Yes, it's Easter. Jesus has risen from the dead after being whipped nearly to death, nailed to a cross, stabbed through the heart, and shoved in an airtight tomb for a day and a half. Lich-King Jesus commands your worship and respect!
Mark 16:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Psalm 118:1-2,14-24; Acts 10:34-43
Christ is Risen! Hurray! If you just randomly decided to come to church today for the first time ever, today is kind of a big deal. 20 centuries ago, the Son of God, Jesus, rose from the dead after having a rough four days. Thursday night he was betrayed by one of his closest friends, convicted of heresy by a religious court and treason by a secular court. Friday he was sentenced to a very unpleasant death, executed, hastily buried by two followers who didn't exactly want it to be public knowledge that they followed him, and then left in the tomb all day Saturday.
Then came Sunday morning. 2 Marys and a Salome, along with a handful of other women, wanted to anoint Jesus' body, an act which would have reflected the honor they showed Jesus. But, instead of the expected guards and closed tomb, when they got there the not-so-small stone sealing the tomb's entrance had been moved, and a man in a white robe was sitting on it.
He said to them, "Don't be afraid! You're looking for Jesus of Nazareth, but He's not here! He is risen! Go and tell his disciples that He's going to meet y'all in the same place he met all of you at the beginning."
Now, here's where Mark's gospel is noticeably different from Matthew, Luke, and John. In the other three gospels, the women all go out and tell the disciples, who of course don't believe them -- though to their credit Peter and John run to the tomb to check it out for themselves. But that's the other three gospels; in Mark the women are so afraid that they don't say anything to anyone.
Here's where their reaction gets a little weird. Throughout Mark's gospel, Jesus goes out of his way to ask nearly all of the people he healed not to tell anyone what he had done for them, and of course no-one listens and they tell everyone that Jesus healed them. Whenever someone is told not to tell about Jesus, they just can't contain their joy at being healed or seeing someone healed. Yet when these women, people who were closed to Jesus, are told to go out and tell others of the resurrection, they are so afraid and confused that they didn't.
What an interesting time for these women to be disobedient! They should have expected a resurrection -- in fact Jesus told them several times in Mark's gospel that after he was crucified he wouldn't stay dead: Mark 8:31, 9:9, 9:31, 10:34, and 14:28. Jesus didn't exactly make a secret out of it. It's also not like they were under the impression that dead people couldn't come back; they had seen Jesus raise a synagogue ruler's daughter, and more recently, Jesus' friend Lazarus who and spent three days in the tomb.
And yet when it actually happened, the first witnesses to the resurrection couldn't tell anyone what had happened. Now, thankfully, eventually the women came around and overcame their fear -- telling the disciples what they had seen -- but Mark's gospel leaves us hanging in a way. We're left with a question: what would you have done if you were there that first Easter morning?
This is one of the things Mark's gospel does incredibly well; it invites us into the story. We're not just supposed to hear all the things Jesus did, we're asked to be part of it. From the beginning, Mark invites us to walk throughout the Judean countryside with Jesus, to witness his miracles, to serve as he served, and mostly importantly to follow him to the cross. The utter humanity of the disciples -- who always seem to screw up -- helps us to see them as no different from ourselves. The only character in Mark who is utterly obedient is Jesus, everyone else lacks in that department.
And so we have the question: what will you do? Christ is risen, and we are saved from our. Christ is risen, and we are promised eternal life. Christ is risen, and he asks us to follow him. Ah, see, there's where it gets difficult. Having our sins forgiven sounds nice, so does living forever, but actually having to follow him, that's the trouble. It's the trouble that those who Jesus healed and couldn't keep quiet had. It's the trouble that the women had at the tomb, too afraid to say anything to anyone.
Too often on Easter we like to focus on the "good parts" -- the parts that don't require us to do anything at all, but we sure do feel good about. It's easier to just show up at church and hear that we're forgiven, but carry on living our lives the same way. That's not how the gospel works. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." The gospel, the good news of Easter, is this: Christ died for our sins, he was buried, and on the third day rose again and appeared to his disciples. And we're called to the same task as those early disciples -- to follow Him.