Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome set out at first light with a purpose. They carried spices and headed to the tomb that held Jesus’ dead body. It had been around 40 hours since he was taken off the cross and they couldn’t preserve him before now because it was the Sabbath and such activity would be forbidden. There were no funeral homes. Someone he knew, someone who loved him a lot, would have to do one last act of kindness and attend to his corpse. The job was for these women.
They went to tomb to anoint him for death. Along the way, a problem was raised, and it was pretty significant. “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” Mark doesn’t mention guards stationed there. That’s Matthew. But, reading Mark, even if we include the guards because we also read Matthew, it is unlikely Roman guards would have rolled aside the stone to help the women. The purpose of the guards at the tomb was to keep Jesus’ followers out, not help them get in.
What would these women do? In all likelihood, it was a stone that would require at least two strong men and maybe more. The women did not think it was in their power to accomplish the feat. “Who will roll away the stone for us?” This was the question they asked each other. It seemed to be a problem that couldn’t be solved.
I wonder how many people accept problems like that throughout life. I think of Helen Keller, the famous author who was both blind and deaf. Her family did not know how to relate to her, so, she was never given boundaries. She was treated like an uncontrollable animal. Her family accepted her problem and theirs. She was a child who could not communicate and thus must be mentally incompetent.
I think of Joni Erikson Tada. She was a beautiful young woman who was talented, athletic, and had her whole life before her. Then she dove into water that was too shallow and her neck broke. She was 17 and had completely lost use of her body from shoulders down. She was a quadriplegic.
I think of a couple I know right now. They desperately want to be parents. They want to have a child, but to this point have been infertile. I don’t know why, but a baby hasn’t come. It has put a strain on their marriage. They fight. They wander into dangerous temptations, sexual, drug-related, and other. They have a problem. There are so many problems and so often we accept them, learn to live with them, and cannot imagine life without them.
The Apostle Paul had a thorn in his flesh and flatly declared that he asked God to remove the thorn and God would not. In fact, it was a problem given by God, Paul thought (2 Corinthians 12). We just learn to live with our problems and carry on. There is nothing else to do.
But what if the problem goes away or is solved? What then? “They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been moved back” (Mark 16:3-4). Now what?
Helen Keller’s family brought in a young woman, a teacher, Annie Sullivan. Through trauma and tears and unyielding persistence, she broke through the darkness and silence and taught Helen to communicate through touch. Now what? Helen’s family discovered they did not have an unseeing, unhearing wild animal disguised in human skin. They had a daughter who grew to become a writer, a college graduate, and one of the world’s most famous activists, advocating for people with disabilities. The problem had become normal, but once Helen was released from the prison of her limitations, she and everyone around her would have to find a new normal.
Joni Erikson Tada went through two rigorous years of rehabilitation, and when it was done, she was a world-class artist whose sketches and paintings, usually printed on greeting cards, became in such high demand, she became famous. She wrote her biography, which was a huge seller. In those two years of physical rehab, did she regain use of at least her arms? Nope. She is as much a quadriplegic today as when the accident happened so many years ago. What happened is she learned to paint with her teeth. Can you imagine? Joni is a devoted Christian and her art and her books line the shelves of Christian book stores. She went from tragic figure to famous evangelical author – a new normal.
Talk about new normal; if the infertile couple I know has a miracle and they get pregnant and have a child, or if they pursue the miracle through the adoption process, their days of longing for parenthood will be over. Those days will be replaced by the thrills, joys, wonder, and sleeplessness, frustration, and headaches of parenthood. The three greatest blessings of my life aside from my walk with Christ and my relationship with my wife are the three kids we adopted. When each one came into our family, finding the new normal took well over a year. Our youngest has only been with us 10 months. We are still searching.
Mary, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb operating under a sense of normal that every human being can understand: death. When someone dies, they are dead. Jesus died and had been dead since mid afternoon Friday. It was early Sunday. There was no mistaking it. He, who had loved them like no one ever had, compassionately, generously, and altruistically, was gone. He was dead. That was it.
Maybe they would solve the problem of the stone and get in and do the morbid task of anointing a lifeless corpse. Maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe their last effort toward Jesus, besides him remembering him, would be their frustration at having rough, Roman guards block their entry. Either way Jesus was dead and there was nothing they could do.
“When they looked up, they saw the stone … rolled back. A young man dressed in a white robe … said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here. … He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him” (16:7). The final verse says the women ran out of the tomb and said nothing because they were terrified.
Resurrection should terrify. It should have the same effect on us, if we truly believe it. Really? A dead body, raised to life? Can it be? From the other gospels and the rest of the New Testament, we know those women did not maintain their silence. They told what they saw and heard, and everyone they spoke to had just as much difficulty accepting it as they did.
The 12 disciples; many other male and female Jesus-followers; all had come to accept that they lost and the temple rulers won and the Roman overlords determined the outcome. God could not possibly be as powerful as evil religion or demonic politics. The way of Jesus was the way of forgiveness, grace, mercy, compassion, and inclusion of the least of these. Every single one of Jesus’ followers accepted that his way lost out, the world was cruel, and God couldn’t win. That’s normal!
To follow Jesus is to believe what the New Testament emphatically states in numerous ways. The way of Jesus is different than the normal we humans live, a normal completely stained by sin. To walk in his way and be one of his people, we step out of the norm and into God’s calling. We come at God’s invitation which is seen through the New Testament but especially in John 3:16. Everyone who believes in him will not die but will have everlasting life.
Even stating that is tricky because out bodies die. Have you been to the funeral of a Christian? I have, about 40 of them, give or take. Christ-followers die. The only way John 3:16 and the rest of the New Testament can be true is if resurrection truly happened. Every Easter, we declare that it did. He rose and He is alive. And, He invites us to join Him in resurrection. Knowing that and giving our lives to him, we know that today, we live as resurrection people.
What is our new normal, now that our death problem is gone? What do they women do after they get over their shocked silence? They tell. So how do we live, once we get past the amazement and realize, yes, our deceased loved ones will rise and we will see them because we will rise too? What does that mean today?
First, we shouldn’t get past the amazement. Rather, we bask in it. This is a day of celebration unlike any other. Our songs have energy and our worship is vibrant. We stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene. Second, we turn to the rest of the New Testament for guidance in living in the resurrection. One excellent place to go is the last chapter of Hebrews, Hebrews 13. There we find a series of instructions and when we follow these in every area of life, our lives changes. That change in turn as an enormous effect on those around us.
It says, let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality. Let marriage be held in honor by all. Do not commit sexual sin, but preserve the beautiful gift of sex for the marriage bed only, one man, one woman. Keep life free from the love of money. Remember your spiritual leaders and do not fall for false teaching in matters of theology. Our savior endured much suffering, so when we are called to do so, we willingly, joyfully suffer in Jesus’ name.
Furthermore, the author of Hebrews tells the church to continually praise God, even in extremely bad times, to do good and not neglect good works, and to pray. The author unabashedly asks for prayer because prayer is a staple in the resurrection, the new normal. These and other activities are recommended repeatedly in Paul’s letters, in James, the 1st & 2nd Peter, and here. The message from many different authors is so consistent and so outside of what the fallen world expects.
We live in the midst of the fall, but we are defined not by the problems but the solution which is the resurrection of Jesus. We celebrate that resurrection today as we are called out of the chains of our sins and out of the slavery imposed by death and into resurrection living. This is life, our new normal and Jesus offers it to us. He is alive. Hallelujah.