High And Low
(by Rev Paul Graham)
Read Mark 16:1-8
The day dawns shrouded in mist, dew bejewelling leaf and grass as tentative steps are taken towards the resting place of their friend. The Sabbath has been spent in a blur, in hiding, fearful of further punishment; the physical to underline the emotional pain of Friday. Tears shed until there are no more, voices hoarse from the shouts and shrieks as the last breath was taken, the battered shoulders slumped and the sun was turned off.
Three figures move through the garden, their hands clutching the herbs and spices that will anoint the body and freshen the foetid air of the tomb. Tentatively, they approach the tomb, unsure which one of them will ask for the stone to be moved, not knowing whether their request will be met with beatings or sympathy. Seeing how the guards treated their friend, they suspect the former fate awaits them. But still they approach, ready to suffer for doing the right thing.
But no guards await their arrival for the area is empty of people, a garden deserted. The stone rolled away and the air clean and clear, the tomb seems to be waiting for its occupant.
Amazed, frightened, the three women approach. What if the soldiers had moved the body without telling them; after all, who would come forward to admit knowing Jesus mindful of the fate that would await them? What if the soldiers had been bribed, a hardly uncommon event, and the body disposed of far away from the city? What if…?
Would the possibility of resurrection have occurred to them? Would the words of Jesus return to them, unlikely as they had seemed then, but with the evidence of Lazarus still fresh in their memories? Could he…?
But whatever their questions, their answer comes quickly as they see that the tomb is not as empty as it had first appeared. An unlikely occupant sits waiting for them; his words prepared for their arrival, laden with hope and joy.
Jesus is not here – that much is obvious – but he has gone ahead of them back into the countryside of Galilee, far from the city that rejected him and the soldier that crucified him. And there they must travel to meet up with him, taking the friends who had deserted him at the cross, gathered together once more.
And so, the three women leave, still clinging onto the now superfluous herbs, leaving behind the place of death with the promise of life ahead of them. But is it a promise that they will fulfil…?
There is a line in today’s reading that can be taken in two ways. As the young man clothed in Persil-white speaks to Mary, Mary and Salome, he says of Jesus “He is not here.” Of course, he is talking about the absence of Jesus from the tomb. But for us, he is also talking about Jesus’ absence from our reading. In fact, if we take it that Mark’s Gospel finishes at this point (extra verses were added to later translations, but their provenance is disputed), Jesus does not feature in the book from the point when his body is placed in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. From Good Friday onwards, Jesus is no longer “here” – the action takes place with him off-stage.
At this point, we find ourselves well placed alongside the three women. We do not have Jesus with us either. He is off-stage for us as well, and a lot further away than Galilee since his ascension back into heaven.
But we do share the same message of faith that the women carried. For them, the evidence was there that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb; it was only the words of the spotlessly dressed man that gave them hope that the body hadn’t been taken by grave-robbers or soldiers, or other unscrupulous people intent on crushing this fledgling movement alongside its founder.
And for us, it is these words that sustain us in our faith. There is no definitive physical evidence to back up these words; the many accounts of Jesus in his post-resurrection encounters that we read of in Matthew, Luke, John and the first chapter of Acts serve as evidence for those who were there to witness them, but we live two thousand years since then. Faith is what underpins these claims of Jesus, as well as of his chroniclers; do we believe them to be true?
Likewise, we believe in the words of Jesus about the reality of death and all that comes afterwards; that for us death is a transitional phase from our physical bodies to some other state yet to be discovered. Whether it will involve harps, clouds and pearly gates is not within our gift to know. But we will one day…
However, there is also something about the young man’s words that should keep us from contemplating our mortality too much on this day of life and hope. Having told Mary, Mary and Salome what their eyes had already seen, he tells them to go and find Jesus, who is waiting for them.
Likewise, we are also invited to find Jesus, who is waiting for us. Not in a specific place, as if Jesus is only to be found in the countryside (though there are some who might like to argue one way or the other), nor in his physical form, as he left some 6 weeks after the resurrection, but anywhere and everywhere through the Holy Spirit. To find Jesus as his commands are enacted by those who follow him; to find Jesus in places where love conquers hate and life overcomes death in all its forms. To find Jesus in our own lives, changing us in our attitudes and actions. We are invited to look for him, expecting to find him as long as we trust that he will be found.
Mark tells us that the three women didn’t tell anyone. Was their fear because they didn’t trust the young man’s words, or were they wary of raising hope among the disciples? We don’t know, though we know from the other Gospel writers that their silence didn’t last long. Go and find Jesus, said the young man to Mary, Mary and Salome. What will your response be?