they were, they were not available, so the women went to the tomb on their own, putting one foot in front of the other, carrying on as best as they could.
This is where the story takes an unexpected turn, where the pace of the story slows down. Up until now, everything in Mark has happened quickly. The word “euthus”, the Greek word for “immediately,” is used 40 times in that gospel- sometimes it seems like it's every sentence, but that word is not found in this chapter at all. There is nothing fast about this passage. If the gospel had been a movie, this would have been the slow-paced dream sequence, unlike any other part of the story.
But if it were a movie, the gospel of Mark would have an unsatisfying ending. There is no miraculous sighting of Jesus in the garden, no touching the risen lord, not even a trumpet announcement. Instead there is an empty tomb and with a young man wearing a white robe, bearing a confusing message: that Jesus had been raised from the dead. No wonder terror and amazement seized the women.
They are given the task to go and tell the good news. They are to bring this good news back to the grieving disciples, the ones who are hiding out in fear, the ones who couldn’t be found to come along to the cemetery to help roll the stone away.
These women are entrusted with the task of bearing a word of hope to a grieving world. But, we are told, they say nothing to anyone, for terror and amazement had seized them.
Now, clearly, the word got out. They told someone eventually. Perhaps that is the good news for us today. If we find the news to be too much to take in, too much to believe, if we are amazed or confused or fearful instead of immediately joyous and believing- if we are yet unable or unwilling to share the good news with those around us, then we are in good company with the first recipients of the gospel.
But just as Jesus wouldn’t stay in the tomb, neither would the news stay untold. Overriding the fear and terror, the message gets told and retold, shared over and over again, passed as a word of hope and a promise of God’s presence with us in the darkest times.
In the days and weeks and months to come, each of us will pass into rooms and conversations and moments so filled with grief and unexpected circumstances and heartache that it may seem that we have entered into another world. Wherever you go, may you carry inside you this good word, passed down to us by the mothers and fathers of faith, the first disciples: Death does not have the last word. The grave is empty. Christ is risen. Alleluia!