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Mark 16:1-8





 


Lesson Focus

Jesus assures us that he goes ahead of us as we seek to participate in his mission of salvation in the world.

 

Lesson Outcomes

Through this lesson, students should:


  1. Understand the theological significance of Jesus' abandonment on the cross and its implications for his mission of salvation.

  2. Empathize with the complex emotions experienced by the women at the empty tomb, recognizing both terror and amazement as they encounter the resurrection narrative.

  3. Grasp the concept of Jesus going ahead of them in their own lives, inspiring them to actively participate in the mission of love and service in their communities.

 

Catching up on the Story

The last words we hear from Jesus were, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” This phrase, which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” invokes Psalm 22 and conveys Jesus’ feeling of utter abandonment. Jesus is alone and fully, as everyone has deserted him. But being deserted or forsaken isn’t anything new for Jesus. It's run-of-the-mill stuff.

 

As those who’ve viewed this story from the distance of time and social location, we’ve watched Jesus’ family and hometown reject him shortly after he began his ministry.   The religious leaders, who should have known better, have rejected him, and so have the crowds. The rejection Jesus suffers at the hands of the religious leaders makes sense, but to be rejected by the crowds must have hurt terribly. After all, Jesus has done so much for the crowds. 

 

How many did he miraculously feed? Or, how many did Jesus heal? The same question can be asked about demon possession. Those who were blind have had their eyesight restored. The lame could walk again. Captives have been set free. The Counting Crows were right when they sang, “Don't it always seem to go. That you don't know what you got 'til it's gone, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Even the disciples aren’t faithful. They, too, run out on Jesus, leaving him to be beaten, stripped, and left to die nailed to the cross. The abandonment seems complete after Jesus utters, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”

 

Now, there’s a lot of theological nuance in this scene. Can we say that Jesus, who is fully God and fully human, really be abandoned by the Father? It seems that way, making the scene all the more spectacular. The person of God is somehow, in a way we’ll never understand, ripped apart because of God’s outrageous and unfathomable love for creation, for you and me. In Jesus’ helpless abandonment, all is lost. There is no hope. But the story that Mark is telling isn’t over. 

 

Hopeless Dejection

Indeed, there’s just one short chapter left in Mark’s narrative. It’s been the third day since Jesus’ death, and that sabbath is over. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (whoever she may be) brought spices and the necessary things to properly prepare Jesus’ body for burial. As the three women walked with their heads down in that posture we all know as dejection (at least that’s how I imagine it), they converse. It’s obvious that they know where Jesus’ body has been laid. They also know that the entryway into that tomb had been sealed shut with a large stone. Mark tells us that Joseph of Arimathea shuts the tomb. In other gospels, the tomb is sealed with a large stone to prevent Jesus’ disciples from stealing the body and calming that Jesus has raised from the dead.

 

The reason why the tomb was sealed up with a large stone makes no difference to the story. The stone presents an obstacle to the mission that these women mean to accomplish. And so, rightfully, they wonder who will be so kind as to roll back the stone so that they can anoint Jesus’ body. As they come within visual distance of the tomb, they look up and see that the stone has already been pushed back. Now, Mark doesn’t tell us what goes through these lady's minds. Put yourself in their place; what would you feel? How would you react? My first reaction might be to think that someone else had beaten them to the tomb and Jesus’ body had already been anointed.   I’d be disappointed that I could not perform such a sacred duty for someone who was so significant in the lives of so many.

 

Or, perhaps, I’d be disappointed because I had abandoned Jesus and hoped to make amends by preparing his body for burial.

 

Or, I might have thought that someone had opened the tomb for us because they knew we were on our way. 

 

Or, maybe someone they didn’t know had stolen Jesus’ body. 

 

As the three women approach the tomb, everything seems in order. They enter the tomb expecting to find a body. They find a body, alright, but not the body of their friend Jesus. Instead, they find a “young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side.”

 

Terror and Amazement

After the initial shock has worn off, these lady's feelings of despondency and dejection fade away and are replaced by altogether different feelings. Now they are alarmed! I think “alarmed” is an understatement of the emotions that Mark is trying to convey. Here’s the sense of the word that Mark uses to be or become excessively affected by emotion: the use of both negative excitement (and fear) and positive excitement (as wonder). Excessively affected by emotion! Again, place yourself in these lady's sandals. How would you feel? Would you be excessively affected by emotion? Would those emotions be positive? Would you be filled with wonder? Or would those emotions be negative? Would you be filled with fear? Of course, I don’t think we need to choose one over the other. It’s not exactly a binary choice. A person can simultaneously be filled with wonder and fear as you might get looking over the edge of a precipice overlooking a scenic view. Or if you are zip-lining in the mountains or about to jump off of a cliff into the water.   You get the idea that this is a complex moment in the lives of these three women, and not one emotion is sufficient. They’re experiencing “all the feels.”

 

This young man, who we’ll call an angel, seeks to calm the women. “Don’t be alarmed.” There’s that word again. The young man knows what these ladies are feeling. He can see it in their face and in the tremors that rack their hands. He’s done this kind of work before; he knows the drill. The young man continues to speak, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.”

 

Jesus isn’t there! Perhaps this sparks another turn of emotions, but Mark doesn’t tell us just yet. To make it extremely plain and simple, the young man positively identifies who used to occupy this tomb. We don’t often remember that the name “Jesus” was rather common. In the Hebrew language, it would have been translated as Yeshua, which often gets translated as Joshua. So, these ladies must know that it isn’t just any Jesus, but the Jesus, the one from Nazareth, the one who was just crucified. While Jesus remains the crucified one, nothing will ever change that; the young man proclaims that this Jesus “has been raised from the dead.” The tense and voice of this phrase is important. It’s past tense, and it’s in the passive voice. Jesus “has been raised” not, he rose, or he is risen but has been raised. The passive voice communicates the notion that another, not Jesus perpetrated Jesus’ resurrection. The crowds crucified Jesus, but the Father raised him from the dead.

 

 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is no longer abandoned. Jesus is no longer alone. God raised Jesus from the dead, never again for him to die. His death and resurrection are in the past, where they will stay while Jesus continually triumphs over death for the rest of time.

 

But go…

The young man isn’t done speaking. Proclaiming that Jesus has been raised from the dead isn’t enough. The work Jesus started is not yet finished. “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he [Jesus] is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him, just as he told you.” Would you look at that? Jesus’ first act is to go ahead and meet up with his followers. They abandoned him, but he hasn’t abandoned them. If God the Father exercises eternal fidelity to Jesus, then Jesus will exercise eternal fidelity to his followers. 

 

So, Mary and Mary and Salome fled from the tomb “for terror and amazement had seized them.” Again, we are invited to feel the same set of complex emotions that these ladies did. They were terrified! They were amazed. Positive and negative emotions are all wrapped up together. How would you have felt? Would you have run out, too? Mark tells us that they say nothing to anyone because they are afraid. On the surface, it looks like another abandonment, but it’s not. Though momentarily terrified, they told Peter and the others what they had witnessed. 

 

So What?

But let's step back a second and key in on something the young man said. The women are told that Jesus is going ahead of them. Where they’re going, Jesus has already been. Not only is this statement true for the concrete reality of that moment Mark describes, but it’s the truth for us today, too. Jesus is going ahead of us. Jesus has gone ahead of us. He’s gone ahead of us in a self-emptying journey in the incarnation. He goes ahead of us as fully God and fully human. Jesus goes ahead of us into death, where death does its best to defeat him but does not overcome him. Jesus goes ahead of us in the resurrection. As the apostle Paul would say, Jesus was the first fruit of the resurrection. One day, we’ll follow where Jesus has already gone. 

 

Just as Jesus has gone ahead of us in so many ways, so does Jesus go ahead of us in the mission to which we have been called. Whether we can see it or not, Jesus goes ahead of us into every place where we might seek to love our neighbor as fully as ourselves. Jesus goes ahead of us when we feed the hungry. 

 

Jesus goes ahead of us when we care for the least of these. 

 

Jesus goes ahead in every aspect of our lives.

 

Jesus goes ahead of us when we go to school, work, or the grocery store. 

 

Jesus goes ahead of us everywhere all the time. And, if we pay attention to all those situations we encounter each day, we’ll see that Jesus is there already.

 

Mark doesn’t tell us what happens when Peter and the other disciples meet up with Jesus. From the other gospels, we know that Jesus sends them out to be his witnesses in Judea, Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. I think Jesus will meet us out there, wherever there is, so we might continue to do the work he started. Mark’s narrative ends rather abruptly. I believe this was intentional. It’s a story that ends without an ending. It’s a story that draws us into it so that we might write a new chapter in the ongoing story of God’s love for creation. 

 

Discussion Questions

Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.

 

  1. Describe a time when you’ve experienced rejection from someone you thought cared for you.

  2. Read Psalm 22. How might your reading of Psalm 22 have changed in light of today’s passage?

  3. If you were one of the women approaching Jesus’ tomb, how do you think you’d feel? Describe a time when you might have felt some of those same emotions.

  4. After walking into the tomb, Mark tells us that the women experience a new set of emotions. The NRSV translates the emotion as “alarm.” A fuller translation might be helpful: to be or become excessively affected by emotion: the use of both negative excitement (and fear) and positive excitement (as wonder). Describe a time when you might have felt those same emotions. Were they appropriate for the situation? What moved you from being “excessively affected by emotion” to a more normal state of mind?

  5. The man the women find in the tomb tells them that Jesus of Nazareth “has been raised from the dead.” The grammar of the sentence is the passive voice, “has been raised.” It suggests that Jesus was raised from the dead by some other power than himself. The obvious question is, who raised Jesus from the dead (and the answer is obvious, too)? Read back over Psalm 22, specifically verse 24. If the women at the tomb were also present at Jesus’ crucifixion and heard him quote Psalm 22, do you think at this moment in the story, they once again turned back to Psalm 22 to help them understand what they were experiencing? If so, why? If not, why?

  6. After the man tells the women what to do, they run away in “terror and amazement.” What would you have done?

  7. The man said that Jesus would go ahead of them and meet them in Galilee. We can safely say that any place we have gone or will go, especially as we seek to participate in God’s mission in the world, that Jesus goes in front of us. How might that realization change how we minister to our neighbors?

  8. If Jesus has truly gone before us everywhere we go, how might that change how we view the tough and dark times of our lives?

  9. Mark’s gospel ends rather abruptly. There’s a sense that this is on purpose so that those who seek to follow Jesus will continue to “write” new chapters in the ongoing story of God’s love for creation through us. In what ways have you experienced God going before you as you learn to love God and your neighbor?

  10. What do you hope your chapter in this story looks like?