[This] is the original conclusion of Mark’s gospel. The women arrive at the tomb at dawn on the morning following the Sabbath. Prepared to anoint the body—left unprepared because it was buried in haste before the arrival of the Sabbath—they find an empty tomb. Empty linens and an enigmatic young man greet them at the tomb.
Some lectionaries omit the most important verse: ‘‘They told no one for they were afraid.’’ Mark is utterly ambiguous! If the women told no one, and if the women ran away in fear—perhaps the most credible factoid in Mark’s account—then how could the gospel ever come to be written? How is it the narrator of Mark himself has come to know about this event? More disturbing, are sealed lips, silent running and fearful flight the naturally expectable responses of disciples who encounter the results of Jesus’ resurrection? - Jeffrey VanderWilt
Sara Webb Phillips’s summary of the Resurrection message in a 2006 issue of Homily Service drew her to the theology of Frederick Buechner:
The earliest reference to the resurrection is Saint Paul’s, and he makes no mention of an empty tomb at all. But the fact of the matter is that, in a way, it hardly matters how the body of Jesus came to be missing because in the last analysis, what convinced the people that he had risen from the dead was not the absence of his corpse but his living presence. And so it has been ever since. - Frederick Buechner, The Faces Of Jesus (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), 219–20.
For those who don’t know this book, I recommend it not only for Buechner’s always surprising and helpful take on scripture but for the drawings, sculpture, and paintings of “the faces of Jesus.” They are many and varied, and they are extremely ripe for use with children who can gather around to look at a book!
The more we can fill our vision with images of Jesus, the more we can grasp what is not plausible: a human being who is also God was killed and is risen from the dead.
Phillips goes on to help us locate the places where we “see” the face of Jesus:
If Mark gives us a somber ending it was to remind us that not even the resurrection guarantees true faith in Jesus’ followers, for the resurrection cannot be appropriated at the tomb. - Sara Webb Phillips
In fact, the Resurrection was and is appropriated through the reading and preaching of God’s word, as we see in The Acts of the Apostles, from the beginning of the church’s formation.
Peter’s sermon . . . takes place in the home of Cornelius the centurion, a resident of Caesarea. The sermon will become the occasion of the “Pentecost of the gentiles,” one of the first manifestations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit among non-Jews. At the conclusion of the sermon, Luke reports, the gentiles will begin speaking in tongues, extolling God. Peter will baptize them immediately.
The sermon itself, the occasion of this startling breakthrough, rehearses a rudimentary theology of atonement or, even, a summary of the paschal mystery. Jesus is one anointed by God with the Holy Spirit. He was put to death, but “God raised him on the third day.” The theme of universal forgiveness—“everyone who believes in him”—completes the sermon where it began: “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” The nature of the ministry of Christ and his exaltation entails the universality of its accessibility to all. - Jeffrey VanderWilt
And all of us, even we who live today, are invited into that belief. We have as our forerunner the Apostle Paul to whom Jesus appeared––not as he appeared to Peter and Mary, James and John, and the others but––in a startling blinding light. This is another “face” of Jesus.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Paul testifies to the resurrection and to Jesus’ bodily appearances. Paul claims that Jesus had appeared also, lastly, to himself. Introducing this teaching Paul again uses the term paradosis as he had in relation to the Lord’s Supper. The Gospel no less than the sacrament is both received and handed on. - Jeffrey VanderWilt
All of the readings for Easter Sunday lead to the same beauty: a divine promise that what the angel said to Mary at Jesus’ conception is true: “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
Sara Webb Phillips is a United Methodist minister serving North Springs UMC in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
Jeffery VanderWilt, author of Communion with Non-Catholic Christians (Collegville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003) teaches at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Southern California.
Homily Service 39, no. 5 (2006): 30-45.