Alright I’ll admit it. For many years I had a problem with this passage, which is the lectionary Gospel reading – read across the globe on this Easter Sunday.
The oldest existing texts of this Gospel – finish here at verse eight (verse 9 to 20 which may have been added on later) and speaks of Jesus appearance to the disciples and their commission before his return to heaven).
So right there at the end, there’s a stranger in the tomb / or beside it, who tells Salome, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (and maybe Jesus) that the Christ is Risen – and they flee – and the words are in, fear , terrified (or at the best translation, ‘in awe’) – and they tell no one. Once again it appears that the disciples (the women in this case) have failed or deserted Jesus.
This is the pattern throughout Mark’s Gospel. Everyone fails him. Peter denies Jesus, the Pharisees, scribes and teachers of the law denounce him, those who passed by his cross rebuked him, the two thieves on the cross stay silent beside him (no forgiven thief in this Gospel). Pilot condemns him, the people of his home town demean him. Peter, John and James on the mountain of Jesus as transfiguration, like the women at the tomb, are terrified and don’t recognise him and then almost all of his followers deserted him, even those who he healed have failed him.
It is not a story of victory, boldness, metamorphosis of the people and perhaps it is not meant to be, because it does shift our focus from who we were – to who Christ is.
Let’s look again and focus a different way on this passage and look at a character we often consider as a mere messenger – the man at or in the tomb. We may be surprised by what we find.
But even before that, let’s look again at what the author or authors of Marks Gospel are trying to do in these readings.
Mark is often viewed as the briefest, least embellished and earliest most process/event driven account of the life of Jesus. But a closer look at the gospel shows that there is an attempt through words, images and literary devices to grow a theology of an understanding of God in Christ is.
Over the years, I have studied this Gospel and found patterns in the writing or what I call ‘patterns of dancing light’.
In this Gospel we see a structure that focuses our attention on Jesus. In the beginning is his baptism (on the plain), in the middle is his transfiguration (on the mountain), and in the end is his resurrection (from underground).
In the first half of the gospel, Mark uses a pattern of re-telling about Jesus by focusing on his healings/miracles then onhis teachings (nine times does this happen). Then he has three healings and three teachings (three times), while interspersing Jesus’ proclamation of his death and resurrection (three times). Then, there are three mentions of the figtree. The first (in chapter 11) of a tree with no fruit – a failure (like Adam and Eve) – who after the fall sew together fig leaves over their loins. Jesus curses the tree.
Next time (later in Chapter 11) Jesus comes past the figtree, it is withered.
In the third mention (in chapter 13) he (Jesus) talks of its renewal. The lesson is not just about his own human journey, but the faith journey of all his disciples.
The richness of the message continues, ‘white whiteness and linens’ are all significant, the words are interchangeable in Greek. Jesus was transfigured white on the mountain. The young man running away naked from Gethsemane (chapter 14) who loses his nightgown – again is wearing linen – dyed white, according to biblical history. This man – or Angel – again represents not only failure, but the loss of everything, including hope. Into the dark the man in white runs, yet in the light of the morning, at the tomb, he represents the restoration of hope – no longer running away – he reclines and engages the women in conversation and pronouncement of Good News.
Who is this man dressed in white? Is it a man (perhaps the same man in the garden), is it an angel, or is it Jesus himself? The whiteness is emphasised here as it is during the transfiguration of Jesus. And as in the Transfiguration, the disciples do not recognise him and are terrified. In Mark 16 verse 19 we are told that Jesus sits at the right hand of God, this person or figure also sits on the right side of the tomb in verse five. What is more – this figure characterises the hope restored and brings Good News as Jesus has brought Good News. And indeed , by his very nature, Jesus is the Good News. The man in white says words that point not towards Jesus the man, but Christ our God. Of course he is not here, he has risen, transfigured to become something extraordinary.
If Mark’s three critical points are:
- transfiguration and
then the Christ who is present at his baptism and the transfiguration, is also here at that tomb in the presence of his disciples as it always has been.
In the dancing and colour of this light we turn our attention away from a gospel concentrating on the failures of the disciples to one where Christ is present at every point, despite the failures of his disciples.
How do we as Christ modern-day disciples react?
Firstly, we need to find peace that we are indeed failures at recognising Jesus and the nature of Jesus. But, like the disciples then and in the books that follow Mark’s Gospel, we must continue to meet together, to strive for him – always in his power and strength – not our own.
Finally, we are reminded in Jesus’s appearance to the disciples at Easter day and beyond – to 1 April 2018 – that Jesus loves us this much (spread arms)
And Jesus desires a relationship with us always.
The question today is not who you are in the resurrection story, but who’s you are in the resurrection story.
And so I say with confidence he is risen!
He is risen indeed!