1When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ “
8Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
At Christmas you usually don’t begin thinking about the end of the Gospel. Usually we focus on the manger, the shepherds, the star, the wise men, and the angels, Mary and Joseph. But, as my course work this semester comes to a close, I was astounded by the final reading from the Gospel of Mark.
Through out Mark, the portrayal of the disciples is less than satisfying. Mark doesn’t waver in depicting the disciples honestly. He tells their story warts and all, and we are better for it. One despairing scene near the end of Jesus’ life is the abandonment that he experiences from the disciples. The mob comes to arrest him in the Garden and the disciples flee. Even before this, Peter promises that he was willing to die with Jesus. A few hours later in an outer courtyard, Peter is denying that he is even identified as a follower of Jesus, while Jesus is fully embracing his identity as Messiah/Son of God. With the crowing rooster, the last picture we have of Peter is of him weeping bitterly.
So, how surprising, how encouraging to read verse 7, “go tell his disciples and Peter…” That the disciples are referred to as “his disciples” is astonishing. If any of the disciples were down and out, it was the one they called the “rock,” who resembled more of a mud slide than a solid fixture of the early church. Some change takes place for him. But, it seems that Jesus purposefully singles Peter out, and promises to reveal himself to him in Galilee. This week’s reading was a Galilee for me, a place of revealing. While, I know I will struggle in the future with certain areas of my life, I am awed that Jesus continues to offer to grace to the ones that fail him so miserablely. For Peter and the bunch, that they are still identified as his followers is almost to much to fully grasp. There is just something about God’s love for us losers, failures and weak-willed individuals that can never grow old for me. He is after all, the one who has come for the sick!
The women at the tomb are told to go and tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of them into Galilee, and that they would see him. Galilee in Mark’s gospel is a special place. It is the place of the good news, a place of healing, teaching, powerful deeds and powerful words by Jesus. I will come back to this in a moment. Jump now to the end of Mark’s gospel, the women are commissioned to go tell, and they leave in fear. Should it be any surprise that they would not follow through? This portrayl of the disciples is accurate with the other pictures of the disciples throughout the Gospel. And something else to consider here is, that whenever Jesus was beginning a new phase in his relationship with the disciples, it was followed by misunderstanding. Verse 8 ends with the disciples in fear. But, for Mark’s first audience as well as us today as readers, we know there is more to the story. For the women that we see afraid to tell, must have told, because we read about Peter’s and the other’s transformation in Acts. As a matter of fact, Mark ends much as it began, with a word from God:
“The gospel then ends, as it began, with a message from God (1:3; 16:7) pointing to a meeting with Jesus the Messiah and Son of God. As the good news of Jesus was rooted in Isaiah (see Isa 40:3 in Mark 1:3), the final command of the ‘young man’ also echoes Isaiah, with its rhythm of forgiveness and restoration after failure: ‘I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn darkness before them into light’ (Isa 42:16…)The blindness that characterized the disciples throughout (see 8:18) will be lifted, to be replaced by seeing the risen Jesus in Galilee.”
Let’s go back to this notion of Galilee for a moment. Galilee was a place of healing, service, and good news. Let this be a chilling reminder of our need to live missionally as a church. As the kingdom reign of God has broken into our world, we are to be performing works of the kingdom and speaking the words of the kingdom. All of this ties into God’s generous grace. We are invited to go and tell, may we live up to that invitation.
I know that Christmas is a time of giving and sharing, and good food. But, if there was ever a time that the world is open to Jesus it is now. How many manger scenes have you noticed out and about your community? What about at stores, like Walmart, Jesus paraphernalia is every where. As his followers we need to be amongst those at Walmart or Sears, rubbing shoulders with others who are searching for significance and meaning this Christmas. If we are truly to rediscover this notion of our “Galilees” don’t forget your community. There are hungry, and needy people in your own back yard. May we as a body never exclude the needy because they aren’t like us. Remember service and following define who we are as the people of God. If we want to truly celebrate celebrate Christmas may we do it with dirty hands and dirty feet as we are immersing ourselves in the lives of others.
John R. Donahue, and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark. Sacra Pagina. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2002), 461.