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Very early on the first day of last week, I was asleep. I woke up when my phone buzzed three times. I had a text. I’m not used to getting messages at 3 am. I rolled over, swiped the screen, and read the message: “We are alive and landed safely,” it read. 

I thought for a moment who I knew who had been travelling. I couldn’t recall anyone off the top of my head. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the name of the contact. It was a former parishioner—now in his 20s. Thinking he likely hadn’t intended to text his former priest at 3 in the morning, I thought, this might be kind of fun. I wrote back and said, “Glad you landed safely. Somewhere fabulous, I hope?”

A few hours later, he replied—mortified! 

“This is the danger of flying all day!” he wrote.

“And, having two contacts in your phone with the name, ‘Mother!’”

Now it was my turn to be mortified! I’ve been called a lot of things! I know there’s an age gap between millennials and ‘gen z’—but “Mother,” really?

Ah, I remembered, “Mother” is a title sometimes given to women priests. It can be a term of respect, or affection. I felt a little less mortified. 

Has anyone ever said something to you that left you feeling alarmed? 

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are among the women who arrive at the tomb very early on the first day of the week. That the sun had risen, that they could have been seen by the light of day, tells us what kind of risk they were taking. Anyone seen to be involved with Jesus could have been arrested and locked up—just as Jesus had been three days prior. But, these women, they have a custom in their faith tradition of anointing the bodies of their loved ones, with spices and oils, to allow family members and friends who wish to visit to pay their respects.

But, when they arrive, they find that not only has the stone been rolled away, there’s a young man sitting in the tomb, dressed in white. An angel, perhaps? 

“Don’t be alarmed!” he says. 

“You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”

Now, I imagine the women were thinking something along the lines of: “We’ve been told to believe a lot of things. But, that our relative, the one we saw crucified and buried—that he’s now alive?” For these women, “the idea that a person would rise from the dead [was] just as . . . unbelievable as . . . a Messiah [a hero] who gets crucified!”

But, Jesus spoke about his resurrection many times during his ministry. Three times in the gospel of Mark Jesus says: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’”

Mark even stresses that Jesus, “said all this quite openly.”

So, how is it that the news that Jesus was alive is so unfathomable to the women at the tomb? Jesus spoke openly with his disciples about his death and resurrection, only, it was never in the company of his women disciples. The three times Jesus spoke explicitly about rising again, he was with the twelve, who are traditionally said to have been men. And, each time Jesus said it, they rebuked him, or were too afraid to believe him, or pretended not to know what he was talking about. 

Now, this isn’t a sermon about how men are cowards. Nor is it a sermon about how Jesus failed to include women among the 12. I actually think if Jesus had told me the same things he told the twelve, that I wouldn’t have believed him either. I also think that the gospels, the stories about Jesus, contain some of the most radically progressive texts of all time for women.

It is significant that those in Jesus’ time who would have faced great barriers to healthcare, to education, to employment—to leadership in the church, it is significant that these are the first among Jesus’ disciples to witness the resurrection. It kind of puts a spotlight on where we ought to put our energy when it comes to ensuring new life for people in our communities and around the world who face these same barriers today.  

After learning that Jesus had risen, the women “fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them.” Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase of the Bible puts it this way: “They got out as fast as they could, beside themselves, their heads swimming.”  

And, that’s it! That’s how the story ends in Mark’s gospel. “Nobody gets to see Jesus or touch the nail holes in his hands. There is no great commission; no Jesus cooking breakfast with his friends; “no intimate conversation with Mary in the garden nor sudden arrival of the risen Christ behind locked doors.” Just a bunch of women disciples, their heads spinning, after learning some alarming news.

One of my favourite preachers, Yvette Flunder, she’s known for saying, “One of the worst mistakes the church ever made was putting the back cover on the Bible.” A resurrection story without the back cover is what we get this Easter Sunday. You, me, we get to write the next chapter.

Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised from the dead. What will you do with this news? 

Work referenced:

Audrey West, “Commentary on Mark 16:1-8,” in Working Preacher (Luther Seminary, St Paul, MN: 31 March 2024). Accessed online on 28 March 2024.