Afraid of Easter?

Mark 16:1-8

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

I went back as many years as I have record for – to determine which gospel text I have most often preached from on Easter Sunday. The result? 60% of my messages were from John 20 – where Jesus is mistaken as the gardener and calls Mary’s name. 30% were from Luke 24 – the road to Emmaus account – which also happens to be my favorite post-resurrection text. The remaining 10% of the time I spoke from Matthew or Mark. Mark is hard because it ends with verse 8 where the women run away in fear, saying nothing to anyone because they’re so afraid. What kind of Easter message is that?

Some of our Bibles may still have verses 9-20 printed. But these verses are not found in most of the earliest manuscripts of the Bible. Most scholars believe that they were added later. Maybe ancient folk thought verse 8 was a bad place to end as well…. and wanted to fix it up a bit; to make it more positive and Easter-like.

Does the Mark account here – particularly verse 8 – have something important to tell us?

  1. Verse 8 – More Authentic? What was that first Easter really like?

It’s hard to put ourselves in their places. But perhaps the Mark account is closer to the feeling level of the women and disciples as they first heard reports of Jesus’ resurrection.

We become used to celebrating Holy Week, starting with the triumphal entry, moving through the last supper on Thursday, remembering the cross on Good Friday, staying quiet on Saturday…. and then suddenly attending worship on Easter Sunday morning while greeting each other with “He is Risen!”  “He is Risen Indeed!” We know the story well… so it’s not hard to make the transition from death to life. Even overnight!

But how about them? The shock of seeing their Lord hanging and dying on a cross as they all fled…. was surely too great to suddenly have the news that He was alive and well turn their sorrow into instant joy. It MUST have been confusing.. and frightening.

2. Verse 8 – More Realistic? Remember the single grain of wheat that falls to the ground?

Two weeks ago I shared a message from a gospel text about the single grain of wheat. Remember that grain of wheat… that seed? The one that must die?

It takes time for the seed husk to die away and for the germination to take place. It takes time before the new plant pokes it’s head up through the soil and shows its new life. It takes time for that single seed to grow into a harvest. Jesus used that metaphor of a single seed dying to describe his own death. I’m guessing that Jesus also understood the time that would be required before his death would produce a bountiful harvest.

We know from other Biblical accounts that eventually the women’s fear and bewilderment DID turn into excitement and joy. But not right away. It took time. It took them days, and weeks, and in some cases probably years before the true meaning of Jesus’ resurrection took hold in their lives – and the fear was replaced by joy. Is verse 8, that ends with the fear and anxiety of the women – more realistic than a report of resurrection and instant joy?

3. Verse 8 – More Like Us in 2021?

How are you doing on Easter Sunday of 2021?  This is our 2nd Easter on zoom – without the chance to worship together in the sanctuary. Perhaps you feel a gap between your experience of the last year …. and the proclamation of resurrection?

Almost 3 million people have died of COVID around the world in the past year. For many, death feels far more powerful right now than life. For many, the struggles of losing jobs, income, family, and hope … create a gap between their experience and the message of Easter – the promise that death is NOT the final word. How about you? Are you feeling more anxiety and fear about the days ahead… than confidence and joy?

I think the message of Mark 16:8 for us this year is that it’s OK to feel that gap. It’s OK not to feel suddenly victorious. The resurrection of Jesus is true – it was a historical fact no matter how the disciples experienced it. His death and resurrection would change their lives  – and the world – even if they didn’t understand it on day one.

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!” And because of that, give yourself some time this year. Don’t worry if you don’t feel victorious, or if you don’t feel like you’ve suddenly won the lottery. You’ve won far more than that… salvation and eternal life – but it may take some time until you become fully aware of it! It may take some time for us to be reminded of the resurrection power that has been promised to each of us!  Take a deep breath…

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

(the above is a summary of the message shared on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021 during our zoom worship session. Thoughts and inspiration for this meditation come from a blogpost by Debi Thomas, entitled “Slow Easter”, at the Journey With Jesus website.)