“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 16:6-8)
For the past few years, this has been my favorite Easter text. I love the unsettling way that the book of Mark ends. Most bibles include alternate endings, because from the beginning, people were unsettled by it. Why end a gospel with a group of people filled with trembling, bewilderment and fear? We need to end this with Jesus, right? With signs and wonders and rejoicing?
The other three gospels help to satisfy us in this (though they also beautifully record the initial reactions to the empty tomb), but I love that Mark leaves us hanging. I love that the last verse tells us of women who were being really horrible evangelists. They had just encountered angels, just been told that Jesus had risen, and yet they flee with fear, saying nothing to anyone.
And if we are unsettled by the reactions of the women, lets be reminded that these were the “good ones”. These were the women who had followed Jesus through his trial and crucifixion, who had arrived at the scene that morning with burial spices, ready to anoint his body. The disciples, the ones who had fled early on, were somewhere else, in hiding, in mourning, entrenched in anger over the Messiah who had let them down. Peter had not just fled, but he had told everyone who asked him about Jesus that he didn’t know him, hadn’t followed him, hadn’t had anything to do with him.
Many people will enter church today with rejoicing, filled with great joy over the Jesus who has risen and transformed their life. But others will enter church with trembling and bewilderment, saying nothing to anyone, because they are afraid. Some will enter church with anger, because this God has let them down. They know they should be there, because this is what you do on Easter. But they can’t respond to this Easter message with the hope that others do. And they can’t shake the doubts in their mind, the questions that rise up saying “what does this mean, and how could THIS story be real?”
And the beautiful thing about Easter is that there is room for us all to gather around this empty tomb, room for us all to respond with our own mix of emotions. It is ok to be you. It is ok to be afraid, it is ok to feel doubts arising in your heart, ok to question the sermon and feel confused over the gospel message.
And there is room for us all to be surprised this Easter. Surprised by a new creation springing up all around, inaugurated by the one who went ahead of this bewildered group of people, waiting for them with great patience and love. This Easter is about encountering that Jesus, the one who loves those trembling women as much as he loves the unfaithful Peter.
So come. Come just as you are, and meet this humble, loving, risen King. Lets look with wonderment at this empty tomb, then move on to Galilee where he awaits us.