~ Mark 16:1-8 ~
I think it fair to say, without Easter, we wouldn’t know about Jesus. I mean, if the story had ended with Jesus dying on a Roman cross, just like so many other thousands of Jews in those days, he would have been forgotten. Indeed, without Easter there wouldn’t even have been a “Good Friday,” for any and all who had followed him would have scattered, no one to give meaning to his death.
So, for the Christian faith, Easter is utterly central. Is it for you? Ah, you might not be so sure. Maybe you have hang-ups about whether Jesus walking out of the tomb 2000+ years actually happened. A skeptic, you might be.
I must admit that when I’m out and about in my car, I do some radio surfing. Did you know there are many of religious radio stations in the Bay Area? And, of course, during this past week almost every program was talking about ‘proofs’ of the resurrection, making the case for historical factuality. Indeed, they often argue that every detail of the story has to be factually, literally, and infallible true. It’s either all true or its not at all. That, indeed, if you were there with an iPhone you could record it all. And to that you might say, “No, I don’t think so.”
And, yet, it still must be said, Easter is utterly central to our faith. But we don’t have to demand historical factuality to affirm that. Rather, you may, as have I, come to realize that the story of the resurrection is more than historically true, it is profoundly true. It need not be factually true to be true. Instead, it can be true in ways that parables are true. They are profoundly true. That is not to say that Jesus rising form the dead didn’t happen, but when we encounter the resurrection story as parable the historicity isn’t the issue. Rather, we can delve more deeply into what it means, what it means for living, what it means to be called back to life again.
So, in turning to the story as told by Mark we are struck by several oddities. For one, it is extremely brief – only eight verses! Mark doesn’t record any post-resurrection appearances by Jesus. And Mark’s story ends very abruptly with the witnesses running away in terror and fear.
Yet Mark’s is a profound truth-filled story. What is that story? Jesus lives! “You will see him,” says the young man, dressed in white. That’s what those reading Mark’s story knew to be true. Indeed, the affirmation “Jesus lives” is at the core of the experience of Christians through the centuries. You might say that the person of Jesus is experienced by us as the Christ. This we affirm. Jesus lives.
But Mark’s story also affirms another truth: God has vindicated Jesus. God has said ‘yes’ to Jesus and ‘no’ to the powers who killed him. Again, that young man, dressed in white, says: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” None of the authors of the gospels ever speak about Jesus’ resurrection without speaking about his crucifixion by the powers. With the Easter story, God vindicates what happened on Good Friday. Easter affirms that the domination systems of the world are not of God and they don’t have the final word.
Death and resurrection – they necessarily go together. Which is why the images invoked in the hymn we will sing next are so compelling. A seed, a grain of wheat, is buried in the dark earth; it is dead, so to speak. It lays there in the ground through many wintry days. But, when all seems lost, the green blade rises, breaking through the crusted earth, reaching up to the sun, growing into new life.
Of course, the hymn is a metaphor, a parable if you will, about Easter. Christ came forth at Easter. Jesus who lay in the tomb for three days following his crucifixion has quickened and is seen. Love, whom hate had slain, was buried in the grave; hope seemed lost, thinking Love was forever gone. But Love came forth and hope was restored.
The long winter of this past year has, in many ways, seemed like that buried grain, all but dead. We yearn for the sun to bring us back to life. We wonder if we’ll live again. Our hearts have been grieving, many in pain, wintry chills rattle inside us. But the promise of Easter is that the Christ who lives in us touches us, calling us back to life again. The fields of our hearts that seemed dead and bare can be alive with the sprouts of wheat that rises green, for Love is come again. So, let us sing this Easter hymn: Now the Green Blade Rises. Amen.