On the Road
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The resurrection story we just read from Mark may not be the one you are most familiar with. Where is Peter running to the tomb? Where are the angels? Where is the spectacular? The reading to day ends with the women frozen by fear and Jesus moving on the road.
Now you may say, Pastor, why didn’t we read the rest Mark 16? Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene then the twelve. Then he commissions them and ascends to the right hand of God the Parent. Well, (It is Bible Nerd time) if you look in some translations, after verse 8 you see a note that says “shorter ending” and then around verse 10 “longer ending.” The longer ending of Mark was the accepted ending of the Gospel until around the mid-1800s when Constantine Tishcendorff discovered a codex or book of scripture at the Monastery of St. Catherine at the supposed site of Mt. Sinai. This codex had several differences between it and the common cannon of the day. One of the most noticeable is that the Gospel of Mark ended at verse 8, the ending we heard today.
But why not just keep reading? Well, it turns out once they were able to study the codex it turns out that it is the oldest of the existing manuscripts of the Bible. It dates to the mid-third century, around the same time as the fathers of the Western Church were beginning to nail down the cannon. It is the oldest complete manuscript we have. And it’s validity of Mark ending at 16:8 is confirmed by the second oldest complete manuscript the Codex Vaticianus which dates from around the same time.
It is thought the other endings were added not by the author of Mark, but by disciples of Matthew and Luke who thought that the Mark’s Gospel ended too abruptly and that it needed a similar closure as their gospels. And maybe it does, but for today, let’s see this ending for what it is…the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God – the opening words of the Gospel of Mark!
(Scene 1 – To the tomb)
The day did not begin with good news. The women solemnly gathered their oils and ointment. They filled their bags with new cloths and spices to anoint the body of the one whom they loved. The one who was crucified a few days before – who died a criminal’s death. The last several days had been a storm of emotions. The thunder and winds that accompanied his death were but weak symbols for the grief they felt.
There watched from a distance as Jesus was lifted up like a common cut-throat; they watched as the one who rescued them, who welcomed them, who treated them as women of honor, was left hanging on a tree. He was so strong and yet compassionate; so fully of Holy Fire yet a friend; so tired yet so willing to listen – Jesus called them friends and now they watched – hearts breaking into a million pieces as he cried out.
They could not hear the words he said, but the moan they heard was one of total abandonment. In that cry they heard love poured out. They remembered how time and again Jesus healed the sick and exorcised the demons only to be ridiculed and taunted by those who were the religious leaders. They saw that no matter how hard he tried to show the Reign of God – everyone missed it. And now, from the distance, they see how such love is treated. The grief was accompanied by dread.
The dread brought with it fear. The words he spoke reverberated in their ears…”I will tear down this temple and rebuild it in three days.” “If anyone wants to become my follower let them take up their cross and follow me.” Is this what he meant? That they should suffer as he has. Fear slithered into them like a serpent through the grass. Grief, dread, and fear seared their psyche as they watched from the distance.
And now, days later they make their way to the tomb – wondering how they will move the stone sealing the door. Eyes cloudy with tears they did not realize at first what had happened, and like the sun making its way over the horizon early that morning it dawned on them that the tomb door was opened. The emotional triad climbed to stratospheric proportions as they saw the empty tombs – 10,000 questions filled their heads. “What happened?” “Is he still there?” “Was his body stolen to be displayed as a criminal?” Questions echoing then the empty cave as the entered in and saw a first the empty place where he was laid and in a flash they saw someone sitting there – who must have been there the whole time.
He was the boy who had been following Jesus of late. They could not place where he came from, but he was beautiful. Young with the complexion of a divine being, he sat there in the tomb and said, “Shhh. Don’t be alarmed. Are you looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified? He has been raised! He’s not here! Look, see. But, go, tell his disciples and especially Peter, who denied him, that he is going a head of you to Galilee. When you get there you will see him, just as I told you.”
The grief, the dread, the fear drove them from the empty tomb. They fell to the ground weeping. Afraid. They did not tell anyone, for they were afraid.
(Scene 2: At our tomb)
The women, seized by fear told no one what they had seen. They were blinded by the tomb and all that death brings. They could not hear what the boy was saying, let alone believe that it was true. They were trapped at the tomb – stuck on death’s doorstep.
As we gather together this Easter morning, it is easy to cast blame on the women – how could they not tell, we ask? What was wrong with them? Friends we have had 2,000 years to process the grief. This, for them, was a fresh wound and the bandage had been ripped off slowly and the pain was all too fresh. We have the blessing of tradition and the retelling and retelling of this story to help us come to grips with the fact that the tomb was empty, and yet, even so how many times are we trapped at the tomb afraid to follow Jesus to Galilee?
How many times have we stood there silent when what is going on demands that we speak out?
When we see a stranger being taken advantage of – or even a friends, How many times have we said, There but for the grace of God go I?
What about the time we watched as someone was beaten up when we were at school and we could not muster the courage to say, this is wrong? The time we sat in silence as the bullies prey on the weak?
We are frozen at the tomb when he hear the cries for help and pretend that we don’t.
When the news gets so depressing that we shut off – 130 killed intentionally by a pilot, 147 Kenyans murdered by terrorists.
When the public discourse has become so divisive that anyone who disagrees with us is labeled the enemy and must be destroyed. Laws are passed that open up the slippery slope of discrimination, and pizza places are threatened to be burned down – all because there is a failure to see each other as precious in the eyes of God. It doesn’t matter on which side of the fence you lean – this fundamental principle is lost because we are trapped at the tomb.
We are trapped at the tomb to afraid to stand up to a system that disproportionately imprisons black and brown men – a system that determines how many prison beds to make by third grade reading scores. A system that is paid by how man beds are filled. A system that has privatized parole and drug testing, making it too expensive for a returning citizen to pay the fees, especially when there are no jobs open to someone with a record. We are trapped at the tomb afraid to name the injustice.
We get lost watching from the distance – we stand trembling at the tomb – afraid – just as afraid as the women because we can’t see it. We can’t hear the good news because there seemingly isn’t any.
(Scene 3: It’s empty!)
But while the women were cowering in fear, while we are paralyzed and afraid – the tomb is empty! You hear that, the tomb is empty! Jesus ain’t in it anymore. He has been raised and is on his way to Galilee! He is on the road home. He is calling for us to join him on the road.
While lost in our fear and afraid to take up the cross, something amazing has happened – Jesus has been raised and is continuing the work of the Reign of God. He wants us to join him on the road. He wants us to see the empty tomb and rejoice and come with him as he continues the work. He even leaves us a messenger to tell us that he is not there. He has been raised. But even so, the messenger’s voice gets lost in the confusion and chaos. But Jesus keeps on going, and will be waiting in Galilee.
Jesus is going a head of us on the road to raise up the valleys and make low the mountains. Jesus is headed to Galilee to make the rough ground in front of us plain and the rugged road a broad valley. Jesus knows that the idea of resurrection is implausible – illogical, and he knows that it is hard to make sense of, and yet – there he goes – in front of us.
It seems obvious that at least someone who was there that day so long ago overcame their fear and made their way to Galilee, or was it that when the looked up they saw Jesus there on the road. They say that he was in front of them leading them. That the risen Christ is proof that nothing – nothing is impossible of our God. I would like to think it is the later. That in their fear and through their tears they looked up and saw Jesus and in seeing him, their hope was restored. There ahead of them they saw the promise of the rebuilt temple. The temple that is a living connection between God and humanity.
And as they saw Jesus on the road and were empowered to take the steps toward healing, we continue to see Christ on the road.
As two mourning disciples were headed home to Emmaus, Christ was on the road.
As the persecutor Saul was on his way to arrest and torture the new people of the way, Christ was on the road. On the road reconciling the world to himself. On the road forgiving and renewing.
As the stones were being hurled as Stephen, Christ was ahead of him on road – welcoming him to Glory.
As Perpetua and Felicity were in the gladiators ring, and the wild beast charged at the, Christ was on the road ahead of them – giving them a message for the ages. The power of the Risen Christ is stronger than even death.
Move ahead ahead in time to the doors of Wittenberg and Martin Luther nailing to the them the 95 theses that began a reformation that fundamentally changed how the faith is understood, and there is Christ on the road promising protection during the upcoming trails.
There on the road is the Risen Christ when another Martin Luther, this one a King is leading and oppressed people to the promised land. Across the Edmund Pettus bridge, the risen Christ is ahead parting the sergeants of segregation.
Christ is on the road ahead, leading you out of the valley – away from the tumult of the tomb.
The risen Christ is ahead of you making a way out of no way. Clearing away those roadblocks that keep you from God.
The Risen Christ is there on the road as voices rise up against discrimination and call for reconciliation instead of retaliation.
The Risen Christ is there on the road ahead, turning over tables, as people, fed up with a status quo of the haves walking on the backs of the have nots, as the people stiffen their backs and say no more. We are not the playthings of those with power, but children of the living God. The God of life. The God who takes the shackles of death and smashes them forever.
The Risen Christ is there on the road of sorrow and grief, building resting spot. Places of sabbath, of rest, of reflection and grace. The risen Christ there on the road with you.
Beloved – This is the day that puts to and end, forever there roadblocks that keep you from the love of God. This is the day that being afraid at the tomb is turned into joy that empowers new life – a resurrected live. This is the day that the promise of Christ is fulfilled for Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!
Thanks be to God!