St Barbara’s 05.04.15
In the 1980s film, Sliding Doors, a woman played by Gwyneth Paltrow, having just been fired from her job, is rushing for a tube. In one scene, she just gets onto the train as the doors are sliding shut. In the next scene, the doors slide shut before she can board. The rest of the film explores two parallel universes: the one where she catches the train, meets a handsome stranger, and her life pans out, with some bumps along the way, in a suitably Hollywood happy way. The other storyline plots a downward spiral of events, all because she missed that train.
It seems to suggest that everything is down to chance. The course of our lives is determined by whether we caught that train, bumped into that particular person at a party who later turns out to be our spouse, etc.
But at Easter we are reminded that the most important thing that can happen in our lives does not happen by chance or co-incidence, but by choice.
Mark’s Gospel narrates the events of the Easter morning through the eyes of three women – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome.
They have just witnessed the death of the person who had given them life and hope and joy, who had loved them more than anyone in the world, the one in whom they believed God’s spirit dwelt.
And now in their grief, they are faced with a choice. Do they go back to the garden where Jesus’ body has been laid to finish the job of anointing the body, or do they pay their respects from a distance, staying indoors and offering silent prayers? Do they dare associate themselves further with a man who has been killed as a criminal, as someone perceived to be sufficient threat that soldiers have even been placed round his tomb? Could they end up going the same way of Jesus if they return to the tomb?
The women show immense courage. They choose to go to the tomb, carrying with them oils and spices, steeling themselves for the harrowing task ahead of having to wrap Jesus’ wounded and marred body in fresh cloths, fearful of what might happen if the guards are there.
But when they arrive at the tomb, they are confronted by a second choice. The tomb is open; the stone has been rolled away. Its a terrible moment. Have grave-robbers been at work already, stripping Jesus’ body of his grave cloths, leaving even his dead body without any dignity? Or worse still, have his enemies, not content with his death, been defiling and insulting his body still further?
Do they go in to face the unwanted sight or do they turn away, keeping their memory of Jesus as a dead friend intact?
The women choose to go in to the tomb, no doubt steeling themselves for the worst. Once their eyes have adjusted to the dark, they can barely comprehend what they see. Jesus’ grave cloths are folded neatly in a pile, but his body has gone. And there, sitting next to where Jesus’ body had been laid is a young man in a white robe, an angel. No wonder Mark tells us they are alarmed! If I had been them, I would have been terrified, scared silly.
But if seeing an angel is not enough, what he says totally throws them: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He is not here. He has risen!” But only God could do that!
And so the women must make a third choice that Easter morning: to believe the impossible and risk more shattered hopes, or not to believe and keep life safe and shuttered up, but always wondering “what if…”
What did they choose to do? The way Mark’s gospel finishes, whether by intention or because the very last part of his gospel may have got lost, means that this gospel doesn’t tell us. We are told they run from the tomb trembling and bewildered, still not sure what to believe.
But the other gospels leave us in no doubt. The women encounter the risen Jesus.
But Mark’s cliffhanger presents us with a choice too. How do we respond to the Easter story?
Do we choose to remain indifferent as if it doesn’t really matter what the angel says, or do we believe Jesus rising from the dead changes everything?
For if Jesus rose from the dead, everything does change.
For if Jesus has risen from the dead then he must be God, and following him is the most important thing any of us can do.
If Jesus has risen from the dead, then death itself has been overcome. Death is no longer the ending point to our lives, but the doorway to a life in eternity with God, a life in all its fulness. Christ has overcome death so that we can too.
If Jesus has risen from the dead, then evil and suffering no longer have the last word. A day will come when hope and life will triumph, when there will be no more grieving, no more suffering, no more despair.
If Jesus has risen from the dead, then all creation will one day follow suit, being renewed and transformed.
If Jesus has risen from the dead, then we know that the sin that has separated us from knowing God has been overcome, that he has made a way possible for us to know the love, the joy, the peace, the hope, the life of God.
If Jesus has risen from the dead, then everything changes.
What do you choose this morning? To remain indifferent or undecided, or to embrace the greatest truth of the universe.
Not chance, but your choice, changes everything.
We will not find Jesus amongst the dead. He is not there. He is risen!