Sermon: Thank God for the Gospel of Mark
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. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 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. 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.’ 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.
• Mark 16:1-8
The Lord be with you.
Thank God for the Gospel of Mark.
Thank God for a Gospel written to Christians in Rome who were under intense persecution. Though they trusted in Jesus and tried to follow him, they lived in fear and struggled in their faith. The Gospel of Mark helped them by allowing them to identify with Jesus’ first disciples.
- Like Jesus’ disciples, I can imagine that some of them might have struggled to understand that following Jesus means taking the way of the cross.
- Like Peter, I can imagine that some of them might have been tempted to deny Jesus at moments of great crisis.
- Like the young man in the Garden of Gethsemane, I can imagine that some of of them might have been ashamed of running away rather than standing with Jesus in times of great testing.
- Like the father in the story of the young boy overcome by evil spirits, I can imagine many of them crying out for Jesus to help them, saying “I believe; but help my unbelief!”
- Like blind Bartimeus, I can imagine that they felt impoverished and marginalized, and all they could do was cry out to Jesus to help them in their time of need.
And like these women who came to the tomb, who had seen Jesus crucified, who had laid his body in the tomb, I can imagine that the first readers of this Gospel found it wildly impossible to grasp that Jesus was alive and with them in their circumstances of fear and confusion.
Mark’s Gospel is the only one of the four Gospels that does not record an appearance of the risen Christ. Instead it ends with today’s text, which describes…
- an empty tomb,
- an angel of God announcing the Good News that Jesus has been raised from the dead,
- a promise that Jesus has gone before them and will meet them as he promised,
- a word of instruction that these women go and tell his disciples the Good News,
- and a description of these women, overcome with awe and amazement, unable at first to speak about the unimaginable, incredible Good News they’ve heard.
Thank God for the Gospel of Mark and its story of the resurrection, because I find it to be the most down-to-earth account of Easter morning. It is the most realistic portrayal, the account that is most sympathetic to our human nature and experience.
Mark knows that this Good News is almost too good to be true. It’s too much to take in in a single moment. It announces something so outside the bounds of what we could ever dream up. And, coming on the heels of the crucifixion — which was another absolute shocker to those who followed Jesus — these women must have felt like they just got sucker-punched twice. They must have been so stunned, so dazed, so completely incapable of taking this in.
Thank God for the Gospel of Mark and its frank description of what it’s like to follow Jesus. All throughout this Gospel, the disciples always seem to be a few steps behind. They don’t quite get the teaching. They ask dumb questions. They do dumb things, like shoo children away from Jesus and argue about who’s going to get the best seat in the coming kingdom. They focus on all the wrong things. Once in awhile the light breaks through, but most of the time they’re rather clueless.
Yet, Jesus stays with them. Jesus keeps them at his side. Jesus patiently teaches them and gives them remedial lessons when they need it. He confronts what they’re doing and then tells them why it’s not compatible with the values of God’s kingdom. He points out examples of faith to help them see what it means to trust him. He continually reminds them of the way of the cross and urges them to prepare for the troubles to come. Jesus loves them with a persevering love. He never gives up on them, never abandons them, never considers them lost causes.
Does this all sound familiar? It should, because it’s the story of OUR journey too. Even on Easter Sunday, when we’re all dressed up and gathered among the lilies, singing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” and sharing special meals and fellowship with our families and fellow believers, we mustn’t forget that we are a lot like these disciples. Faith isn’t easy. The journey can be a struggle.
And that’s true of Easter too! If we were to stop and seriously think about that first Easter morning and what a shock it was, what an incomprehensible stunner it was, I think we’d not be so quick to say “He is risen indeed!” We might all be like these women, these lovely, faithful women who loved Jesus so much.
When they came to the tomb, they were utterly gobsmacked to see a stone rolled away, to meet a messenger from God, to hear that the Jesus they just watched being executed was alive again, that they were supposed to go meet him, and that they needed to go tell the other disciples. Our text says they witnessed all of this and then ran for their lives! As Mark puts it, “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.”
Thank God for a Gospel that tells it like it is for ordinary human beings to truly encounter God.
Thank God that it gives room for “terror and amazement,” for being stunned by inexplicable news of a man raised from the dead, for people who are not ready to jump in to the Easter Parade right away but who first run lickety-split away from that tomb like they’ve seen a ghost.
Thank God for a Gospel that doesn’t criticize them for being human as they tried to take it all in.
Thank God for being patient with these women, for giving them time to begin to process this.
And thank God for challenging us to do the same. We’re not here today just because it’s a special holiday on the annual calendar. We’re here because something happened in human history on a Sunday morning long ago that is still utterly impossible to fathom. Jesus of Nazareth, an itinerant rabbi in Israel, was executed as a criminal and buried. Then he rose again from the dead. Rose from the dead. That’s right, I said rose from the dead. Not resuscitated. Not brought back by CPR and placed on a ventilator in the hospital. But raised up in a new and eternal body as Lord of all.
If that doesn’t shake my world, I don’t know what will. If that doesn’t grab me with awe and amazement, indeed, if that doesn’t scare the wits out of me, then I’m not really getting it. If I ever simply take this for granted, if I can’t feel this in my gut, if it doesn’t take my breath away, if I lose the wonder and utter impossibility of this, then I’m just playing church.
God doesn’t want any of us to do that.
That’s why he gave us a resurrection story like the one here in the Gospel of Mark. “…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.”