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The Church serves as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society as it is to be renewed in Christ and transformed into God's family. [ Gaudium et Soes #40]

Some Easter Thoughts 2024

1.

In some ways, we in the northern hemisphere have an easier time entering into images of Easter and resurrection than the southern hemisphere. The spring season naturally turns our thoughts to new life, transformation, life rather than death having the final say, and so forth.  But with those natural markers comes the risk of turning the resurrection of Jesus into something automatic for all humans, as though humans have a natural immortality or ability to live beyond earthly death. That would be a mistaken understanding of the Church’s faith in the resurrection of Jesus.

 

We believe that God the Father has raised Jesus from the dead. This breaks open the natural cycles of the world. The resurrection of Jesus is a unique, once-for-all, universe-shattering event that could not be predicted or explained by any simply material or natural process. It is an utter gift of God to the universe and there is no way to truly embrace its meaning other than accepting it as a gift for our lives, both now and when we die. Because Jesus has been raised, we need fear nothing and can trust in God in all circumstances. Because Jesus has been raised, all the sufferings and limitations of this life can never claim to have ultimate power and so we can live as people of hope. Because Jesus has been raised, we can risk loving others, even when that love is not reciprocated.

 

2.

Take a look at the resurrection of Jesus as depicted in the Gospel of Mark, since that is the Year B Cycle we are in.  Mark’s Gospel originally ended with Mark 16:6-8 “[The young man clothed in white] said to the women, ‘Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’ Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” A very odd ending, isn’t it? No appearance stories. No interaction between Jesus and the disciples. Only the announcement of the resurrection from an angelic-type being, the commissioning of the women to tell the others and their failure to do so.

 

Throughout the gospel of Mark the failure of the disciples to understand the mission and ministry of Jesus is highlighted. Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s three-fold denial, and the fleeing of all the male disciples as Jesus is arrested, convicted and led to crucifixion marks .  These mark the absolute lowest point that those male disciples could sink to. They did not want a suffering Messiah. They did not want to suffer themselves. They wanted the glory without the cost.

 

But at least the women disciples remained nearby and steadfast. Even when their Lord and Messiah had to suffer and be put to death, they stood steadfast and watched. They would still care for his body, and so come to the tomb to anoint the body in a more complete way. But no corpse is there. Only a young man telling them that Jesus has been raised and is expecting them in Galilee.  They are to share this good news with Peter and the other disciples, but in the end, fear gets the better even of these most exemplary women disciples.  So they fail in the task given them, at least according to the original ending of Mark’s gospel. They could handle the suffering but could not conceive what it meant to live a new life connected to the risen Lord.

 

Mark is quite intentional in ending his gospel in such a way. In the end, only God is ultimately faithful, and it is only by God’s action that salvation and new life can come about. Without going into excessive detail, there was a style of using verb forms connected to God called the “divine passive” (“he has been raised”).  When used in this way it is meant to be a signal that no human actor has caused the event, but God alone.  Mark also has other ways to stress the same point. For example, as Jesus is being arrested a “young man wearing a linen cloth” is seized but escapes by losing the linen cloth and fleeing. That is an image of the disciples, especially the male disciples. They think they are clothed (acting) properly, but in their fear and unwillingness to walk the path of the cross and suffering they flee naked. Now there is a “young man clothed in white linen” at the tomb, unafraid, a messenger of God, sent there on behalf of God. Only God remains steadfast. Disciples fail out of fear.

 

Or another example. Shortly before the Passover meal with his disciples Jesus is at a dinner in Bethany with “Simon the leper” (Mark 14:3-9). A woman uses costly and an extravagant amount of perfume to anoint Jesus. Jesus sees it as an unexpected preparation for his death. He says that wherever the gospel story is told, that event of anointing will be told “in memory of her”. So, when the women come to anoint his dead body, they don’t get it. They’ve already failed to remember as Jesus has told them to. Mark is trying to emphasize that the unexpected, divinely-inspired gift of the other woman is sufficient for Jesus.  He will not need the anointing the woman want to do at the tomb, for the body will no longer be there. And when given a different task, they do not carry it out. Even the most faithful of the women disciples is not what we as a Christian community can put our trust in. Only in God and the way of his Son, Jesus, crucified, raised, who is always “going before us” as we go about our daily lives.

 

Because that original ending did not sit well with the early Christian Church and other gospels included more hopeful endings of appearances of Jesus to disciples, an editor of the gospel later added a coda, or extra ending, to the gospel of Mark, which became part of our inspired Scriptures. It is patched together from events that the other three gospels talk about and tries to harmonize Mark’s account with the others.   The first appearance in the extra section is reminiscent of John’s depiction of Mary Magdalene in his gospel.  The second appearance story is a brief mention of two disciples that reminds us of Luke’s “road to Emmaus” story. And the third appearance is very similar in wording to Matthew’s account of the risen Lord. 

 

These make for a more hope-filled ending for sure. But we should not minimize Mark’s concern and the reason why he ended the gospel the way he did. We Christians (of Mark’s day as well as in our times) are too quick to assume that the resurrection of Jesus somehow comes about automatically for us, without cost. Mark is insistent that there is always a cost—the suffering and death Jesus endured on the cross for us and for all—and so the suffering and death we are invited to share with the Lord on behalf of others and for the sake of others. Yes, we can share in the Lord’s resurrection but we first must share in his suffering and death.  Will we “go to Galilee” to find out what the Lord needs us to do, even though it will mean taking up that cross, trusting in the new life that God can bring, trusting that the risen Lord will be there before us? Or, will we falter, and in fear not risk fully trusting in God’s invitation?

 

Do not be afraid! Jesus is risen! He will go before us. Alleluia! Alleluia!

 

Fr. Dave

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