The cross is empty. Jesus was crucified, giving up his life, hung between heaven and earth on that tree, rejected by heaven and earth so that we are now accepted by God. After that horrific moment when Jesus breathed his last breath, everything changes. Now what? For Jesus’ followers, the future feels dark and bleak because everything was wrapped up in Jesus. He’s the rabbi, the leader, the one setting the agenda, leading everyone into his future. The cross may be empty, but Jesus’ broken body, along with their broken hope, lay in a dark tomb. When you don't know what to do, it's easiest to simply do the practical thing right in front of you, so the women get together and go to anoint Jesus' body with aromatic spices to take away the marks of his suffering and the smell of death. The women want to make sure Jesus receives the honour he failed to receive in his death.
The women are worried because of the large stone in front of the tomb. How are they going to roll it away? They go anyway and will figure something out when they get there. Imagine their surprise when they arrive at the tomb and it's open. What goes through their minds when they see the open tomb? The women go into the tomb with a sense of fear, worrying about what they might see, or maybe what they might not see. Is Jesus still there? I'm sure they don't expect to see a young man dressed in white, sitting on the right side of the tomb.
Mark wants us to understand who Jesus is and stand in amazement when we get it. Mark tells us the women are alarmed, but they're also amazed and overwhelmed with wonder at this young man in white robes. This is a normal human reaction to encountering the sacred, the unknown, the unexpected. The young man speaks, "Don't be alarmed, you're looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid him!"
Jesus is risen, he's alive! He's on the move. "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.'" The followers of Jesus are called to go to Galilee to meet him there; a call to trust and believe what Jesus taught them and to respond in faith. Jesus' followers have mourned. It can be hard to remember stuff during times of darkness and suffering. All you can see; all you can remember is what you've lost. Loss can go deep, especially the loss of relationships, of those we love or have loved. This is where the women are right now emotionally; they've walked through the darkness of hopelessness and loss on Friday and Saturday, but now light’s beginning to shine through. Just as the sunrise marks the beginning of a new day, this young man in shining white robes offers the light of new hope to the women.
The people being called to go see Jesus are the same ones who abandoned and denied Jesus; those afraid and hiding in an upper room are now being called to come see the one who brings freedom from fear and courage to move forward. "Tell his disciples and Peter," Peter’s singled out by the angel. Brash bold Peter who couldn't live up to his boasts, brave Peter who turned out to be not so brave after all and now living in shame and embarrassment, but that's not Jesus' desire for Peter or for you. Jesus’ resurrection is about new life and forgiveness. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we find forgiveness and acceptance by God as his redeemed children. Our sin is washed away on the cross, and our old life, our hurts, brokenness and pain find healing and wholeness in Jesus. Jesus reaches out with grace to Peter, his disciples and each of us who follow him as our Lord and Saviour.
Jesus' death and resurrection are about freedom from sin and washing away the stains and disease of sin that infects us, but it's also about new life. As followers of Jesus, we’re set free from our old lives, free from our old identities shaped by worry, shame, fear and guilt into new people shaped by forgiveness, grace, generosity, courage and more as we are changed by Jesus. As we embrace Jesus teachings, his life and his Spirit we’re transformed and approach life with hope and excitement, looking ahead to what Jesus has in store for us. Jesus' death and resurrection are confirmation of God's deepest love and commitment to you. It’s a sign that God never gives up on us and is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to show you that "neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not any powers, neither height nor depth, not anything else in all creation, will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord," as Paul writes in Romans 8.
Mark goes on, "trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid." The tomb is empty and the call is to go see Jesus. Mark says they’re trembling and bewildered. The words also mean “astonished and amazed” along with “trembling and bewildered.” Their wonder at what they've seen mixes fear because of the unexpected and unknown. Can this really be true or is this some terrible hoax? Should they get their hopes up, or will they be dashed again? They’ve gone to the tomb looking for Jesus and now they're told to look for him somewhere else because Jesus is no longer dead, but alive and well and waiting for them.
The women's voices are silenced because of their fear. Mark wants us to stop here with the story not quite done yet. He wants us to sit with the fear, the hope, the doubt and wonder all mixed up inside us. This is what we so often experience in our walk with Jesus, these are the emotions that often sit inside us, whether we want to admit it or not. Fear is powerful, fear takes away confidence and strength, fear creates doubt, and here, even with glorious news, fear takes away the women’s voices. What fear silences you? What prevents you from going out and inviting others to come and see, to go with you to find Jesus and follow the one raised from the grave? At some point we need to work through it or allow ourselves to be stopped dead in our tracks. You can run but you can’t hide from your fear, you can’t let it silence you forever. Fear blinds us to who God has given us to deal with our fear; the Holy Spirit himself. The women find their voice again as we discover in the other Gospels and the disciples learn of the empty grave and the call to look for Jesus in a place other than the tomb.
How do we deal with fear? It starts with admitting our fear honestly. If we don’t start there, fear’s not going to leave. We can voice our fear straight to God in prayer and we can find a small group of trusted people where we can be honest about our fear and how it sometimes prevents us from really following Jesus and trusting Jesus completely with our lives. This is why God has given us the gift of the church; a place where followers of Jesus can share our fear and find hope, encouragement, direction, courage and strength.
As you face your fears, the Holy Spirit is with you, helping you find your voice. As the young man in the tomb reminds the women of Jesus' words, so the Holy Spirit reminds us of Jesus' words and who he is; the Son of God, Saviour and Redeemer, Lamb of God, washer away of our sin. The Holy Spirit guides us to Jesus and convicts us of the truth of Jesus' death and resurrection, of the new life and forgiveness we have because of the empty cross and empty tomb.
Catherine Marshall sums up the benefits of trusting in God when she writes, “There is only one way to get rid of fear; like any sin, we must recognize it, confess it in true repentance, claim God’s sure promise of forgiveness, cleansing and renewal, accept these gifts, rise and get on with life. Not only new confidence, but real growth in character, follows this facing up to what we fear, provided we are acting under God’s direction.” The empty cross and tomb are a call to step forward in faith and trust, a call to go out to declare to the world that Jesus is risen and is the Lord and Saviour of all; inviting others to join you in following the risen Lord where they too will find hope, grace, healing, peace, forgiveness and acceptance as part of the family of Jesus.