According to the Gospel of Mark, less than forty-eight hours after Jesus had been buried in a tomb hewn out of rock, three women whose lives had been changed due to his ministry made the journey to his tomb in order to anoint his body. As they walked, they wondered about practical details such as who would roll away the stone from the tomb’s entrance so they could access Jesus’ body, yet upon their arrival they saw that the stone had already been rolled away. When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe who told them that Jesus the Nazarene, the one who had been crucified, had risen, and to go to Galilee where they would see him. The text then says they went away in terror and amazement, despite the young man’s admonition to not be alarmed, failing to immediately fulfill his demand to inform the disciples, telling nothing to anyone due to their fear.
The Gospel of Mark originally ended abruptly after their fleeing from the tomb, with the disciples unnotified about this stunning event, with the young man’s claims about the rising of Jesus unconfirmed. Later manuscripts added a neater ending to the text, wrapping things up more in line with the other three canonical Gospels, featuring Jesus’ appearances to the disciples and his ascension. Yet, personally, I find something very human, very relatable about the ending of Mark as originally written. The news delivered to these women was shocking, jarring, honestly quite unbelievable. They had every right to ask themselves a number of perfectly understandable questions: Who is this person telling us these things about our dear friend? Why is he making up this story? Where is Jesus’ body?
I wrote on Good Friday that the crucifixion is not an event consigned to the distant past, but one that reoccurs in various guises in our present age. Similarly, while the resurrection is something that occurred in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, it is also an event that we can bear witness to millennia later. We catch a glimpse of the resurrection wherever what once was hopeless bears new fruit in a way previously unforeseen, whenever that which was death-dealing is qualitatively and creatively transformed into something life-giving, affirming love, beauty, and truth. As Christians, we affirm that what happened on Easter Sunday was uniquely decisive and singular, and not merely a story about the past. And this decisiveness lies in the fact that the resurrection remains an event that we are able to witness, and testify to, even today.
As witnesses of the resurrection, as those who have heard about it from its original participants, we are compelled to make a decision. While the last we see of the women in Mark’s original ending shows them running away from the tomb, shocked and possibly horrified by what they have seen – or, perhaps more accurately, by what they have not seen – there is a shorter ending, likely added by another author, that tells us that the women “quickly reported” what they had seen to the apostles, allowing for this news to spread in ways it would not have otherwise. The women’s initial reactions make a certain amount of sense, both logically and emotionally. It is hard to imagine something has been truly transformed, that death has been defeated. In many instances, it is even harder to face the newness offered in this moment as a welcoming presence, finding it preferable to stay in well-trod habits of being that may not bring the most life into the world, but are nevertheless comfortable, what we know. In this way, the resurrection is not merely something that one witnesses, for it is also something that confronts us, asking us if we will flee in terror and amazement or choose to share the hope it offers with others, inviting them to join us in a new reality that cannot be anticipated, but only entered into.
The young man in Mark highlights the fact that the Risen Christ is also the Crucified Jesus, that there is an ineluctable relationship between the two that cannot be ignored or brushed over, showing that there is an absolute connection between Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Too often we fail to see this dual nature of Jesus, believing that he was essentially a superhuman or that his death on the cross was the culmination of his earthly ministry rather than its tragic end. Yet the resurrection, as much as anything else, bears witness to the triumph of Jesus’ ministerial vision over all attempts to extinguish it. You cannot believe, truly, sincerely, in the Risen Christ without also believing in the Kingdom of Heaven – its presence and its coming.
We do not come to believe in the resurrection as a piece of knowledge, as if believing in Jesus’ coming back to life one Sunday morning is all there is to it – one can believe that Jesus started walking and talking after his death and still not believe in the resurrection. Instead, to believe in the resurrection is to believe in an event – the absolute event of the Christian tradition. It is that which grounds our hope and undergirds all faith in Jesus as the Christ. This event tells us that what currently appears hopeless may not be – in spite of all rational evidence to the contrary. It proclaims that death and destruction and oppression do not have the final word about our existence, for the meaning of the resurrection is that God turns death into life. It displays, concretely and absolutely, that the Kingdom of Heaven which Jesus proclaimed throughout his ministry is indeed already present, in our midst, waiting to be recognized and furthered.
The resurrection is not about the resuscitation of a corpse. If it were, then we would be forced to equally venerate the ‘resurrections’ of the children raised by Elijah and Elisha in 1 and 2 Kings, Lazarus in the Gospel of John, and multiple other examples throughout the Bible. There is something then that makes the resurrection of Jesus qualitatively and absolutely distinct from these other examples. Resuscitation is essentially a continuation of life, allowing one to pick up one’s life where they left off. The resuscitated are changed, certainly, but not essentially – their mortality remains and they are bound to die again, this time with no hope of continuing their earthly existence. Resurrection, however, is not about continuing one’s present life, but about entering into a new kind of life, a new reality, a new state of being that we are compelled to participate in ourselves. An encounter with the Risen Lord means that our life cannot continue as it did before, that there is something changed irrevocably within us. In the words of St. Paul, we are a new creation for the old has passed away. As it did for the three women in Mark, such an encounter with the Risen Christ may cause terror and amazement, but more than that, it leads to new understanding of self and the world, leading to the transformation of both.
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