It’s a challenge to preach on Mark 16:1-8. Here is one of my attempts at it.
It’s Wide Open!
A Sermon on Mark 16:1-8
On their way to the tomb, the women thought their big problem was the stone sealing the entrance. And it was very big and heavy–huge, Mark notes. The women wondered aloud who would roll it back for them. But this wasn’t all that big of a problem. If worst came to worst, and nobody was around, they could always go find somebody in town and come back.
The stone was their problem, the women thought. Get that one solved, then they could finish giving Jesus a proper burial, and then they could head home to Galilee. They were filled with sorrow, of course. But they knew what to expect: grieving, but also going on with life as best they could. Get the stone problem solved, do one last act of caring for Jesus, then go home and figure out what next.
It was a shock to find the tomb already wide open! What’s more, somebody was in there, and it wasn’t Jesus! He was gone. And here was a messenger dressed all in white. “Don’t be afraid,” the messenger said. Their hearts must have nearly stopped. “Don’t be afraid,” he said, the first thing that just about every messenger from God says.
“I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the one they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up. He’s not here any more. Look and see: the place where he was is now empty. Now you get going. Tell his disciples, and Peter, that he is going on ahead of you all to Galilee. You will see him there, exactly as he told you.”
Notice: the messenger didn’t say, “There you might see him,” or “There you can see him,” or “There you should see him.” The messenger said, “There you will see him.” No question. They were definitely going to see him.
The place for them to go was home, to Galilee. But Galilee was so much more: it was the place where they met Jesus the first time. In Mark chapter 1, Jesus starts his ministry by moving into Galilee after the arrest of John the Baptist. The gospel story is getting ready to start all over again in Galilee. Galilee was the place where the disciples and the women all first got called, where Jesus taught hard lessons, healed the sick, battled demons and so much more. What would Jesus do this time? If past history is any indication, Jesus was going to do much more than simply greet them, “Hi, friends! How are you? Good to see you again.” He was going to ask something of them. He might even start in again on that business about the call to take up the cross.
No wonder the women were afraid! This isn’t cowardice or timidity here. This is holy fear in the presence of God, as when the prophet Ezekiel fell down in a heap when he saw the glory of God. As when the shepherds feared a great fear when angels appeared to them. As when the woman who had been healed from the flow of blood by touching Jesus’ robe came to him in fear and trembling and told him the whole story. As when the disciples were amazed when Jesus stilled the storm. This is appropriate, holy awe. They were stunned.
As if an intense experience of the presence of God weren’t enough to blow these faithful women away, there was more. Resurrection means there is now no more status quo! If the dead stay dead, you generally know what to expect. But if the dead don’t stay dead, who knows what will happen? Something new and utterly astounding is happening here. The power of God is on the move. This is nothing less than the start of a brand new creation! The tomb’s not the only thing that’s wide open. The future is wide open! With a God who raises the dead, anything can happen!
And then there’s Peter. “Be sure and tell Peter,” the messenger insisted. What was the Lord going to say to Peter? After what Peter did, insisting he’d go all the way to the death with Jesus, and then denying he even knew Jesus at all? This meeting might not be pretty! It was all wide open!
The women had thought the stone was their big problem. Well, now they had something much bigger on their hands. Here’s how one of my seminary professors, Jim Mays, put it: the problem is no longer that they can’t find Jesus. Now the problem is they can’t escape him. When you get back to Galilee, you’re going to see him. There’s no question.
It really is going to be as Psalm 139 says, “Where can I flee from your presence?” Answer: nowhere! The living Lord is out there, and they are going to see him.
And he’s going to be right where they saw him before: in Galilee, with the sick, the suffering, the outcast, the hungry, the least, the last and the lost . Jesus is going to be in the place of pain and need, just as he was before. Jesus is going to meet his followers back in Galilee, home, where real life is. And when he does, they had better expect a call, expect a mission, expect a cross.
Yes, I think Mark knew what he was doing when he left us with three women stunned into speechlessness, running away from the tomb. Mark is realistic. Everybody in his gospel is so human. All the way through the gospel, the disciples have trouble understanding. They don’t get it. They especially don’t get the word about the cross. And they’re quick to speak. They keep putting their feet in their mouths. Remember how Peter tried to rebuke Jesus for saying that the road to life went through the cross? In the Gospel of Mark, it is for everybody just as it was for that anguished father in chapter 9 who cried out, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”
Now on Easter morning, these women do get it. They see the magnitude of what God is up to. And they are appropriately speechless.
A wide-open future certainly does evoke fear. It’s unsettled. It’s got variables. It’s interesting and understandable how we often want our faith to settle the future, reduce the variables, close the future in with certainties. And there is certainly a sense in which it does that: no question. God loves us. No question. God is our ultimate destiny. We know where we’re going.
But often we want Jesus and the church to be primarily an institution that serves our security, another on the list of things we need in life. This is our bank, our home, our doctor, our lawyer. These are our routines. This is our Jesus, and this is our church. These are our religious routines, our church routines. They are all here to promote our comfort and security.
These women running from the tomb know that’s not all there is to it. They know a living Savior is out there somewhere, the one who asks hard things of us. Life with our Savior is much more than an insurance policy for the next life. Life with a risen Lord is life in the world today. This is a call. This is a ministry. This is a cross.
If we truly start to comprehend the implications of that for the way we live every day, for the way we live as the body of the risen Lord Jesus, if we “get it,” then Easter ought to shake us up. It certainly is a joy. But a certain kind of fear and awe is also appropriate. If God can raise the crucified Jesus from the dead, then God can pull together a tiny group of followers who have such a hard time “getting it,” and build a worldwide church out of them. And if God can do that with that tiny, timid, trembling fellowship, what will he do with this little fellowship at Morton? It’s wide open! Resurrection is serious business. Best not be too quick to speak.
Overwhelmed, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, burst out of the tomb and ran. Heads swimming, they didn’t say a word to anybody.
The tomb is wide open. So is our future. This is a new creation. The risen Lord is out there in the world today, looking to meet us there, calling us to take up the cross and follow him. We can run and hide, the way Adam and Eve did after the first creation. Or we can run to meet our Savior, run to meet our future in Galilee. The choice is open.
It’s wide open.
Thanks be to God!