And They Said Nothing
Scripture - Mark 16:1-8
The earliest account of Easter morning, which was just read – Mark 16 – begins witho any real surprises. Three women, whose names we know – Salome, Mary from Magdalene, & Mary the mother of James – went to the cemetery after the funeral. This is not unusual. This has been the practice in my family after the loss of a family member; some of us go to the cemetery again later. There may be a card still left in the flowers & we need to send a thank-you note; there may be some flowers fresh enough that we need to take them to a nursing home or shut-in. and it is a quiet time because the crowd is gone. It is not unusual to go to the cemetery after the funeral.
These 3 women went because it was up to them to take care of the body. Nobody did that officially. The climate was such, the Jewish practices were such, & in this case the burial was so hasty, that they had work left to do, to put spices on the corpse. No surprise here.
But then wave after wave of surprises begin. The grave is open. They are shocked & then immediately disturbed. Then a young man in dazzling white is standing there, & they ask, “Jesus?” No, he has been raised. He isn’t here. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.
It is too much for the women. Instead of going with the commission that Christ has given them, to go & tell the disciples, they run the other way. They are traumatized, they are amazed, they are shocked, they are afraid, & they are – completely silent. The language of the New Testament, the Greek language, allows, as most languages do, that you can break the rules of grammar in order to emphasize a point. And literally what is said of the women is this: ‘They did not say nothing to nobody.’ In other words, they were totally silent.
Ever since the second century, the church has not liked the ending of Mark. This is no way to run a resurrection! Having women quiet, not saying anything, scared & running. And so, starting in the second century scribes began to add to the Gospel of Mark. And if you look in your Bible, most of you will find an alternate ending, a short ending & a longer ending, taking pieces of the other Gospels & adding them to Mark so that it will have an appearance of Christ, a triumphant resurrection morning, belief of the disciples, & a lot of hallelujahs.
My teacher in seminary, Dr. Hudson, said that the reason Mark ends the way it does is that the end of it apparently got frayed or damaged or destroyed, & we do not know exactly how it ended.
Now, I am comfortable with the way it ended. The women were totally silent. I can understand that. You have to give them some time to process this. The men had time to process it. All the Gospels say that some of the disciples doubted. Matthew says: They worshiped him; but some doubted. Luke says: While in their joy they were disbelieving. Do you feel the mixture of believing & not believing? And John says Simon Peter said, I am going fishing. And Thomas, a disciple, said, Well, I will not believe until I touch him. Why not let the women have time to question the truth of it?
Or it could be that they just do not need anymore news. I do not care how good it is; you just reach a saturation point of not needing anymore news. And they are in the position to need nothing else. Jesus is dead & buried. They have cleaned out his closet & given away the few things he had. They have washed & returned the dishes to those who brought food. They have written the thank you notes. The guests are gone. Four loads of laundry have been done. And now comes the routine, the blessed, joyous routine, of life as it was. You can complain all you want about routine; there is nothing so calming, so giving of composure, as routine. Let us get back to our routine. They do not need any news; however good it is. They cannot hold it.
But the text says they were afraid. It does not say of whom, maybe it was the authorities. Highly likely it was the authorities. In order to keep law & order, they killed Jesus. He was rabble-rouser, got a lot of people stirred up, created a lot of dissension, people were huddling, plotting & planning on the street corners. We had to get rid of him in the name of law & order! And so, they did.
Let us suppose we go out & say Jesus is alive again. You know what they are going to do? They are going to start with us. And they can squash us like bugs. Because how many do we have? Luke says, after all of Jesus’ ministry, he had 120 believers. Less than the membership of Shiloh UMC. If Josephus was right & there were more than 2M pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover, what would this little group of 3 women do in that kind of throng? They would be run over! Now, what would you do?
Roman historians say that at the end of the first century the empire had a population of about 70M. And they estimate that there were about 40K Christians. Do the math. In a town of 7K people, there would be 4 Christians. This means that today in Davidson County there would be 96 Christians. Most of us do not know what a minority is. Are they now going to get out the word that this Jesus you killed is alive again? Maybe that is what it means when Mark says they were scared. It could have been that they were just unable to talk. Fear does that to you.
Those of you who have been in a play or led your first meeting or read Scripture in church know what fear is. Fear of mispronouncing, fear of freezing up, fear of losing your voice, fear of falling down, fear of everything. It is hard to talk when you are deeply affected. We can chat about the weather & everything under the sun, but let someone bring up a sacred subject, & most of us get as quiet as these women, & we do not say nothing to nobody.
The most common thing said to me in this church, which is run by volunteers, all really good people – they cut down trees, mow the grass, wash the windows, serve food, fix broken items, decorate, & bring flowers – but the one thing I hear most is: “Don’t ask me to say anything.” Why is it that we can chatter away about most things, but mention Jesus & it is “Don’t ask me to say anything”? A common expression is this: It is not enough to talk the talk; you have to walk the walk. Well, that is nice. The trouble with it is, it is backwards. It is not enough to walk the walk. You have got to talk the talk. Because the most difficult & most effective & most profound thing you will ever do for Jesus Christ is to say something. And when I ask for talkers, no one comes to me. If I were to say, “Let’s redo the building,” everybody would come. I am not criticizing anyone but let us honestly recognize that the fundamental human sacrifice is to say something important. It is hard to do.
These women could not talk. It might have been that they were afraid of the response. You take any good Christian witnesses & run them around a few times through the beauty parlors & the barber shops, through Walmart & into restaurants & the post office & one of those shops where women sit all day drinking their coffee, & say Jesus Christ is risen, & see what happens. Did you hear what those women said? They said he was risen! You must be kidding? No! That sounds like a bunch of women who do not have enough to do. My goodness. Well, how do you explain it? Oh, they went to the wrong tomb, they were confused, it was early in the morning, they say it was about dark. They just got confused & went to the wrong tomb.
How do you explain it? Well, they moved the body; he was buried in someone else’s tomb. They did not have time, it was nearly sundown, they had to get him off the cross & get him buried. They just buried him nearby. They were going to move him later to a permanent grave. What is the deal?
How do you explain it? They stole the body. Some of his followers stole the body & then started spreading this story about how he has raised from the dead. It is the oldest trick in the world. Now you see him, now you do not.
How do you explain it? Well, I never believed he was dead in the first place. Really! Now, just think about it. He was on the cross from, what, 9 in the morning until a little after 3? Listen, I have seen crucifixions, I have seen fellows hanging up there for 3 or 4 days. Just think about it – they take him down from up there around 3 o’clock, & he has not been up there even a day? Half a day? Think about it. That is premature burial. He came around. That is the way I look at it.
Friends, I just hate for our Christian witness to get all messed up, to go through the rumor mills, & it comes back, & you just do not recognize it.
So, I want to say to you, as plain as I can on this Easter Day that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! That is our Christian witness. That is our church witness. It is something believers say. It is not a public statement. The risen never made an appearance in public. The only ones who saw him were his followers. There were no public appearances.
Now, if I had been running it, I would have had him go around to stores, go back into Pilate’s hall & say, “Hey Pontius, you want to give it another shot?” That is the way I would have run it. And for people who doubted, the agnostics & atheists & those sorts, I would have had J appear & just scare them to death. But that just shows you how small I am. If you read the New Testament, nobody saw him except his followers.
If the world is going to believe it, they are going to believe it because you believe it & you testify to it, that is it. Luke said it just as plain as day. He said: “The life of Jesus you all know, it is a matter of public record. The death of Jesus is also a matter of public record. The resurrection of Jesus? Of that we are witnesses.” Do you see? We cannot expect the public, our culture, our society in general to sustain the real meaning of Easter. It is a Christian word. A Christian commitment. A Christian belief. One of the darkest times in the history of the world came when a man stood up in front of his country, his government, & said, “We cannot expect the churches & the Christian families to carry the full weight of ridding the world of atheism & communism. We have to put the power of government behind it.” And so, Adolph Hitler persuaded the people to put the power of government behind the battle to rid the world of atheism. And he said, “God is with us.”
We can neither be seduced nor intimidated by institutions or the culture at large. It is a Christian message. Jesus Christ is raised! If the message of Easter is lost, & dwindles down & peters out, it becomes nothing more than colored eggs & rabbits, breaks from school, trips to the beach, & a spring holiday. If it becomes only that, it is not the schools’ fault. Because it is the church’s message. And everyone is yelling about how the schools ought to do this & the government ought to pass a law about that – phooey on that! It is the church’s message. It is for us to say.
Now, what are we going to say? We cannot be like those who did not say nothing to nobody. This is what I say: Our God is a God who gives life to the dead! It has been that way since creation. He brought into being what did not exist & out of chaos formed the world! That is the way God is. God gives life to the dead. Or Abraham & Sarah, so old they could not have kids, they were over 100, after all! And yet they believed God gives life to the dead, & even though they were both so old they were dead as far as procreation was concerned, they had a child & named him laughter, Isaac.
Jesus was dead. He was d-e-a-d, dead. You ask his friends, he is dead. You ask his mother, he is dead. And yet we believe that God gives life to the dead. You & I, dead in our trespasses & sins, God has made us alive. Do you believe that? Can you think of a way of saying that? Can we say that to somebody today or this week or before April ends? Brothers & sisters, it is not enough to walk the walk; we have to talk the talk. We cannot be a church that runs from the empty tomb, not saying nothing to nobody.
Let us pray. Risen Lord, we celebrate your resurrection & claim your transcending love. Thank you for your living & loving presence in our lives. Help us realize the joy & comfort of living for you. Amen.