An Empty Tomb and an Open Future

Mark 16:1-8

John 20:1-19

What is the stone that stands in your way? What boulder blocks your vision of a joyful future, constricting your imagination, dashing your dreams and filling you with dread?

Women take center stage in the Easter stories. They are the first ones to receive the great commission to “Go and tell the disciples that Christ is risen.” They are also last ones at the cross, after all but one of the men has fled, and they are the first to the tomb in Mark’s gospel, to share with their teacher and friend one final act of love, by preparing his body for burial.

That Sunday morning, these women were in despair. Not only had their beloved teacher died, but his death was unexpected and brutal at the hands of Roman soldiers and religious leaders.

For most of us, viewings, funerals, and memorial services are difficult. We are often emotionally and spiritually drained, numb, and sometimes tears flow without warning. But, this act of letting go was even more difficult for Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James. As they trudged toward the tomb, the women were in deep despair. They are beside themselves as they speculate about the sealed tomb, “Who will roll away the stone for us?”   The stone securing the tomb from robbers and animals was beyond their strength to budge.

“Who will roll away this stone?” Who will move the insurmountable object standing in the way of our future, preventing us from showing our love to Jesus one last time? Nothing but hopelessness and darkness lies ahead.

And, then, the impossible, “the stone is rolled away.” The two Mary’s are so overwhelmed that they are initially unable to share the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. What’s just happened is beyond belief; yet it is the only thing they can believe as darkness turns to light, and the finality of death gives way to the promise of eternal life. The tomb is empty! Christ is risen!

The earliest versions of Mark’s gospel end with an empty tomb and the promise of an open future. Mark doesn’t give us details or proof: the empty tomb suffices to proclaim to all that Christ is alive! Every obstacle to our ultimate joy, even death, has been overcome.

So, ends the first gospel account of Jesus’ resurrection.

The Gospel of John gives us another image of resurrection. Ironically, the multiple stories of Jesus’ resurrection are good news, rather than sources of doubt and confusion. The resurrection can never be fully described; it is always more than we can imagine, and thus inspires many perspectives and viewpoints.

In John, Mary Magdalene again takes center stage. Once again the tomb is empty, and Mary is bereft. “Where have they taken Jesus?” she cries. In her grief, she encounters a man she assumes is a gardener, and pours out her heart to him.

In the midst of the conversation, the stranger calls out her name, “Mary,” “Mary.” And she knows that it is Jesus. Mary is transformed by words of a friend, and that too is the resurrection. In the midst of our grief and fear of the future, we may hear a voice, calling us by our true name, and awakening new life in us. What has died is reborn and our spirits soar.

Mary is ecstatic and she wants to hold onto Jesus, but he says, “Wait a bit.” My new life, this energetic body, is still emerging and you can’t identify me with this particular body anymore. I am no longer limited by embodiment, culture, time, or religion. From now on you will find me everywhere. You will find me among the poor and lonely; you will find me at the bedside of a dying parent or spouse; you find me in Syrian refugees; you will find me wherever there is pain, and you find me where you least expect, among those of other faith traditions and among those you count as enemies.

On this Easter Sunday, these amazing stories – beyond belief in many ways – challenge us to practice the ways of resurrection. Easter tells us that our self-imposed barriers are already broken and that we can have hope for the future; we can change and we can become God’s partners in healing the world. Easter tells us that we can claim new life, beginning again, regardless of the past. What’s dead can be revived; what’s broken can be healed.

We are never alone or isolated; the living Christ now walks beside us and before us, consoling us in adversity and guiding us toward new horizons.

On this Easter Sunday, we can become partners in resurrection, because the Risen Christ lives in us. Revived by Christ, we can open doors for others, comfort the lost and lonely, give hope to the dying, and share the good news that Christ is alive.

Mary’s heart soars as she hears Jesus call her name. Take a moment. Listen, deep down, there is voice that is calling your name; a voice of hope; of new life; of promise and adventure. Let your heart soar as Christ is risen today!