A non-sentimental Easter
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:1 – 8 NIV)
Another Easter is past and I’m afraid for some of us, the only thing that Easter is about is sentimental thoughts of either good or bad times. For some it is about the Easter bunny, or thoughts of springtime and the renewal of life that comes with it. But the Bible gives us a completely different perspective on Easter. I want to take a look at the account that Mark records in his gospel, especially the last verse.
The account begins with three women that come to anoint Jesus’ body and they therefore become the first witnesses to the empty tomb. This is extremely strong evidence to the historicity of the event, because if this was a made up account, no one in their 1st century Jewish right mind would make women the first and primary witnesses, because the witness of women would be discounted in that culture.
We’re told that they were worried about the stone at the entrance of the tomb, but find that it has already been rolled away. They go in and find what looks like a young man with a white robe, the other gospels tell us that this is an angel. Mark includes the angel as a witness to the resurrection, but he also gave the women a message to deliver to the disciples: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'” We see a special mention to Peter, which most likely was intended as an assurance that Peter would be restored after he had denied Jesus three times. The rest of the message is a promise that Jesus would appear to the disciples in Galilee, but what is interesting is that Mark does not include that event. The other gospels do, but Mark, has a different emphasis. He ends his gospel with this verse: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” We know from the other gospels that their silence was only for a short while, but Mark gives special emphasis to the silence of the women.
Mark himself gives the reason when he writes “for they were afraid”. Mark isn’t talking about them fearing the Jews or authorities, or of not being believed or even of being thought of as crazy in grief. Mark has already piled up words expressing fear and amazement in these verses – ‘they were amazed’, ‘don’t be alarmed’, ‘fled’, ‘trembling’, and ‘astonishment’; and these clearly refer to the fear aroused by their experience at the tomb. We’re then forced to see that the statement that they were afraid refers to this same fear. It is the fear of God. The women had already experienced more minor traces of God’s intervention. And it is no wonder they were afraid.
You see here is the point…Mark is giving us the antidote to all of our sentimentalizing of Easter. The reassurance which the Easter message brings only occurs on the other side of a radical disturbing of all our security and self-assurance. This is not like the resurrection of Lazarus, which only pointed forward to Christ’s resurrection, even though that too is very disturbing. This is not a restoration to a life that would later die again permanently…but is indeed the final resurrection brought into existence…for Christ is the firstfruits of those that are asleep. We often want to reduce the gloriousness of this event into something that we can wrap our minds around. We try to treat this event as a comfortable piece of our mental furniture. Many sermons are preached about springtime and the renewal of life in the cycle of nature. I think the most unfortunate aspect of Easter in the West is that we celebrate it during Spring, so that it becomes easy to view the Resurrection of our savior as a metaphor for Springtime. Spring illustrates something completely different from what the gospel proclaims, because spring is followed by summer, then fall and winter…life is followed by further death and dying. Paul writes, “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him (Rom.6:9).” Spring and the cycle of life and death, we know, but the Resurrection is the miracle that turns the world upside down.
Jeremiah was given a prophecy of the future hope of restoration, carried along by the Holy Spirit, he writes, “They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul (Jer. 32:38-41).” Rarely do we think of reconciliation and restoration as including fear of God. Yet this is at the heart of what God desires. The perfect love that casts out fear, clearly does not cast away a proper fear and reverence for God, his holiness and his desires.
If all the women had seen was a metaphor for life after death, they would hardly have felt fear and terror. What they had seen was God working a miracle to which all other miracles pale in significance. Mark reminds us and warns us that we cannot bypass or ignore the fear, awe, and sheer terror when we are confronted by this, the greatest of God’s supernatural interventions into human history. The absolute objective truth of Easter authenticates Jesus not as a mere prophet, or teacher, or saint as some would like to see him, but as the eternal holy God, the second person of the Trinity. The Resurrection is God’s final word about the cross of Christ as the way for man to be redeemed. It means that we can stand justified before God, forgiven for our sins. The resurrection shows us the true meaning of the Cross…Christ’s victory over death and sin and Satan, guaranteeing that God’s purpose for us is that we should share the risen life of Jesus and it is an assurance that, when we die, our souls will be with Jesus, and at the last day, God will raise our bodies to glory.
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