Texts: Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8
The sabbath being over, the women rose and made their preparations. They’d been to the evening market just yesterday to buy spices for anointing their beloved teacher’s lifeless body. Now, “…very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.”
They went very early on the first day of the week because they’d risen before light to set the bread to rise. And now there was time to get away before their households began to stir. On Thursday they’d eaten the flat bread of Passover. No one had baked at all on Friday, the frightening morning after the arrest of Jesus. And the ovens were cold on Saturday, as required on the Sabbath. This day’s bread would be welcome; delicious loaves of warm leavened bread.
They went very early on the first day of the week because the morning markets would soon open and the streets would be filled with workers and shoppers. Their errand to anoint the body of Jesus was one that demanded quiet dignity and respect.
They went very early on the first day of the week because the cool air would help reduce the odor of decay. But a greater worry for the women was how to move the stone away from the entrance of the cave tomb. Yesterday afternoon they had seen the effort that it took Joseph, the Arimathean Pharisee and secret follow of Jesus, to place the stone at the entrance of the tomb he’d kindly made available for the body of Jesus.
They went very early on the first day of the week to the burial place of Jesus with their eyes downcast because of grief. And perhaps because they were afraid of being recognized after what happened to Peter. He was in hiding now from the authorities who wanted to question him, and perhaps arrest him too.
They went very early on the first day of the week to the tomb and looked up. Lo, and behold! The tomb was open. Lo, and behold! A young man in a white robe sat there on the right side. Lo, and behold! They were extremely amazed.
These women immediately perceived that they were in the presence of God’s own messenger. The young man’s impossibly white robe, his right-hand position inside the tomb. Only a fool could miss the implications of these things. Only foolish people could fail to be moved to the very core of their being, in proximity to something so holy. These women were no fools.
The messenger encouraged the women – “Do not be extremely amazed.” Next came the messenger’s knowledge of the women’s purpose, which they had not disclosed to anyone else: “You seek Jesus, the Nazorean who was crucified.
It was all very unexpected, and there were more surprises to come. Going outside norms of the culture, God’s messenger invited the women to be witnesses, and charged them to carry God’s message: “He is risen. He is not here. See for yourself, here is the place where they laid him…go, tell his disciples and Peter…he goes ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”
The women, understanding all the weight and responsibility of this divine moment, trembled at their encounter, and still amazed, quickly left the tomb. They spoke to no one as they went, bound up in reverent awe.
Here Mark’s gospel ends. And why not? As Paul said, “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve…so we proclaim, and so you have come to believe.”
This is the core of the Christian faith and message. Mark wrote this, the first gospel, years after Paul’s letters. What if Mark’s brevity was completely intentional – to hand on what was of first importance, and so to bring people to faith in God who brings the dead new life.
And what more do we need to know than this? Jesus came from God to do good, not caring what it cost. Jesus came from God to heal bodies and souls. His work provoked outrage. Our human response was violence.
With all the sin of the world supporting the cross God answered mightily. Opening the tomb of Jesus, God sent a message to all humankind. God’s greater reign is peace through humble, sacrificial love. Such love as can never be destroyed.
Mark’s minimalist style unsettled some early Christians, who responded by supplying other endings. Their versions ranged from various resurrection appearances of Jesus, to fantastical snake handling among faithful followers. Something that particularly misunderstands the elegance of Mark’s authorship and simple desire to impart good news about God in Jesus Christ.
In fact, the women were not terrified into silence as many translations of the text suggest. Nor did they fail to heed the messenger or God. They went silently in reverent awe. The news of the empty tomb was carried to the men and to Galilee or we would not be here today, with our joyful alleluias and faith.
Mark’s ending is as unexpected for we who hear it, as the angelic appearance was to the women. Perhaps that’s how Mark intended it to be. That we should be likewise drawn into this stunning event of revelation, invitation, and resurrection.
Very early on the first day of the week when the sun had risen…they saw that the stone had already been rolled back.” There are no random words in Mark’s gospel. The first day of the week is when God began to make everything. It’s the creation story of Genesis all over again. Only this time around, the moment of creation comes with the announcement that God’s beloved, the Son is risen!
For God’s faithful people, it is always very early on the first day of the week. We stand now before the empty tomb. Christ is risen, alleluia! What will you do with this news of irrepressible life and endless peace today, tomorrow, and all the remaining new mornings of your life? If you’re following Jesus from the empty tomb, it will be something amazingly good.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.