Then Comes the Morning

Robert L. Getty, Ph.D. - April 5, 2015

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24closePsalm 118:1-2 118:1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever! Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
Psalm 118:14-24 14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
15 Glad songs of salvation
are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,
16 the right hand of the Lord exalts,
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!” 17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18 The Lord has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death. 19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord's doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it. (ESV)
; Mark 16:1-8closeMark 16:1-8 16:1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (ESV)

Rev. Bob

Robert L. Getty, Ph.D.

First Presbyterian Church of Waverly

211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905

Then Comes the Morning

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24closePsalm 118:1-2 118:1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever! Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
Psalm 118:14-24 14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
15 Glad songs of salvation
are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,
16 the right hand of the Lord exalts,
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!” 17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18 The Lord has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death. 19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord's doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it. (ESV)
; Mark 16:1-8closeMark 16:1-8 16:1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (ESV)

 

Suppose you had just lost your closest friend.  You heard that the friend was lost in a terrible boating accident while in a turbulent sea  and all hope of finding him was lost. The pain of the loss was complete. All the dreams of being with your friend for many years have just been dashed! Your state of misery was heavy and you have nothing but hopelessness. Then after a fitful three days with no sleep, you hear that there is news of your friend that he may have been found. You go running to see him, but you can’t find him and you feel like you have been betrayed with false information. On this Sunday morning, when the women came to the tomb, they were coming to give one last expression of love by anointing Jesus’ body and he was not there. They were definitely filled with confusion

 

Mark describes the same three women who witnessed the crucifixion as the ones who come first to the tomb. The scene of the three women here reverberates with echoes. These women, like the first woman whom Jesus healed, had ministered to him (15:40-41), and like the “unclean” woman, had followed after him. They have come to anoint Jesus like the woman in Bethany.  At another dinner, only a few days before, Mary washes Jesus’ feet with perfume and wipes them with her hair. When Judas complains, Jesus speaks about the necessity of his own burial (12:7). His words linger in the background here. This second anointing is inevitably a reminder of the first, with its sacrificial gestures of breaking and outpouring. But there are differences which are also significant. The first woman anointed Jesus “for his burial,” while these women, coming to the tomb, find his body is not there.

 

Symbolic of a new creation, the women come “very early in the morning on the first day of the week. . . .  on the rising of the sun” (v. 2). In this context, the entry of the women into the tomb also bears symbolic significance: “And they were saying to each other, ‘Who will roll away for us the stone outside the door of the tomb?’ And looking up they see that the stone had been rolled back”

 

Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

 

And so ends the gospel of Mark – a funny note to end on really – the disciples of Jesus ‘running’ from the tomb terrified and confused. ‘Go and tell his disciples…’ says the man in white, but the women don’t tell anything to anybody. ‘Terror’ and ‘dread’ had seized them, it says, and so the gospel closes with this picture of the friends of Jesus, not joyfully celebrating the wonders of the resurrection, but rather running about with dumb looks on their faces, wondering what to do next!

 

This is an odd sort of way to finish the gospel. Perhaps as you look through your Bible you’ll notice a longer and more detailed ending that indeed gives details about the actual reunion that took place between Jesus and the disciples. These longer endings (and you may have a couple of them) were early endings that were added to the gospel of Mark to give it a proper finish, but those endings were not the original ending.

 

What sort of ‘Easter note’ is this to sound? We sing about the resurrection this morning, and we sing of joy and happiness. Read through the hymns and you may find some other emotions expressed, but fear and confusion are not likely to feature prominently amongst them! Easter is a wonderful event, is it not? It’s God’s great ‘act of magic’ (so to speak) that says ‘no’ to death and ‘yes’ to life. It’s the great and comforting reminder of the truth that death does not have the final say in this world, but that there is life beyond the grave. Indeed, the apostle Paul does say that in the resurrection of Jesus we see something of our own future resurrection (1 Cor. 15close1 Corinthians 15 15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. 29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. 35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (ESV)
). What is disturbing and confusing about that?

 

To grasp the full reality of the resurrection of Jesus though, we have to see it in the context of the life and death of Jesus. I suspect that if we look at the life of Jesus and death of Jesus, we may well see why those who lived with Him through those last three years of His life had difficulty understanding. They found his resurrection initially to be, not just a basis for happy celebration, but something deeply disturbing and confusing.

 

If you had to think of one word that summarized the life and ministry of Jesus, as we read about it in the gospels, what would it be? ‘Conflict’ is the word that comes to my mind. I know some people depict Jesus as someone who just went around helping people and telling them to be nice to one another. Be realistic! If this is what you do, you don’t get yourself crucified. You get yourself invited to be a speaker at a Rotary dinner!

 

Jesus’ life and ministry, over the three years we read about in the gospels, is a life of constant conflict with the authorities – the civil authorities, but especially the religious authorities. As we read through the history of Jesus we see that conflict gradually intensifying, as religious leaders and teachers initially question Jesus, then challenge him, and finally try to kill him. It’s a story of frustration and anger, of conflict and betrayal, as Jesus forges a path that increasingly diverges from the official line taken by the official religious leaders of His day, to the point where the authorities decide that they can no longer tolerate his existence!

 

And what is the conflict about? It’s about lots of things at one level – it’s about Jesus’ flagrant disregard of tradition, it’s about his failure to keep to the rules about what you do and don’t do on the Sabbath, it’s about the attitude Jesus takes towards sinners and prostitutes, and perhaps most especially about the company Jesus keeps. At one level it’s about all these things. At another level, it’s about one thing – it’s about Jesus’ conception of God, and how that clashes with the Pharisee’s (the religious leaders’) conception of God. Jurgen Moltmann, in his book ‘The Crucified God’ characterizes the life of Jesus in this way – as a battle between two Gods, or perhaps we would rather say a ‘battle between two different conceptions of God’.

 

The women’s entry into the tomb can be viewed in a context of transformation. Their fleeing from the tomb (16:8) need not be seen as an act of fear but of new life. The message which the “young man” or angel subsequently gives the women is one of new life in more than one sense. There is first the news that Jesus has been raised. Beyond that, the word of the angel also suggests that they themselves, the women, are to leave the tomb and take on a new existence. In a total reversal of ancient conventions (both religious and social) the women are “sent forth” — i.e., as apostles — and given the ministry of preaching the word to the male disciples. Throughout his ministry, Jesus has repeatedly stressed  “the raising up” of women. Accordingly, it is fitting that the first effects of his resurrection should be reflected in their transformed state.

 

This transformation of the women that took place is not reflected in our translations. It is therefore important to look carefully at the vocabulary Mark uses. The women’s immediate response is one of being utterly startled. The original word used here is a word peculiar to Mark among New Testament writers, and in other places is translated astounded.  The word translated terror is used elsewhere to convey trembling. Here the “trembling” is paired with dread from the Greek word, ekstasis, from which we  have the word ecstasy. Together this phrase conveys a strong sense of religious awe. The word for afraid, has a range of possible meanings: while its first and simplest meaning is “to be afraid,” it also bears the sense of reverence, as for God. In some places it is translated by the NRSV as “filled with great awe,” the second as “terrified.”

 

Consequently, there is the possibility that translation may be interpretation. “Afraid” being in the place of holy awe by translators and commentators leaves the idea of fear to be negative and unhealthy. However, with these alternate possibilities, Mark may not be criticizing the women for their being overcome with terror and dread and being afraid. Rather, he is using these reactions to highlight the supernaturalness of Jesus’ resurrection. Putting these meanings together, this final verse of Mark’s Gospel would read:

 

“And going out they fled the tomb, for trembling and ecstasy possessed them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were filled with awe.”

 

So translated, this verse represents a climax in the pattern of transformation or hope of new life. Each part of it bears symbolic weight. The women’s fleeing from the tomb not only mirrors the change in the healed demoniac, but more significantly, Jesus’ own release from the tomb. Their sense of being possessed by holy ecstasy is the reverse of possession by the devil, and may even point to the trance-like state of a new creation. Their silence is not a dumb or fearful silence; their speechlessness comes from being “filled with awe.” Through the role of the these women, Mark’s Gospel ends as a new beginning. So with the dawn of new day comes the realization of new life and hope.

 

This focus on new life is the heart of the song, “Then Comes the Morning” by Bill Gaither, which begins with these words:

 

They all walked away, with nothing to say,
They’d just lost their dearest friend.
All that He said, now He was dead,
So this was the way it would end.
The dreams they had dreamed

were not what they’d seemed,
Now that He was dead and gone.
The garden, the jail, the hammer, the nail,
How could a night be so long.

 

Then came the morning, night turned into day;
The stone was rolled away, hope rose with the dawn.
Then came the morning, shadows vanished before the sun,
Death had lost and life had won, for morning had come.

 

Alleluia! Alleluia!