Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Lord is Risen! Or, What Is This Madness? This Is An Empty Tomb!

My wife, Amanda, took this picture
as we kept vigil last night.
I'm a Vigil-goer, so as I write now on Easter morning, I have done my waiting and said my prayers by candlelight. I have renewed the vows of my baptism and I have heard the story of the empty tomb, where Jesus could not be found. But then, of course, I did find him in the Eucharist. After the strange, awkward day of Good Friday, the day we could not make Eucharist, the day that we had to share the leftovers from the Last Supper on Thursday (I'm only now realizing the irony in that), Jesus could not be found among the dead because he was among the living!

In the past few years, the idea that has fascinated me about the Easter story is that the women found an empty tomb on Sunday morning. Which means that, if they were being diligent and went to the tomb at first light, Jesus must have risen sometime during the night. While everything was still shrouded in darkness and there was no clarity, Jesus rose and made his way out. Today, especially, I feel connected to story because I woke up early and could not get back to sleep (I must have too much joy this morning!). So I want to take a closer look and walk with those women on their way to the tomb...

This year the lectionary uses Mark's gospel. Which is weird, since Mark has two endings. But this reading is right at the end of what everyone agrees is part of the original gospel. Anyway, the first thing it says is "When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome brought spices so that they might go and anoint Jesus." Immediately I can imagine the mindset those women were in. A loved one has died; a dear, dear loved one. He died too early. And not matter what we may have hoped for him, now that he is dead, we have our ways and customs for mourning him. Whatever the twelve may be hoping or fearing, these three women have the dedication and audacity to go and give their loved one the proper burial he deserves.

I'm sure that the women had done this before, preparing a body for its tomb. I'm sure that no matter their sadness, there was a certain way that they expected to find the tomb when they got there. In the Gospel story, they were even discussing among themselves, trying to figure out how they would be able to open the tomb, since the stone that closed it was too large for them to roll away themselves. And I think that was the end of everything that they expected.

This is where I find myself completely unable to imagine what kind of an experience these three women had. I suppose they would have been perplexed, maybe even angry that the stone was rolled away, since they did not know who had done it. And as they enter the tomb, there is a young man in a white robe sitting there. They may have briefly thought he was Jesus (the Gospel says "they were alarmed"), but all he says is "Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here... He is going ahead of you to Galilee..."

The man says it so simply and in such a matter-of-fact way. I feel like sometimes something is lost as the gospel narratives have been translated so many times. But the words of that man (in Mark's gospel he is not specifically said to be an angel) I think must be pretty accurate. I do not think he had any irony in his voice, no sly meaning. What he said was so extraordinary, and yet he stated it as obviously as he had been giving the time of day.

Since I cannot quite imagine this one myself, I appreciate the image given by Steve Ross, who has published a graphic novel adaptation of Mark's Gospel. This is the "young man" that the women found in the tomb:

In the next few panels, the mother Mary gets angry at him and wants to know what this strange man has done with her precious son. And the "clown" says: "It's simple. Your son died. He was buried... And now he's alive." And at those words, I am filled with this awe and wonder.

So as the sun rises today, let us be in awe of the empty tomb. Do not look for a savior among the dead, because he is not there. By first light, he has already gone on ahead of us.


Amanda took this one at Lake Harriet
earlier this week.

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A very happy Easter to you! Thank you for visiting my blog today! I'm always into sharing stories, so if you have your own reflections on the Gospel reading this year or any part of the vigil liturgy, please share it in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter. If you're in the mood for more from Holy Week and the Three Holy Days, please check out my posts from Palm Sunday, my Holy Hour, or Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday. Thanks again and may you be blessed by the Risen Christ!