Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go very early in the morning to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. And on the way they’ve been wondering who might roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb. But when they get there they see that the stone – which was very large – has already been rolled away. And so they go in, and there, they see . . . they see . . . some glow-in-the-dark-figure sitting where the body had been! And then they hear Mr. Glow-in-the-dark say that Jesus has been raised from death, that they need to go and tell Peter and the others that Jesus is waiting for them in Galilee – and so, as Mark’s original Greek has it, “they flee from the tomb for they’re undergoing trauma and having an out-of-body experience and they’re saying nothing to no one for they are terrorized.” And that’s where Mark’s telling of The Story ends!
Say what?? What about “that first Easter Day with joy was bright?” Where’d the brass section go? What happened to the timpani? Why no “thine is the glory”? Why no alleluias? Why only traumatized women, sans Easter bonnets, scared out of their skin, and filled with blood-chilled terror?
Why? Well, for starters, there’s what happened on Friday, when everything had turned out to be a monumental failure. Those who had followed Jesus, men and women alike, oh, they had been so confident that Jesus truly was the Messiah, the Messiah who would at last bring victory to the people, who would at last free the people from the Roman governments tyranny, who would make everything alright. But there Jesus was on Friday, hanging on yet another one of those Roman crosses, just one more in a long series of good guys finishing last, and one more Messianic dream dashed to pieces – and though the people were getting rather used to that . . . well, Jesus’ followers had actually dared to hope that . . . perhaps . . . this Jesus Messiah would be different. And maybe things actually could have been different if all of Jesus’ disciples, the men and the women had only been more involved, had been more visionary, more missional, had a better mission statement. Perhaps they should have all gotten some leadership training. Or volunteered more. Or hired outside consultants to conduct focus groups to help them find the right organizational strategies. Maybe if they had written some better social teaching statements or been more culturally relevant. Maybe they hadn’t been inclusive enough or maybe they had tried too hard to be everything to everybody. Hard to say – at any rate, they had quite obviously failed to bring in the reign of Christ.
As pay-back we get – Christ’s death – meaning that the old, destructive, lying, conniving, turned-in-on-self self that would rather be right than loving has, in the eternal gaze of God, died with Christ – and a new self – a new self! – has already in God’s time-outside-of-time risen with Christ from death…
And then there was the behavior of Peter and the boyz – Peter, Thursday night, denying he ever even knew Jesus; Peter and all the rest who had sworn their eternal allegiance quite noticeably absent from Jesus’ Friday noon execution – hiding no doubt under their beds, worried about their own hides; forget about the one they called their Lord and Master. Too, the women wondered – even though they alone among Jesus’ followers had been beneath the cross, perhaps there was something they could’a’, would’a’, should’a’ done differently, something perhaps to have eased Jesus’ pain and suffering.
Running through their heads in that instant, too, was the memory of all those enigmatic, puzzling, exasperating one-liners Jesus was always throwing out about him being killed and on the third day rising – but they and the other disciples had thought all that talk was maybe some sort of coded message that only a select few of Jesus’ followers understood, some sort of coded message as to the day and time Jesus would muster his supporters to begin their overthrow of the Roman occupation force, some sort of coded message about the day and time when Jesus would ride, on a great, white steed, ride triumphant into Jerusalem to begin his Messianic reign. As it turned out Jesus actually had been killed just as he had said he would be – and now these women were hearing with their own ears on this third day that Jesus was risen indeed. They had all, obviously, all misunderstood everything, and this resurrection business must mean Jesus was way more than they knew – only God could conquer death – and if God had raised Jesus . . . and if Jesus somehow really was God as some had thought . . . well, this resurrection thing could only mean . . . . . . it was payback time. That’s why their blood ran cold with terror.
The whole situation was as if . . . as if . . . Jesus’ own followers, together with Jesus’ adversaries, indeed, along with all humankind had on Friday been collectively driving a big, loaded semi, driving a big old 18-wheeler too fast, out of control, under the influence – whatever – and had done a hit-and-run number on Jesus, Son of God, true God from true God, had made road-kill out of God – and now, this Jesus (oh why hadn’t they understood him?!?) this Jesus, once splattered all over the road, had come back from the dead and was waiting for them all – waiting around the bend for all humankind, waiting at the next truck stop and, sure-as-sure-could-be, pay-back time was at hand. And pay-back time, the women knew, is always hell. And no one, no-how, was going to get off scot-free.
And yes. The women were correct (aren’t they always?). There would indeed be a pay-back, and no one was going to get off scot-free. And what was the pay-back, you ask? The pay-back is the best part. In pay-back for our cowardice, our self-aggrandizing ambitions, our desire to control God, our desire to be God; in pay-back for things we have done and things we have left undone; in pay-back for our loathing the neighbor (especially those ass-hat legislators who pass laws making it once again OK to discriminate); in pay-back for our hatred of the enemy; in payback for our thinking that it is up to us to bring in the reign of God; in payback for all the ill that human kind has ever done, is doing, and ever shall be doing – in payback for all these things and more, we, along with the cowardly, deserting, denying disciples; we, along with the Judean religious authorities, the Romans, and those who shouted “crucify the jerk” – we along with all human kind receive as pay-back . . . . . Christ. As pay-back we get – Christ’s death – meaning that the old, destructive, lying, conniving, turned-in-on-self self that would rather be right than loving has, in the eternal gaze of God, died with Christ – and a new self – a new self! – has already in God’s time-outside-of-time risen with Christ from death – and God – absolutely giddy about this payback scheme – has declared that in the sight of God we are already completely righteous as Christ, and with Christ and in Christ we are already risen and already at home with God – though not quite yet while we are still stuck in this earthly wrinkle in time – but risen from the grave just the same and already dwelling in light everlasting. Payback – it’s resurrection for you and for me and for everybody and for free. No decisions to make, no good works to carry out, nothing to buy, – nothing to do except hear it over and over and over and over again so that we actually come to trust that it really is all true.
And just in case you say you would like to opt out of payback time . . . . . . I’ve got news for you . . . God is waiting around the bend, at the next truck stop . . . and your payback time will come . . . and you too will be raised from the dead.