Easter Day April 2006
Mark 14:51 A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.
The young man escapes "by the skin of his teeth." He is naked. He has lost everything. In the Greek, it is implied that the sheet is a burial shroud. As Jesus is being taken to his death, his follower loses everything too. It is not too much to say that our death as disciples is described, and asked of us, in this metaphor.
Mark 16:1-8 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; 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. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you. 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
The tomb was empty. There is no Jesus. "He has been raised." The women have gone to the place of the dead, and there are no dead there, only the living.
The young man has returned. He is no longer naked. He is clothed in robes of the sort worn by the religious elite. He is alive! He understands the secret of Jesus which has been hinted at and misunderstood all through the gospel. He is the one to listen to. He tells us the secret: go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.
This is a key point in Mark's gospel. Do you want to see Jesus? Go to Galilee. Galilee is outside the City. As at the beginning of the Gospel, you cannot see Jesus if you belong to the City. You must come out from Jerusalem. He does not use that word out casually. Jerusalem is the seat of power and religious respectability. It is the place of the elite. The elite do not know Jesus. To find him you must come out of Jerusalem and go to Galilee. He is also not to be found in the tomb. It is a living faith we are talking about- a life that is lived in Galilee by living the way Jesus would live in our shoes.
Let us be clear who Jerusalem are. Joseph of Arimethea was a rich man. It is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Joseph does go through the eye of a needle. By asking for Jesus body and providing a tomb he went through the eye of a needle out of the City, forever a marked man, never to fully belong again.
But it is not just a ''monetary city'' we speak of. It is belonging to the "in" group that is at issue. Jerusalem is wherever and whenever the peers we admire or envy, and wish to have admire us, live in a way that is not the way of Christ. To find Jesus is forever to live on the outside. Even literal Galilee can have its little Jerusalems.
The End, and the Beginning
Mark is notable for its ending. It is plain that either the original text ended at 16:8 or 'the last page of the book' got lost. The verses beyond verse 8, and there are several versions, are universally understood to be later additions. I like the ending as it is.
So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
We are tempted to read these words as a failure to do the bidding of the young man. And I've heard them preached as a failure to truly follow Christ. It may be so. But they speak to me of an authentic response. We should be terrified when we find the empty tomb. It says we can't go home from the funeral, and (however slowly) slowly settle back into life, because it is not over. The tomb is empty. He is still calling us. He is calling us out of the comfort of our city to the wilds of Galilee. He is promising us an uncertain resurrection that demands everything. Like the early church we know in our history books (apart from Luke's rosy reconstruction decades later) we flee and are invisible for a long time, until suddenly we find the Christ blooming within us.
The Body of the Faith
Lastly, and least, what of the physical resurrection of Christ's body?
It does not matter. It simply does not matter. To make the physical resurrection of Christ an issue, is to utterly miss the point.
Let us imagine it really happened that one of the thousands the Romans crucified, was somehow raised back to a sublimely different, but somehow recognisably the same, living physical body. Well, there is one more amazing and unfathomable mystery in this utterly amazing, unfathomable world. But that mystery still does not compare with the even deeper mystery, where we are freed from our fear of the world, and our ending, and brought to a peace, and assurance, and at-one-ness with what Is!
To haggle over the historicity of a resurrection is to miss the point that the tomb was empty and Jesus is in Galilee.
In fact, the current arguments that insist on Jesus' physical resurrection, or make it a condition of christian faith, show a major misunderstanding of our cultural situation. In Matthew's time, and for Luke and John, there was a danger that the material nature of our selves would be forgotten by those who wanted to see the physical world as an illusion or, at best, irrelevant. Hence the touching of scars and eating of fish.
We live in a different philosophical era and face a different heresy. Our era wants to give the physical and material world primacy, and deny the spiritual. We are so spiritually impoverished we struggle to even know what we mean by the word 'spiritual.'
In a previous page to this one, I put down some notes on what I understand spiritual to mean. I have pasted them below. Read them in this light: to insist on a physical resurrection is to join one of the heresies of this age. It is an insistence that has been trapped by the western foolishness that only the physical counts.
Spirituality starts with honestly living the Jesus life. It can be naive and misled. It may even be foolish. But it is marked by a certain humility that is seeking to live as Jesus showed us. It knows its poverty and shortcomings, and finally becomes rich in its assurance and peace.
The spiritual realm is the reality that this way of living [living as Jesus would live in our shoes] is THE way to live. It is the primary reality, the reality where sentience and consciousness are the foundation on which the material grows and is organised. We- and I mean the two consciousnesses talking together- we are not some improbable event which finally developed from the basic building blocks of matter. We are some small, glorious (and self conscious) part of a much greater, unfathomable Consciousness that brings order out of matter. There is more to life than meets the eye!
We live, as westerners, in a world where the material, vital to our existence, is nonetheless idolised. This is not just in the shops, but in the underlying (and so universal that it seems real and obvious) assumption that matter is primary. In the end, to be spiritual is to discover our true nature. Sometimes, for a few seconds... even hours, living the spiritual life brings us to a small thin place through which we glimpse that greater consciousness.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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