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The First Easter

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The out-of-placeness and the feeling that something is not quite right about stay-at-home Easter 2020 might actually give us a closer glimpse of what that very first Easter Sunday was like.

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Mark 16:1–8 NIV
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
16 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Easter is a celebration in the Christian world that is filled with tradition. There are the hymns that perhaps some of you have known and sung together in church on every Easter Sunday for as long as you can remember. There is the Easter greeting in which one person declares, “He is risen!” and others respond, “He is risen, indeed!” There is the reading of the Easter story from , or , or . There are the decorations of lilies and other blooming flowers. Some of us cherish family traditions on Easter. We all go to grandma’s house for ham dinner. We dress up in new Sunday clothes for Easter church. We snack on chocolate bunnies and jellybeans.
traditions | He is risen, readings, decorations, ham, dress up, bunnies
There is a reason for all these traditions. Easter is a celebration; it ought to be marked and celebrated as a special day apart from all others. Yet, much of that tradition is out of place this year. Let’s admit it and let’s be honest; it does not feel much like Easter Sunday this time around for those of us who have marked this special day with the same endearing traditions for as long as we can remember. Easter is different this year. And maybe the loss of those special traditional ways of commemorating Easter is a cause of sadness for many of us. It just feels out-of-place this year. I know it’s Easter, but something is just not quite right about it.
out-of-placeness and the feeling that something is not quite right about stay-at-home Easter 2020 might actually give us a closer glimpse
And so perhaps this Easter is a good time to pause for a moment and consider what that very first Easter Sunday might have felt like. Because I think this time around, we have more in common with the feeling of that first Easter Sunday as it might have been felt and experienced by the disciples and closest followers of Jesus. The out-of-placeness and the feeling that something is not quite right about stay-at-home Easter 2020 might actually give us a closer glimpse of what that very first Easter Sunday was like. Listen to the way Mark tells it in his gospel.
Mark 16:1–8 NIV
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

An Incomplete Ending

Mark is my favorite of the gospels. I like Mark’s concise writing style; he keeps the action moving. Mark’s version of Easter morning is often ignored in many church Easter service readings. I mean, it’s kind of jarring and incomplete. The conclusion of the story seems uncertain and left hanging. I think Mark does that on purpose. Our logical minds crave a neat and tidy closure to every tense disruption. It bothers us when a question remains unresolved. But Mark leaves us standing at the scene by the open tomb with some women who are scared and confused, and who run away without telling anyone because they are so frightened.
women run away scared and do not tell anyone
this is not how the story is supposed to g
Imagine the scene. The women enter the tomb expecting to find the crucified body of Jesus. Instead all they see is a young man in white who tells them Jesus has risen. The angel gives them just one instruction: go tell the disciples. But the women do not do it. Mark says they ran away and did not tell anyone. Mark tells us that the first reaction of the first people on the first Easter was to run away.
They’re messing up the tradition. That’s not how the story goes. The Easter tradition is that when someone meets you on Easter Sunday and tells you, “He is risen,” you are supposed to respond with, “He is risen, indeed!” – not run away in terror. I think Mark needs to rewrite the ending here. The women enter the tomb; the angel tells them, “He is risen!” The women enthusiastically respond in unison, “He is risen, indeed!” And then the women parade all through town singing Christ the Lord is risen today. Then they gather with all the disciples and share a fantastic ham dinner (never mind that they are Jewish and don’t eat ham). But that’s how the Easter story is supposed to go because that’s how I have experienced the Easter story for as long as I can remember.
bewildered: Greek ekstasis = confused, perplexed, beside oneself
But not this time; not this year. So maybe this time we can actually feel something of what those women at the tomb really felt. Mark tells us in verse eight that they were trembling and bewildered. Some English translations say they were amazed or astonished. It is the Greek word ekstasis. We get the English words ecstasy and ecstatic from this same Greek word. And we have missed what the Greeks meant by this word. We usually think of ecstatic behavior as enthusiastic or excited. But the Greek understanding of ekstasis means confused or perplexed. In fact, Ekstasis literally refers to something so distressing that it causes an out-of-body experience. It is the Greek notion of ekstasis where we get the expression of being beside yourself. To be beside yourself is to be so overcome with anxiety or worry that you can no longer process and respond to the situation in front of you. It is to be left in a place that is so confusing and so perplexing that your whole world feels wrong and out-of-place.
resurrection knocks the world out-of-place
That is what these first women on that first Easter felt when they heard the message, “He is risen!” Their first reaction was the overwhelming feeling that this was all wrong. This whole thing is out-of-place. This is not how any of this is supposed to be happening right now. The world is so turned upside-down that I’m just beside myself. I don’t even know how I’m supposed to be feeling about any of this.
off-balance, out-of-place, unprepared moment
Do you see a glimpse of that today? Maybe today we catch this resurrection story with the same off-balance, out-of-place, unprepared moment that hit those first followers of Jesus. We are all living in a world right now that has been hit with a moment of being off-balance and unprepared. We are all living in a world right now that has been forced to adjust to a new and different kind of living. We are all living in a world right now that has been wading through an ocean of confusion just trying to figure out what the next step forward should be. We are all living in a world right now that can, perhaps, reframe the gospel news of resurrection into a new light.

Resurrection

Resurrection is a better name for it. We call it Easter Sunday; but really, we should call it Resurrection Sunday. Because resurrection is what this day is really all about. And whatever it was that we thought we knew about resurrection, maybe today is a good time to take in that story again and see it with fresh eyes. Because I have to confess, it seems like the way gospel resurrection news shows up in the actions of my life is by singing a few Easter songs and then we all go to grandma’s and eat ham.
Resurrection Sunday ought to knock me beside myself
When, in fact, gospel resurrection news ought to knock me beside myself. Resurrection ought to leave me shocked to the point of turning the whole world upside-down. Resurrection ought to throw my life so out-of-place that nothing ever seems the same again. Resurrection ought to jolt my life so hard that anything I might have considered normal life before is long gone. Resurrection means there is a new way to live now. Resurrection means everything about the way I live is now taken and reframed so that the whole world is changed.
life-changing, world-altering news is often first met with confusion and disbelief
When news which is that completely world-changing first hits, I suppose it makes sense to me now that the very first reactions are confusion and disbelief. Our minds need to take some time in order for life-changing, world-altering news like this to sink in. I think Mark ends his gospel this way on purpose. Mark knows that this world-changing resurrection of Jesus needs some time and space to really sink in.
Sixth Sense
In the M. Knight Shyamalan movie, The Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis plays psychologist who is trying to help a young boy who is able to talk with dead people. It is not till the end of the movie that Bruce Willis’ character realizes that he is one of those dead people, and he didn’t even know it. It makes me want to go back and watch the movie over again from the start, because now this new twist that comes at the end of the story reshapes everything else. I go back and see it all again, and now I see the whole story differently.
Mark ends gospel abruptly to reinforce the resurrection story
now I go back and read the Bible differently
That’s what Mark is doing in his twist-ending to the gospel. He leaves us in such a jarring place that now we are compelled to go back and read the whole story again from the beginning because now, with this new information that comes at the end, the way we see the whole rest of the story is completely changed. And it doesn’t stop there—it’s not just the gospels. Now we look back at all those other writings of the Old Testament, and we see all of those in a new light as well. Everything we once thought we knew about the story of God in this world is different now. Our lives are different now. Our world is different now.
now I look out and see the world differently
Resurrection changes everything. It changes my whole life; it changes the whole world. And that takes some getting used to. Resurrection news hit those first followers of Jesus pretty hard and rocked their world apart. Maybe resurrection news should hit us like that too. Maybe our first reaction to resurrection news should be an off-balance, out-of-place, this-doesn’t-feel-right moment in which it only begins to sink in upon us that our whole world has just been thrown into an entirely new direction.
And then you and I start to look around and we start to see everything else in our world with new eyes. There is a new reality—a new normal—that is taking over. The first seed of resurrection was planted on Friday when Jesus was placed in a tomb. The first bloom of resurrection burst open from the ground when that tomb burst open on Resurrection Sunday. A new season is dawning; a resurrection season. It has already begun. Nothing can stop it now. The resurrection of Jesus means that our world will never be the same again. Resurrection is not just something that happens around us. Resurrection is not just something that happens to us. Resurrection happens within us. He is risen; he is risen, indeed!
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