“Of course it’s ridiculous!”
I think the Netflix is one of the best modern inventions. I have a basic, no-frills subscription, where they send me a movie, I watch it and send it back, and they send me another one, just one at a time.
Last one I had was Religulous. You know, that thing the comedian Bill Maher put out last year, with the apparent hope of pointing out how ridiculous it is for modern people to have religious faith, so we’d all see the error of our ways and become converts to reasonable atheism. But his examples were all from the fringes of religious belief—things that even many other religious people would tend to think are weird. And therefore, they weren’t really going to convince many religious folks to come over to his way of thinking.
But you know, there’s a sense in which Bill Maher is telling the truth. We are here today, on Easter Sunday, celebrating an event that, by all reasonable standards, is ridiculous. Really! Have you ever sat down and thought about it?
I’m not talking about what happens in hospitals pretty often nowadays, where someone whose heart has stopped is brought back from the brink with CPR or a defibrillator. That’s not resurrection. Resurrection is someone taken down from the hanging tree, wrapped in a shroud, laid in a tomb, a heavy stone rolled over the doorway, everyone gone home; and then a couple days later the tomb is empty and there’s someone sitting there pointing to the slab the dead man had been laid on, now unoccupied. And that just doesn’t happen, right?
Bill Maher and his like-minded fellows have got a point. Even the women in the story—the original version, the one we have here in Mark’s Gospel—know the whole thing is absolutely ridiculous.
The “young man”—like the man Jacob wrestled with at the ford of the Jabbok, back in Genesis 32—is enigmatic: is he an angel, or just some random kid who happened by at the right moment? And the women don’t do what he tells them to do. They don’t go and tell his disciples and Peter that he’ll be going ahead of them to Galilee. They run away in terror and amazement, and, as the text ends in the original language, “they said nothing to anyone; they were afraid, you see, for…”
It’s bad enough when a book of the Bible ends with a question, as the book of Jonah does: “And I should not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
But the original ending of Mark ends in the middle of a sentence. Later scribes decided this couldn’t be right, so they added two other endings, with appearances of the risen Christ, disciples commissioned and sent out, all the usual stuff that’s supposed to be there. But originally, Mark ended by saying, “They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone; they were afraid, you see, for…”
For it doesn’t compute. For it’s ridiculous. For that’s not how it happens. A tomb where someone’s been laid after being executed in the most horrible and violent way that the ancient world could conceive of doesn’t just turn up empty!
But it did.
That’s the reality the three women who went to the tomb at oh-dark-thirty that Sunday morning were confronted with. So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone; they were afraid, you see, for…
For it can’t be true, what the young man said: “He has been raised; he is not here.” It can’t be!
But what if it is? What if it is?
What if Jesus truly was raised, if this astonishing, completely ridiculous thing truly did happen? What else that we take for granted could be stood on its head?
They were afraid, you see, for if Jesus truly has been raised, then nothing, but nothing, will ever be the same again!