Community: Freedom in Christ


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Mark 16: 1-8


Community: Freedom in Christ

Mark 16:1-8


[prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be life-giving and life-affirming, O Holy One, for you are our hope and joy. Amen.]

Walk with me, if you will. Walk with me in the early morning mist. The sun has risen; the Sabbath is over – and so the women come, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome. The same women who stood apart witnessing Jesus’ crucifixion, watching until he had breathed his last, watching until Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Jewish Council, took Jesus’ body down from the cross and placed it into a tomb.

Now they come, early that morning, to finish the burial ritual – there wasn’t time, you see, before the Sabbath began at sundown. Not enough time to properly prepare Jesus’ body. And so, when the Sabbath was over, these women whom we are told had followed him in his ministry and cared for him in Galilee, came – this one final act of caring and all would be finished. In their grief and sorrow and pain, in their lack of understanding of all that Jesus had told them would happen – walking in the rays of the morning sun, wondering how they would ever roll away the stone. Its weight is so heavy. There are no guards here; Jesus is dead – there is nothing left to see.

I imagine it’s hard for many of us, all these years later, and already knowing the rest of the story – it’s hard to experience their amazement and awe, its hard to understand their shock and fear. They look up, we are told; they look up from their grief and ponderings, and see the stone had already been rolled back. I wonder if their steps faltered, perhaps wondering together who had arrived ahead of them – were they too late, was someone else already preparing the body? … Yet looking into the tomb, there was no body at all. Instead, there was a young man, in a robe of brilliant white – so pure it must be a messenger from God. … What would God want with us? What could this mean? … And then he tells them the most amazing thing – Jesus is not dead; he has been raised by God; and is going ahead of them to Galilee. … Jesus has been raised by God; you will see him just as he told you, go and tell the others.

Song: Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

Like the women at the tomb, I’ve come to understand that the empty tomb is not the end of the story but the beginning. The weeks of Lent have brought us on a journey with Jesus’ disciples to this place. Yet Easter tells us the tomb is not our destination; the empty tomb is our beginning. It is a place of calling, of consecration, and of sending. The word from the risen Christ is: I will be with you; God’s love is stronger than death.

Like the women at the tomb, we understand that Jesus’ resurrection isn’t a statement about ‘life after death.’ Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead to tell us what happens to us when we die. … No. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s comment on the crucifixion. Jesus’ resurrection affirms that God acts for love in all ways and at all times. It says: our hope is in God for life that begins today. … The empty tomb is the beginning of the story.

Like the women at the tomb, we learn that resurrection means transformation. It wasn’t a resuscitated Jesus who met them in Galilee, as if God simply breathed life back into his body. … Like the disciples, we learn that the journey through death into life transforms us in ways we cannot imagine. That we walk the journey through death into life with the risen Christ, both going ahead of us and by our side.

Like the women at the tomb, I pray…

Song: Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

I imagine Mary Magdalene – meeting Jesus for the first time, a woman weighed down by demons too numerous to name … and then in today’s story, standing free at the empty tomb – and I wonder: What is it the empty tomb is calling me to let go of? What is it God is inviting you to release and lay down so that the new beginning of this day might welcome you?

Our prisons of self-doubt, the burdens we carry (for ourselves and for one another), the sin and self-image that weigh us down, old pains, old habits, old ways of seeing and feeling. The empty tomb calls us to let them go, to release them – finding the courage to begin again, so we might ‘look up and see’ the stone has already been rolled away.

The empty tomb tells us of a God who redeems through love. For it was love that we witnessed through Jesus’ forgiveness and reconciliation, compassion and conviction. Even at the cross, we witness the depths of love in the way Jesus still says what he needs to say. In the way he leaves us with words of comfort and release, of lamentation and love.

It was love that guided Jesus on the Way. Throughout his ministry we see it:

  • Love for those who were disregarded by society (women, persons with mental illness, our transgender friends) – Jesus says: you matter, you are important here
  • Love for the ones held down by others (people of color, those who live in poverty) – Jesus says: let the oppressed go free; and give to each as they have need
  • Love for any who were weighed down by the burdens of living (homeless persons, the anguished in our midst) – Jesus says: take my yoke upon and you will find rest for your soul
  • Love for the foreigner in our midst (refugees and immigrants) – and Jesus says: the foreigner is one of us
  • Love for anyone who sought to walk with God, and love for those who did not – Jesus says: Love God with all you are, and love all others as yourself
  • Love for you and for me; love for each and for all

As we stand at the empty tomb this Easter morning, we recognize hope that cannot be defeated, joy that cannot be denied, peace that overcomes. Love always has the last word.

As a community of faith, we take hope in the calling of the empty tomb. The call to a new beginning; setting out on the Way of Christ. This call is to follow Jesus faithfully, as the disciples did, with world-changing awareness of his resurrection. God is at work in our lives and in the life of the world.

We have been drawn together to be a sign of the resurrection, and a sign of unity in this world where there is so much division and death. In our gathering together, we signify the power of God who transformed death into life. That is our hope: that God is doing the impossible – changing death into life inside each of us; and that perhaps, through our community, each one of us can be agents in the world of this transformation of brokenness into wholeness, and of death into life.

Carolyn Heilbrun has said: Power consists in deciding which story shall be told. … If that is true, then let us choose to tell the story of life, even in the face of suffering and death.

Love always has the last word. I pray you and I live this, today and every day.

Song: Shepherd us, O God, beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life.