April 5, 2015
Easter is about transformation. Even though we usually describe the transformation as a movement from death to life, from a corpse to a risen body, from a broken world to God’s kingdom, these descriptions do not exhaust the meaning of Easter. In fact, we could identify several other movements that truly point to the power of Jesus’ resurrection. The evangelist Mark offers us one such transformation in his gospel.
In Mark’s account of the empty tomb there is an unusual character. When the women enter the tomb, they see a young man dressed in white. We are not told who this young man is. But he announces to the women that Jesus is risen. Now Mark is the only gospel that places the Easter proclamation at the tomb on the lips of a young man. Matthew uses an angel. And in John’s gospel, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene himself. So why does Mark situate this young man at the empty tomb? We can answer this question when we realize that there is only one other place in Mark’s gospel where a young man appears. It is during Jesus’ passion. You may remember it from the passion we read last weekend. At Jesus’ arrest, there is a young man who is dressed only in a linen cloth. When the guards try to arrest him, he breaks free, leaving the cloth behind and running away naked.
What Mark has done is positioned two unnamed young men, one just before and the other just after Jesus’ resurrection. He does this because he wants to use the character of these two young men to describe the transformation that Jesus’ resurrection brings about. What is the transformation that Mark is describing? The beginning point is easy. The young man at the arrest is afraid. He flees in panic. His character is a character of fear. But the young man at the tomb is a surprise. Because if these two young men are meant to describe the transformation that Jesus’ resurrection brings about, we would expect a movement from fear to courage or from fear to peace. But that is not the movement that Mark gives us. He presents a movement from fear to service. The young fearful man in the passion is contrasted to the young man at the tomb who serves the women by proclaiming the resurrection and telling them that they are to go to Galilee where they will see Jesus. The young man at the tomb might still be afraid, but somehow Jesus’ resurrection has turned him away from his inner fear and has re-orientated him to see the needs of others.
Mark uses his gospel to apply the resurrection to our lives. What he is suggesting is that when we are afraid, we should act in service to others. If you are afraid that your career is not going as you had hoped, if you are afraid that you will never find another person to love as a partner in life, this gospel challenges you to find someone who is struggling, to serve that person, and to leave the rest to God. If you worry about your children or your grandchildren—will they be safe? will they be good? will they make wise decisions?—this gospel asks you to find people in need and to help them. It asks you to let your generosity be a light to guide and direct those who you love. If you are afraid that you will never overcome the grief that you feel over the loss of a loved one or that you will never have the strength to face a serious sickness or to cope with your own death, the young man in today’s gospel asks you not to turn inward but outward. To take whatever gifts you have and offer them to someone who will receive them. He promises you that this is the way to peace.
We all have things we fear. Mark’s gospel asks fearful people to serve. It tells us that the way we deal with fear is not by lamenting and worrying, but by acting and giving. Of course, it takes faith to believe that Jesus’ resurrection works in this way. But the young man in today’s gospel assures us that such faith is the faith of Easter.