Who is the Risen Christ?

March 31, 2013


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Mar. 31, 2013

“Who is the Risen Christ?”
Mark 16:1-8

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. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.
5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But 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. 7But 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.” 8So 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 NRSV
That is the original end of the gospel of Mark: “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Many years later, a more pleasing end was added. Not a very Easter-y message. The Gospel of Mark rubs against the grain on Easter Sunday. With this un-finished ending, Mark seems to say that “it isn’t over until it’s over.” In a gospel filled with the miracles and mystery of the Son of God, we are left with missing-the-action men and women too frightened to move.

I have to admit that I have to fight back a natural resistance to the unfinishedness of Mark.
• Easter is supposed to be about resurrection… but this gospel doesn’t finish the story that way.
• Easter is supposed to be about hope, beauty, grace and life… but this gospel doesn’t finish the story that way.
• Easter is supposed to be wrapped up in a nice little package with colorful paper and a shiny bow… but that’s not how the gospel wraps it up.
It would be lovely to pronounce, “He is risen!” and go home. Instead, we are left with gaping mouths at an empty tomb.

But what if this refusal to satisfy our hunger for a happy ending is the gospel truth? What if history is more of a mystery than we can write, preach or sing? What if we come to the tomb prepared to decorate with eggs and anthems, expecting to find the Risen Christ, and instead there is some stranger telling us that he is not here and is not coming back?

What an anti-climactic, un-Eastery message! Empty. That word has a very negative connotation. Think of the times you have glanced at your car’s dashboard and realized with horror that the little red needle was near or on empty!

Empty. Have you ever driven down a dark, deserted street at night? There are no people in view; no cars moving; no glowing lights in the windows of houses. You get the feeling that it is not a good idea to be in your car alone. Empty streets cause fear.

Empty. Empty stomachs in the children shown on the news. Empty, vacant eyes starving for food and love. Empty factories once bustling with employees and work; now it stands empty and overgrown. We don’t like the feeling of empty, whether it is parents experiencing the “empty nest syndrome” or opening a warn wallet to find it empty, or a vague feeling of emptiness in one’s heart.

But the cause of Easter is just that: an empty tomb. That’s because, in the words of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, “Easter is not about an afterlife or about happy endings.” In fact, they suggest, it is better to understand the Easter story as another Biblical parable. In a parable, we set aside the facts and we look deeper into the story for truth that cannot be easily explained.

This is how Jesus wants his devotees to know him: not to limit him to a form 2000 years ago, but to understand his resurrection as omnipresence, to perceive him as present in the consciousness and action of all human beings. When we come to this realization, we are being spiritually resurrected with Jesus. As Episcopal priest Carter Heyward writes, “there are more faces of Jesus on earth, throughout history and all of nature, than we can begin to imagine.”

What if the resurrection of Christ is actually the seeds he planted coming to fruition within us? As we tend the teachings of Jesus within our spirits, and become more like him, we resurrect him in our own lives. When we act in ways consistent with Jesus’ life and teaching, we bring his spirit into union with our own.

Mark’s gospel ends with the empty tomb so that we are responsible for finishing the story. For some, Easter is simply a pleasant rite of spring, a happy milestone on the journey from a wearisome winter to the warm days and emerging greenery of April and May. And that is enough.

For some. But for Christians, that will never be enough! Easter has to be more – much more. Easter means that there is a promise that emptiness is not the condition for which we are made. The Gospel of Mark leaves the end for us to choose. It’s almost as if the resurrection of Christ depends upon the reader.

This week I received an Easter greeting email from a group of artistic nuns who create spiritual works of art. In the email was this poem. It speaks of “our metanoia” – a Greek word for “change of heart”. The sisters put into words the belief I share: that Jesus’ resurrection has less to do with the resuscitation of a body 2000 years ago, and more about the new life we are called to as Jesus’ followers:

Now is the moment of our metanoia –
a season of change; a time of forward movement.
Together we rejoice in the abundance and fullness of life
which we are called to embrace and to share.
Our Transformation. Our Spring.
Let us look toward the possibility, the abundance
and to the transformation to which Jesus calls us.
With eyes open, spirit attentive and sleeves rolled up…
let us follow this God of LIFE!
“Ministry of the Arts”. 2013
The Gospel of Mark leaves us to choose how the story ends. How will we respond to the news of an empty tomb? As we tend the teaching of Jesus within our spirits, and become more like him, we resurrect him in our own lives. When we act in ways consistent with Jesus’ life and teaching, we bring his spirit into union with our own. And that is resurrection. Let me offer some examples:
• Given the story of the Good Samarian, which Jesus taught, we are admonished to stand up for the injured and poor. We are to go out of our way to make certain that humanity – especially the disempowered – has what it needs. When we do this, Christ is resurrected.
• When we plant a tree, we are taking part in God’s good creation. We are perpetuating the goodness and wholeness of God’s work. When we do this, Christ is resurrected.
• When we show compassion for ourselves, our neighbors, and the earth, we are taking part in Christ’s resurrection.
• When we treat the other with respect, even when we don’t agree and don’t like her, we are taking part in Christ’s resurrection.
• When we show love in spite of our fear; when we trust rather than succumb to terror, we are taking part in Christ’s resurrection.
As Gandhi notably said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” When we are, we are taking part in Christ’s resurrection.
We decide how the gospel of the risen Christ ends. And the end has not been spoken yet.

Resources used:
“Empty Until Easter”, Kenneth L. Gibble, The Disciple (vol. 134, April 1996), p. 14-15.
“The Beginning of the End”, Heather Murray- Elkins, Abingdon Preacher’s Annual, (Nashville, Abingdon Press), p. 108-110.

Bible References

  • Mark 16:1 - 8