“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That’s the original ending of the gospel of Mark. This is not an April Fool’s joke. It’s really how the story ends! This ending so exasperated those who made copies of Mark’s gospel, that they added several additional stories to it. These stories included Jesus appearing to Mary, and then to two disciples, as well as Jesus commissioning the disciples and his Ascension.
The stories of his appearance that were added to Mark tell us that when Mary and two unnamed disciples finally got the courage to share the news that Jesus had risen from the dead, the other disciples did not believe them. Apparently, they thought someone was playing a cruel April Fool’s joke on them. They doubted that it was true.
This same attitude is seen in the gospel of Luke. When the women tell the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead, Luke says, “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” In others words, it was fairy tale, a work of fiction. It was a cruel April Fool’s joke and they were not in the mood to hear it.
In addition to these stories, we have the actions of Pontius Pilate after Jesus was crucified. Matthew says that “the next day…the chief priests and Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.”
Then Pilate gave the orders to send Roman soldiers to guard the entrance of the tomb. They sealed it shut by placing a large stone over its entrance. Apparently, Pilate also thought there might be some mischief surrounding Jesus’ death and burial, and that was NOT going to happen while he was in charge.
As the story continues in Matthew we see the chief priests are also concerned about a hoax being played on the people. When the guards encounter the angel of the Lord who rolls the stone away from the tomb’s entrance, they pass out like dead men. After they recover from their initial shock of seeing an angel, they share with the chief priests what had happened. The chief priests bribe them, and tell them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”
Matthew ends the story by telling us “So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.” So who is playing an April Fool’s joke now? Who is being the trickster? The deceiver?
I share all of this with you because when we picture in our mind’s eye what the first Easter Sunday must have looked like none of this information is a part of it. Our version of the story is all neat and sorted. Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene go the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. They discover that the tomb is empty. They encounter the risen Christ. Then they tell the disciples what they have seen. The disciples rejoice and go out into the world to share the news that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!
The problem with this version of the events that happened on Easter morning is that it’s all neat and sorted, while the real story is much messier than that. There is doubt and disbelief. There are people worried about hoaxes being played, and myths being touted as truth. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The reason why I say this is that life is NEVER all neat and sorted. It’s messy and complicated. We sometimes have a hard time separating truth from fiction. We don’t always know what to believe or who to believe. Amen?
The power of the Easter story is that is that in spite of doubt and disbelief, and people thinking a cruel April Fool’s joke was being played on them, the truth of the resurrection of Jesus changed the world. The presence of the risen Christ not only erased doubt and disbelief, it ignited a movement. It transformed scared disciples and turned them into bold proclaimers who gave their lives to defend the good news they had to share. It squashed the rumor mill from outsiders who kept saying that all of this was just one big April Fool’s joke.
This is the version of the Easter story we should have firmly fixed in our minds. It tells us that we don’t have to be strong all the time to be faithful disciples of Jesus. We can have our doubts about where Christ is in the midst of our suffering. We can be skeptical that new life can come from the deaths and losses we experience. We can wonder who will roll the stone away from situations that make us feel like we are entombed with no escape.
You see, the path of those who follow Jesus is not smooth sailing all the time. It’s more like a rollercoaster than it is a paved highway. It’s messy and complicated with days where our faith is strong and we feel invincible. These are followed by days where we want to pull the covers over our heads are refuse to get out of bed.
I don’t know what kind of day you’re having today, but you are here and I am here. And for whatever reason we all need to hear the Good news that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. We need to be reminded that in the mist of our difficult and complicated lives, Christ is always with us.
The truth of the matter is we don’t have to believe this 100% of the time, because Jesus promises to be faithful to us in spite of whatever doubts and fears we have at any given moment. The gospel stories of that first Easter morning tell us that Jesus was faithful to the disciples in spite of their denials, doubts and disbelief. This is truly the Good News of the Easter story. The One who was crucified and buried, destroyed death forever. It’s already a done deal. It’s OK if we are not strong all the time, because Jesus is strong all the time for us.
So Friends in Christ, let’s not sanitize the version of the Easter story we have in our minds. Instead, let it be a human story, filled with imperfect people who had their doubts from time to time. Let it be a human story about a Savior who would not let those doubts stand in the way of them experiencing resurrection and new life. Happy Easter! Amen.
Copyright ©2018 by David Eck