"He Has Been Raised"
Mark 16:1-8
Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones
April 8, 2012

Anthony Griffith grew up in a rough neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.  He's a stand-up comedian who moved his family to Los Angeles in the 90s in hopes of becoming a star.  Within a week of arriving in LA, he received two calls that changed his life.  One was from the 'The Tonight Show,' saying they wanted him to make an appearance.  This is the gig every comedian wants to score.  The other call was from their pediatrician, telling him that his two-year-old daughter's cancer had returned.

For the next year, Griffith lived a surreal life, caring for his daughter by day, performing comedy in clubs by night.  When he appeared on "The Tonight Show," he was an instant hit.  They wanted him back.

As his daughter's condition worsened, the talent coordinator for "The Tonight Show" kept urging him to keep his material light - "Don't be dark and biting," he was lectured.

While he was preparing on material for his second appearance, his daughter was in the hospital suffering from radiation treatments.  He said, "I have to be a clown because I have to earn a living to keep my family afloat.  Nobody wants a comedian who is not funny."

Suppressing all his true feelings, he was light and amusing on his second appearance.  The show thought he was better than the first time and asked him to come back again.  Then, on the day of his third appearance, he received another call from the doctor.  He said, "I'm sorry; we've done all we can do for your daughter."

Griffith asked, "How long does she have?"

The reply was, "Six weeks at most."

"Griffith thought to himself:  I had planned to buy my daughter a bicycle.  I had planned to walk her to school on the first day of kindergarten.  I had planned to take pictures of her going to her first prom.  How do you plan to buy a dress for your two-year- old daughter to be buried in?"1

Do you know what it is to lose someone precious?  Do you know what it is to have your dreams obliterated?

Today is the highpoint of the Christian year.  We show up this morning to sing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today!"  We declare that the tomb could not hold him because God raised him to everlasting life.  However, we cannot fully embrace the significance of the resurrection until we have walked the painful road of Good Friday.  We cannot feel the impact of the messenger's declaration to the women: "He has been raised!" if we have not experienced the despair of having our hopes vanquished.  We would love to skip from mountaintop to mountaintop, but our lives always include many deep valleys; and some experience dark pits.

The Gospel of Mark is the Bible's earliest and shortest gospel.  It is also the gospel with the most perplexing narrative of the resurrection of Christ.  The final eight verses of Mark tell us that after what had been two days of hell for his followers, the dawn is breaking on Sunday morning.  Three women, whose hopes had been dashed when their leader was executed, drag themselves to the tomb.  They are struggling to cope with the unthinkable, so they go where his body was placed after being taken down from the cross.

Our text says that the women are carrying spices to anoint his body.  Is it something they felt obligated to do or did they volunteer for this mission because they needed to see and touch his body one last time?  Perhaps they were doing what many of us do when we are in the throes of grief, instead of just sitting and weeping, instead of just staring at the computer or the television, we get up and figure out something to do to keep busy.

On the path to the tomb, the women admit that their mission may be pointless.  After all, who will remove the enormous stone from the entrance?  Then, as they draw within sight of it, they see that the stone has been rolled away.  They step inside and see a young man in a majestic white robe.  Their pulse begins to race and they have difficulty breathing.  He says, "Do not be alarmed; you're looking for Jesus.  He is not here.  He has been raised."

As the women are trying to make sense of his words, the man gives them instructions.  "Go, tell his disciples that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him."

Then Mark's final verse that has baffled believers and stumped scholars for centuries:  "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 women "said nothing to anyone because they were afraid."  We're well acquainted with fear.  Presidential hopefuls use fear of their opponent to fuel their campaigns.  People fear the economy will not fully recover.  Some fear people of other religions they don't understand.  Syrian civilians fear that help will never rescue them from the army's shelling.  Some fear they will lose their jobs.  Some fear their retirement savings won't be enough.  Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law at the core of the tragic shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin was written in response to fear.  When the women entered the tomb, nothing was as they expected, so they fled in fear and told no one.

Why did Mark end his gospel so abruptly?  We're not sure.  Scholars propose various theories.  Keep in mind that when Mark wrote his gospel, about 40 years after the event, he was writing to an established Christian community.  The community would not have existed if those first Christians had not believed in Christ's resurrection.  Though the women did not immediately tell the disciples what happened when they reached the tomb, word got out.

You remember that while Jesus was alive, his disciples often failed to grasp his message or to live up to his standards.  When Jesus was arrested, his followers were terrified and went into hiding.  However, something happened after Jesus was killed that made them so courageous they were willing to die rather than to deny he was their Savior.

Keep in mind that when the Romans killed Jesus, they did not do it in secret.  If they had simply wanted to rid themselves of Jesus, they could have sent a few assassins over to Bethany, on the other side of the Mount of Olives where Jesus was staying.  They could have snuffed out his life under the cover of darkness when there were no crowds around.  However, the Romans intentionally crucified him to make a very public declaration: "If you challenge us, this is what will happen to you.  Got it?"

The Romans were determined to strike fear in his followers.  They were intent on stopping the Jesus movement in its tracks.

Yet, the disciples experienced something so compelling that nothing could frighten them.  Nearly every one of the twelve was eventually put to death for claiming Christ as their Savior.  What could have prompted such an about face, and such a firm commitment other than Christ's resurrection from the dead?

The other three gospels tell of appearances of Jesus after the resurrection.  The Apostle Paul wrote his letters 20 years before the Gospel of Mark and he said that if there is no resurrection, then our faith is futile.  In a letter to the church in Corinth, Paul identifies a number of people who saw the risen Jesus after he had been crucified.  He writes that Christ appeared to Peter (Cephas), the twelve, more than 500 at once - most of whom were still alive at the time of his writing.  Jesus also appeared to James, then all of the apostles and then to Paul himself. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).  Paul was suggesting, "If you are skeptical of what I say, there are still several hundred people who saw Jesus after the crucifixion.  Go talk to them."

Perhaps the abrupt ending of Mark is not so baffling.  I think Mark wanted to make sure that he did not leave the impression that the resurrection cancelled the suffering of Jesus.  He did not want Easter Sunday to totally erase Good Friday, because there is still darkness in the world.  He wants us to know that Christ knows suffering, so he will not abandon us in ours.  Christ is present in whatever future we face, giving us strength to endure and working to bring healing to our lives.

Casey Thompson, the pastor of Wayne Presbyterian Church up the road, says that when his daughter's appendix ruptured, all of the things he had done to try to make his family's life secure were useless.  His "pension was useless, the locks on his door were useless, the airbags in his car were useless, his job was useless.  His health insurance was useful, but not comforting" and as far as guaranteeing his daughter health, useless.  He realized that "There are pieces of life we simply cannot manage, that we cannot secure in bubble wrap, that we cannot lock away in a safety deposit box.  Our lives are vulnerable, no matter our preparations against the troubles.  He said, "What sustained me as I suffered through those horrible nights was knowing that Christ would never abandon my girl - even if the worst were to happen and she didn't make it, Christ would not abandon her - and Christ would never abandon me."2

We may expend a great deal of energy trying to bring security to our lives but there are times when nothing but our faith in Christ will sustain us.  As one colleague quipped, "People have not been gathering for the past 2,000 years to say, 'My portfolio has risen!  It has risen indeed!"3

We still must live with Good Friday.  The world is not all beauty and goodness; suffering and death are a part of life.  Christian hope never denies or trivializes the darkness, but it does say this Good Friday is not the final word; Easter is.  The final words are not injustice, deceit, oppression and death.  The final words are justice, truth, love and life.

When your heart has been pierced and you are forced to live the nightmare you have always feared, you may think your suffering will never go away.  In every direction you look, life is dark and you are certain that you will never see anything but darkness.  But then, unexpectedly, the sun peeks above the horizon and a ray of light flashes.  It is so startling you don't know what to say.  Your weeping is interrupted by laughter, you see a purpose for living another day.  How can you explain it?  Every time you make an attempt, your words fall flat.  But as people of faith, we can say this: Easter always follows Good Friday.  Because Christ has been raised, the name of the future is HOPE.



1.         Mark Ramsey, "How Do You Plan for This?" Journal for Preachers, Easter 2012, p. 33.

2.         Casey Thompson, "Unless," in Journal for Preachers, Easter 2012, p.47.

3.         John Ortberg, "Resurrection: Metaphor or Miracle?" April 12, 2009.