a sermon on Mark 16:1-8 for Easter Sunday
preached on April 8, 2012, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
As a child, I was a big fan of a series of books called Where’s Waldo? The goal of each book was to locate a figure named Waldo in the midst of the strange and varied scenes on each page. While he was always wearing his trademark red-and-white-striped shirt and blue pants, Waldo often blended into the world amazingly well. Sometimes he would be hiding just behind a tree so that you could only see his face and maybe just a bit of his shirt. Other times his trademark colors would somehow blend in to a very different background so that it was hard to spot him. Every now and then he would be strangely smaller than everything else around him so that you couldn’t see him so well. And the most difficult scene was when he ended up in a world of Waldos, where everyone looked exactly the same as he did and there was only one very small mark that revealed the real Waldo. When you finally found him amidst whatever scene, it was so obvious – and you could certainly easily find him again! – and yet that process of looking for him was incredibly fun and addictive and frustrating.
When we read this morning’s gospel proclamation of the resurrection from Mark, sometimes I feel like we have the beginning of another book series: Where’s Jesus? If you look in the pew Bible, you might notice that there are two other endings to Mark, but the oldest and most reliable manuscripts of this earliest gospel end the Easter story exactly where we did, with the women fleeing the empty tomb in fear – and no sign of Jesus.
These women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, were the last faithful ones in Mark’s story. All of Jesus’ other followers had deserted him along his way to be crucified, so they were the only ones left to prepare his body for a proper burial after they had kept the Sabbath. As they went to tomb on Easter morning, they were worried about how they would get in, because they knew it had been gently sealed with a large stone, but soon they found that getting in was the least of their fears and worries.
When they arrived at the tomb, the stone had already been rolled away, and they were able to walk inside without any trouble. But just where they expected to find the dead body of Jesus, they found instead the very alive presence of a young man, dressed in a white robe and sitting to the right of where the body should have been. They were alarmed, Mark says – though I suspect that this is a bit of an understatement. When you go to a tomb, you expect to find a body there – nothing less, nothing more. Instead, though, these three faithful women found a whole lot less and a whole lot more.
The young man, knowing that the first question on their minds was, “Where’s Jesus?” spoke to them in hopes of calming their fears and anxiety:
Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.
Now the young man’s words may seem reasonable to us, but the women didn’t seem to be comforted by them. This was the last straw for them. They had watched their friend and teacher be condemned by the religious authorities of Jerusalem and executed at the hands of the Roman Empire. They had seen all his other disciples run away in fear, uncertain of what might happen to them. And now they were confronted by a strangely empty tomb and an unusual young man who met them there – and so they too fled in terror and amazement, “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” They weren’t in the mood to play a game of “Where’s Jesus?” on that first Easter morning – they wanted to complete their obligations, anoint the body, and move on, so when Jesus wasn’t where he was supposed to be, dead and in the tomb, they gave up, went on their way, and said nothing to anyone.
Even though the women didn’t want to play, it seems like Mark’s gospel demands that Easter begin with a game of “Where’s Jesus?” For some people, this is an incredibly dissatisfying end to the story – there’s no proof here that Jesus was actually resurrected, no sight of his living body, no sign that he appeared again to his disciples, no final commission to his followers to carry his message out into the world. For me, though, I think there’s something wonderful about this ending – and not just because it leaves me asking “Where’s Jesus?” and so reminds me of those Where’s Waldo? books I loved as a child! Instead of offering a clear and distinct picture of exactly what the resurrected Jesus looks like in the world, Mark leaves us with the promise that Jesus has gone ahead of us and the command to go and seek him out. The tomb is empty – Jesus is not there, he’s on the loose! – but exactly where and how we will encounter the risen Christ is a mystery.
It’s something like a divine game of Where’s Waldo? We may have an idea of what Jesus might look like along the journey, and we know that he is not in the tomb, but we aren’t always sure exactly where he is and so must pay very close attention to all the signs that he leaves us along the way in hopes that we might catch a glimpse of him. Sometimes it is easy to find Jesus in the crowd, and sometimes we may have to keep looking for a long time, but the promise is that he is always there, going before us into the Galilees of our world to make all things new.
So if we’re going out from this Easter morn to look for the risen Christ in our world, what will he look like? Will he be wearing some trademark white robe, with long flowing hair and a halo? I honestly doubt it! The risen Christ is far more likely to appear to us in much more everyday attire, in a brief moment of grace offered by an ordinary person on the street, in the presence of friends and family who help make us more completely who God has created us to be, in the cries of those who long for someone to walk even a little way with them, in food and drink shared with friends old and new, and even in the most routine and mundane moments of our lives. We are likely to find him in expected and unexpected places, on Easter Day and into the Easter season and far beyond, walking before us and beside us, comforting us in the face of joy and sorrow, transforming our world in ways beyond our understanding and comprehension, and inviting us to imagine a world defined not by death but by the power of God that makes all things new. And even when we struggle to see the risen Jesus, we are compelled to keep looking everywhere we go until we catch even a glimpse of him, because even the briefest sight of our risen Lord reminds us that he continues to go before us to make all things new in our world.
So as you celebrate this Easter, may you know the presence of the risen Christ, and may you find him in the midst of your world each and every day, transforming death into life as only he can do, until he comes again in glory to make all things new. Alleluia! Amen.