The oldest known version of the Gospel of Mark ends simply with the women finding an EMPTY TOMB. In this oldest form, there is no appearance of the Risen Jesus. Only the empty tomb. Mark has told the whole of the story of the life and death of Jesus—his baptism, his ministry, his words, his miraculous works, his betrayal, his arrest and trial, his passion and crucifixion and death—and finally, … he leads us with the women into an empty tomb. We are told by a young man clothed in white: “He has risen; He is not here; LOOK, here is the place where they laid Him.”
But these are the women who witnessed His torture and execution with their own eyes. These are the women who accompanied His broken and bloodied Body to the borrowed tomb—to this final dark, dank place of death. We were there ourselves on Good Friday!
The earliest redaction of Mark’s Gospel simply ends with this sentence: “Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” But clearly this is NOT the end. It is NOT what the women expect to find on this early Sunday morning … they are seized with trembling, not simply because the body of the Lord is missing … but rather, the words and teachings of Jesus begin to race through their minds: “Destroy this temple,” He said, “and on the third day I will raise it up.” …Only now (as they see the empty tomb) do they begin to suspect WHO Jesus is. And they are both terrified and enthralled as they come to believe. The goodness of God defies their wildest imaginations. Because, with this discovery of the empty tomb, these women come to believe in their hearts—“Everything this man said and did was absolutely TRUE.” And NOW He, who loved us, had even conquered DEATH!
Pope Paul VI wrote in his exhortation On Christian Joy: “The resurrection of Jesus is the seal placed by the Father on the value of His Son's sacrifice: it is the proof of the Father's fidelity (37). The promise of God is TRUE. The eternal Father raises the Son to new life, a life that never ends. And Jesus, the Son, now glorified makes it His first priority to return to us; “I will not leave you orphans!” He said. His glorious, risen Body is now the sign of the promise to us.
Brothers and sisters, do we understand that this is OUR story (we who were baptized into Christ Jesus). We, too, look into the tomb, the dark tomb hewn out of rock … and perhaps we expect to find in that place of death our countless infidelities before God, our history of casual betrayals, an immeasurable debt of sin for which we cannot atone (we know it well)… and YET, we are told by the young man in white sitting in the tomb, these are GONE (see where they had laid!), these are GONE because He is RISEN and He goes ahead to meet you. GO, tell the others, and go to meet Him.
Let me mention something here that NEEDS to be heard again and again in our times. In the Gospels, including the extended ending we heard in Mark’s Gospel today, angels (and eventually Jesus Himself) tells those who find the empty tomb or who see Him risen: “GO AND TELL THE OTHERS!” Just as Jesus had called twelve apostles and a multitude of disciples to share His mission, just as gave Himself in the Eucharist on Holy Thursday and COMMANDED the Twelve to “DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME,” NOW these chosen disciples are COMMANDED to witness to the Resurrection… What do I mean to say? IT is that JESUS CHRIST gives HIS LIFE and SPIRIT to His CHURCH and MAKES HIS CHURCH one with Himself. …The cover of last week’s Newsweek magazine had an image of Jesus in contemporary clothing with the striking title: “Forget the Church, Follow Jesus.” Quite an exploitative cover for Easter… No doubt it again harkens to the scandals that have plagued the Church in recent years, BUT ironically it fails to understand that Jesus Himself is responsible for the Church—He chose certain disciples to share His authority to baptize, to teach, and to cast out demons. Jesus chose St. Peter to be the ROCK for His Church, against which even HELL would NOT prevail. Jesus gave to the Church the authority to absolve and to bind the sins of men and women. And finally it was Jesus who commanded and enabled His apostles to make the gift of His life and death present in the Eucharistic banquet. Jesus chose sinners to be His disciples—but He guarantees His salvation by the Sacraments they celebrate and by their remembrance on Sunday of His death and resurrection. And finally, Jesus identifies Himself with the community of His Church, with the members of His Church. It is the privileged commission of the Church, her bishops, priests and deacons, and her baptized faithful to always proclaim year-in and year-out WHO JESUS IS. As Cardinal Dolan has said many times in recent months, there is NO Christ without the Church, because He continues to LIVE and to FORGIVE through His Church. If you or a family member or a friend has been away from Mass and Confessions for a long time, tell them not EVEN the failings of priests and believers should justify the refusal of God’s sacraments! The throne of mercy is always waiting for us through the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the promise of ETERNAL LIFE is found in the Sunday Eucharist (Jesus says: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and will raise him up on the last day.”)
Brothers and sisters, JESUS CHRIST LIVES FOR US … and now WISHES only one thing of the Father, as he said on Holy Thursday night: “Father, I pray that where I am they also may be, so that they may see the glory which You have given Me, because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
In a moment we will renew our baptismal vows as members of Christ’s Church. . . . At our baptism, you and I received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Risen CHRIST. What does that mean??? It means we possess the SEED of RESURRECTION within our hearts … because Jesus now lives forever, sharing our humanity, …our lives and our acts of love bear ETERNAL consequence. GOD’S LIFE NOW LIVES WITHIN US.
Brothers and sisters, do we wish to heed the voice of God? Let us then leave the TOMB and all that is within it … and let us go with faith and joy to meet our risen Lord at the altar and in our hearts. Christ is risen! He is truly RISEN!