Mark 16:1-8 (NRSV)
The Resurrection of Jesus
16 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. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But 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. 7 But 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.” 8 So 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.
There are two Gospel readings to choose from for Easter Sunday and I chose Mark’s because it is altogether more disappointing. The lack of belief and the lack of resolution resonated a bit more with me this Easter.
I have experienced a few significant deaths in recent times. I was particularly reminded of the importance of all of our death rituals. At times I found them comforting. Sadly, I also observed a lot of pain that ensued when the rituals were not observed in a way that satisfied everyone involved.
The women in this story seem like exactly the type of person you would want around the house if there was a death in the family. They went to the tomb with spices to embalm him. They went without delay, leaving at first light as soon as the Sabbath was over. They worried, as they went along the way, about the practicalities of three women rolling away an enormous rock from the mouth of the tomb.
These women are the awful busybodies who take over the show when someone dies because they don’t know how else to be. One of the recent deaths I experienced, for various reasons, resulted in a situation where there weren’t many of those busybody women around the family, and there weren’t that many sandwiches, and my heart absolutely broke for lack of sandwiches and all the healing and comfort and affection that they represent.
In the situations where being human is not enough, we default to the rituals that raise us higher and make us more useful. A problem is welcomed, because it gives us something to focus on that might be solvable. I cannot do the only thing they want, the only thing that matters; I cannot bring you back. But I can figure out how to get a heavy stone moved, or a church heated, or a relative picked up from the airport…
But for all that is wonderful about the way a community straps in and steamrolls through the death process together, does it sometimes insulate us from the deeper things that are going on? I loved how these women do not have any capacity to accept that the body is gone, that an angel has a message for them or that Jesus might be alive. I love that because it makes me feel less of a failure for my own lack of faith.
I believe in this resurrection. With the major benefit of hindsight, I don’t find it hard to believe that God was capable of this miracle. If you are willing to concede that there is a God at all, then surely this is small beans. What I do find hard is maintaining that daily expectation of seeing echoes of the Resurrection happen in lives and situations today.
Just like the women in the story, I know how well how to steam roll through this life and how to fulfil (what I think are) God’s and people’s expectations of me in a variety of circumstances. I am not very good at expecting the unexpected. Just like the women in this story, I am not good at being confronted by disparate pieces of information from God (like a rolled away stone, an empty tomb, an angel, an instruction) and immediately seeing how they all fit together and what they mean.
In the last couple of weeks I have had people pray really extraordinary prayers for me; a tonne of coincidences pointing me towards making a personal decision I’ve been putting off for a while; a spate of Bible readings popping up in the lectionary and other places in our school setting that have really spoken to a particular group of kids; an annoying Mormon stop me on the street to ask what the most important thing in my life was as I was carrying out church work with a really bad attitude; and a stranger approach me in a nightclub to tell me how lucky I was to have angels round my shoulders protecting me. (On that last one, he seemed sober and was extremely embarrassed and nervous to say it, which made me trust the whole thing a bit more. I mean, as I said above, if I’m going to open myself to the possibility of God, then resurrections and angels come with the territory).
In a paragraph it sounds very reassuring. I have this sense that I’m supposed to be moving into a new place of spiritual confidence, that somehow I’m maturing as a Christian in this season of life. But in reality, I am more like these women. The evidence that God is trying to reach me with something is great, but it’s too at odds with what I have come to expect to expect. It just makes me want to run away and not tell anyone, in case they think I’m mad.
The Easter Sunday Resurrection is an interruption of possibility into the impossible. Of course your gut reaction is to run away and not tell anyone, because you will sound like a total moron. This Sunday is the high point in the liturgical calendar, the greatest feast in the Church year, but it requires more than a moment’s decision to believe. It asks a total re-programming of your ways of thinking, your priorities, your hopes and your expectations. Accepting all the possibility that comes with God’s life in us is a lifelong quest. So amidst the celebration of the defeat of death, be reassured and challenged by the fact that the first people who heard and saw it, ran away and didn’t talk to anyone about it.
Emma Rothwell currently divides her time between the Church of Ireland Dioceses of Meath & Kildare where she is the Diocesan Youth and Children’s Officer and Wilson’s Hospital School where she is the School Chaplain.