Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? A song that you find yourself humming or singing over and over again? A song that no matter how hard you try and forget it just doesnʼt go away? That song is what Easter should be for the church.
Every year we come back to this same story of Jesus being crucified, buried, and raised again. But it isnʼt just today that we hear this story, we are going to be hearing about Christʼs resurrection for the next 7 weeks as we move through a season of the church year called Eastertide where we remember and retell the stories of the 50 days between Jesusʼ resurrection and ascension. And if you expected it to just end there. Think again because according to church tradition, every Sunday is supposed to be an Easter celebration of its own. Every Sunday we talk about the resurrection again.
With all this repetition then we should be thankful for Mark because he tells the story differently. In the world of Biblical studies there is a debate about where the gospel of Mark actually ends. The majority opinion is that Mark ends where we ended today, but other scholars tack on a few extra verses that includes Jesus appearing to the disciples and ascending into heaven. Printing companies usually include both versions, if you want to go home and compare. ”
If we go with the majority opinion, then Markʼs gospel is really strange and tells a much different kind of resurrection story than the other gospel writers because in it no one ever sees the resurrected Jesus. Instead of ending the gospel with the powerful image of Christʼs ascension into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father
Almighty; Mark ends his story with three women running out of cemetery scared out of their minds. Instead of ending the gospel with Christʼs great commission to go out into the world and preach the good news; one is left at the end of Markʼs gospel wondering if Jesusʼ apostles are even going to hear about his resurrection. Instead of ending the gospel with an awesome conclusion that ties up all the loose ends; Mark just stops writing in the middle of a sentence. And, instead of a resurrected Jesus; all Mark gives us is an empty tomb.
Although Markʼs retelling of the resurrection may provide a little variety. Even though he peppers his story with a little spice, quite frankly itʼs not enough. There is a big difference between an empty tomb and a resurrected Christ. An empty tomb can be a sign that Jesus was resurrected, but it can also mean that Jesusʼ body was stolen, or that the women just simply stumbled onto the wrong gravesite. And even though the angel offers the empty tomb as proof that Jesus was raised from the dead, it isnʼt good enough because it doesnʼt prove anything. It is a sign, a possibility, but it is nothing to build a faith on. It doesnʼt give us anything to hope in and it doesnʼt give us any reason to live our lives differently. An empty tomb doesnʼt mean anything in the face of death. Some of us know this from our own experience. When we finally realize that we are going to die, the angelʼs proclamation that he has been raised is far from our mind. In the deep pit of grief that comes with the loss of another person, no one really needs an empty tomb. What one needs is a guarantee, proof that the resurrection actually happened. And thatʼs something only a resurrected Jesus can give.
A risen Jesus shows us what resurrection really is and allows us to see how crazy and amazing such a hope is. The Christian belief in resurrection demonstrated first in Christ is not some pie in the sky spiritual metaphor. Symbols like spring flowers pushing up out of the wintry ground donʼt even begin to do it justice. The resurrection is much more real than that. It is much more physical. The Christian belief in the resurrection says that God will raise up the bodies of the dead and will give them new life. We wonʼt be like ghosts which have no body. Nor will we be like zombies. The promise of the resurrection is that we will be as we are now but different. Our bodies, broken, tired, and worn will be renewed and given new strength. But such a belief, such a promise rests on a resurrected Jesus, without whom such a hope fails. And without the resurrected Jesus our faith crumbles.
John Updike, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century in his poem Seven Stanzas at Easter describes the impossibility of faith without the resurrection. He writes,
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.1
But we never see the risen Christ in todayʼs gospel. More than that we have never seen the resurrected Christ at all. Like women who run away from the tomb with only the promise of Christʼs resurrection, we are expected to leave this building today and go about our week spreading the good news of Christʼs resurrection when we havenʼt seen it ourselves. It is such a beautiful story, isnʼt it? It is such a glorious hope. It is something we all want to be true so badly, and that we all need to be true. But we havenʼt see it ourselves and like the woman at the tomb that day, all we have to go on is the word of someone else. The best we can do is rely on someone elseʼs hope.
” Which is maybe why we are forced to come back to this thing so often. Maybe this is why, in the wisdom of the church we are meant to celebrate Easter every single Sunday. Because when we havenʼt seen the resurrection ourselves. When we havenʼt seen the pierced, withered and paused heart of Jesus enclosed with new strength. When we havenʼt touched the hinged thumbs and toes ourselves, we need someone to remind us again that “He has been raised.” When all we have to demonstrate the resurrection are symbols and metaphors like spring time flowers or new born babies we need to be reminded that the resurrection is more material than that. When our bodies begin to betray, we need to hear again that God didnʼt give up on the flesh and blood of his son, but raised it up and will do the same for us. And when death tries to stare us down, we need to hear the song of victory over death once again “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those within the tomb he has given new
1 John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” in Collected Poems: 1953-1993 (New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday, 1995).
life.”2 And hopefully if we hear it enough it will be like that song that get stuck in our head. That song that we just canʼt shake. That song that comes to us in our moments of greatest doubt and greatest fear. That song that will give us the boldness to say, “He has been raised” to any and all who can hear.