April 1, 2018 Mark 16:1-8

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “We are the sum total of the choices we have made.” Life is all about choices. From our every day choices: “Do I go out and work in the garden or stay in and watch Netflix?” “Should I eat ice-cream and a glass of wine for dinner or a salad?” “Do I get up and go to church this morning or just stay at home and read my bible?” to important decisions: “Should I move here? Do we get married? When should I retire?” Our Holy week narrative is full of choices: Jesus being asked if he is the king of the Jews, the crowds being asked Barabbas or Jesus, Peter being asked if he is a disciple of Christ, the disciples choosing to stay and watch as Jesus is crucified or to flee in fear. Our lives are the sum total of the choices that we have made. In our scripture today, the women are faced with more choices. Yet the scripture feels like an incomplete story. For many early Christians, they even tried to complete the story, adding in additional verses in Mark’s gospel, just so we are not left hanging. We might begin to wonder how then to celebrate this Easter morning.  However, I think that Mark was very intentional at where he left us, in the midst of some mixed emotions and left with our own choices to make. Easter Morning is just the beginning for the women and for us, and though we want to have some extra joy and pomp and circumstance, maybe we need to begin first with feelings of fear, terror, and amazement.

            The story begins with the dawning of a new day. The women, are walking up to the tomb where just a few short days prior they watched Joseph of Arimathea, take Jesus’ body off the cross, wrap him up in a linen cloth, and laid his body in a tomb.  Rolling the stone in-front of the grave, these women said goodbye to their Lord and Savior. The women, who stayed through in the midst of the horrifying experience of witnessing Christ’s death on the cross, now are headed back up to the tomb to prepare his body with spices for an anointing. It is the start of a new day, a day that is filled with raw emotions: grief, they faced a loss; anger, reeling from the injustice of Christ’s death; fear, for what will happen next-to them, to the other disciples, to life as they once knew it. So walking up to the tomb, early in the morning, just as the sun begins to rise, these women focused on the one thing that mattered still to them, Jesus’ body.

They were coming to complete a task, to finish up the preparations of the body, the customary practices of the death ritual. Like a family whose loved one dies, there’s a list of things to do: get the death certificate, make arrangements with the funeral home, the church, call family, write the obituary…and that is just the beginning. The women were working on the list they had to finish the earthly life of their teacher. As they were walking to the gravesite, they ponder to each other, “Who will roll away the tomb?” Who’s going to help us, roll this massive stone away so we can get to our tasks? And while the question lingered in the air, the women come to the opening of the tomb to see the stone had already been rolled away. A man is there in Christ’s place. “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here. He has been raised.” The man continues and tells them to enter into the tomb, “Look, here is the place where they laid him.” Jesus, obviously not there. And then the man says, “Go, tell his disciples, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” Yet, in our final verse, the scripture says, “Overcome with trauma and ecstasy, the women fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

That’s where Mark ends the story. It’s really uncomfortable, the women go to the tomb to complete a task, filled with emotions, but they can’t do what they wanted to do because the tomb was empty. The body was gone, and something else was asked of them, go and tell the others. Here the man is giving them a choice, challenging them to a new day, a new beginning, with new responsibilities- you have to go on ahead, don’t live in the past of Christ’s death, move forward in the light of the resurrection, go to Galilee, proclaim the Good News.  But two other emotions creep in for these women, one word we in English would be described as terror/trauma/fear, and the other word ecstasy/amazement/astonishment. When I think about these two words, I generally don’t put them together to describe feelings: trauma and amazement. They seem to be on two different spectrums, but maybe that is precisely why Mark uses them for the women.

When the women enter the tomb we want them to shout Alleluia! We want them to proclaim that Christ is risen, to go ahead and see Jesus. But from Mark’s account, they don’t react the way we expect them to on Easter morning, instead they are filled with literally an entire range of emotions, and they flee. I think Mark is intentional here, and wants us to jump into the story with the women, to stand where those first trembling witnesses stood. They didn’t see Jesus, and neither do we. They didn’t hear Jesus call their names, and we don’t either. We won’t be able to touch Jesus’ hands. The three women are our silent partners, leaving the space for us, the readers to complete the story.

It is often in our lives when we experience moments that are filled with dueling emotions, like terror and astonishment, just like the women at the tomb. Whether it is that we receive the news that our loved one is in end-stage lung cancer and the only option is comfort care, or receive the news that “It’s a girl.” Whether we put down the down-payment to purchase a new home or pack up the home filled with years of family memories. Whether we say I do at the altar, or say goodbye as we close the door to the office and the career we once had. We all have and have had moments and times in our lives filled with transitions and choices. And in those moments, despite what people around us are saying, we end up with feelings that both traumatize and amaze us, not completely sure what will be in store for us, what comes after. Stepping into the world of the resurrection is transformative in both the traumatic and ecstatic sense. To reach this state, like the women, calls upon us to step out in faith. It is a faith that requires us to believe in the God who is not in the tomb, but out there in the world, waiting for us.

The choice is clear—be paralyzed by fear or propelled forward by faith. Should we remain as defeated bystanders wallowing in despair or be witnesses to the resurrection ready to step out in faith for the risen Christ, ready to tell others. Mark’s message reaches across all time lines to grab hold of us and challenge us. You have a choice: Respond to Christ’s call or Remain frozen in fear, remain hidden in the dark places. Mark reminds us the story of the resurrection is not about an empty tomb. It is about changed lives, about risking a transformation, about a new life-- in Christ.

In our scripture today, the Resurrection is not about empty tombs, but about the living Christ who continues to encounter us in the world and call us to discipleship.  As the Psalmist affirms “God has made known to us the path of life.”  That is the Easter story. The story that compels us to choose—a life in the safety of our own dark hiding places or a transformed life that can be full of risk, full of surprises, full of challenges, but lived in the promise and the truth of resurrection. Christ is alive!  In the words of the angel that day “I will meet you in Galilee.  There we began together; there we will begin anew.” Christ is with us claiming us for the journey.

Yet, the truth is…it’s a big risk. Like with any choice, any next step in our lives. There will be setbacks along the way.  Troubles, disappointments, down right heart wrenching sorrow, fire breathing anger, or frightening episodes.  There will be confusion, shame, guilt, doubt, and even unbelief.  Jesus comforts us, “I am with you always even to the end of the age.” Paul calls these the times that we won’t fully understand until at last “we see face to face”. Nevertheless, Paul says, keep on the path, run the race, head for the finish line and keep your eyes on Christ.

And we know that is what the women chose, eventually. Because we know the story. The women eventually told people, shared the good news, because we know the Good News. Fear did not hold them back, instead their faith eventually gave them the courage to proclaim that the Lord had Risen.   

We are all on a journey, some of us new in their walk with Christ, some well on the way, some struggling on the path and ready to give up. But like the women, today we stand at the empty tomb and we have a choice: To leave in terror and fear, or to go and share the good news. The choice is ours to make. Leonard Sweet puts it this way:

When you stand at the Pearly Gates, would you rather be told you believed too much or you believed too little?

When you stand at the Pearly Gates, would you rather be told you cared too much or you cared to little?

When you stand at the Pearly Gates, would you rather be told that you tried too hard or you didn’t try hard enough?

When you stand at the Pearly Gates, would you rather be told that you were too forgiving or you were too judgmental?

When you stand at the Pearly Gates, would you rather be told, “Well done, thou hyper-hopeful and risk-taking servant, or “Well done, thou sober and play-it-safe servant”?

There is a choice, this Easter, even in the midst of our doubts, our questions, and our hopes. Even in the midst of our fear and amazement, Christ calls us from our hiding place to celebrate life in him, a life of choices, of risks, and of surprises. A life of joy, of conviction, and anticipation. Will you go to Galilee, and share the news? May it be so. Amen.