Photo: Mitchell Orr (Unsplash.com)
When the sabbath was over, 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. 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 rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he 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. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ 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.
Mark 8:1-8 (NRSVA)
Scholars believe the Gospel of Mark is the earliest of the four gospels. In part, this is because of its brevity. The stories generally offer less detail than Matthew and Luke’s accounts. This is the gospel that moves quickly through the stories – and story – of Jesus.
The account of the discovery of the empty tomb is no exception. There is something essentially raw and undeveloped here. It is a bald, simple telling of the resurrection.
This is not, of course, to deny that there is detail here. It is certainly both considered and structured.
We are given a time, the weekday, names, and purpose. The three women have all the spices for preparing the dead. Still, they wonder at their ability to roll the stone: ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ It is ‘very large’.
Upon their arrival, however, the cave is already open. An angel gives them the simplest message: ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’
Their immediate response: fear, flight – and wonder.
What I really love, however, about this passage is the strange fact that Peter is singled out. He is, of course one of ‘his disciples’ – indeed, a prominent one. So why mention him by name? Isn’t this unnecessary repetition?
Linguistically, yes. There is, however, much more happening here.
Our author, Mark was not one of the twelve apostles. It is quite likely, however, that he was one of the wider group who followed Jesus. In fact, it is possible that he is the unnamed young man following the recently arrested Jesus (See 14:51).
We suspect Mark learned his account of Jesus from the closer eyewitness, Peter. Peter is featured throughout his account. Of particular relevance here is Peter’s repeated denial of Jesus prior to his crucifixion. Peter is last seen in this Gospel broken and weeping over his repeated denials (See 14:52). He has not lived up to his own boast to follow Jesus even to death.
It raises a question: Could it be that this singling out of Peter reflects the apostle’s recollection of Jesus’ determination to forgive and restore him?
It is a wonderful thought. If there is merit to this, it shines light on a deeply personal healing. It speaks to the breadth of Jesus’ forgiveness; a profound understanding of Peter’s brokenness, and; a God-initiated determination to restore this relationship.
Here is a grace far beyond expectation that captured the imagination of this deserter. A grace that filled him with a lifetime of wonder.
What did Peter see in the empty tomb? An unimaginable love that went far beyond his own fear and flight – and wonder. I suspect Peter could not help but elude to this restoration as he shared the gospel with any who would listen.
Fear, flight – and wonder.
Could it be that this points to the initial response of many to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus?
In what sense has your discovery of the resurrected Jesus grown from ‘raw and undeveloped’ into something deeper and more profound?
In what sense does your response to the resurrection echo the pattern of ‘fear, flight – and wonder’? How is your response different?
In what way does your journey with God echo Peter’s encounter with the grace of Jesus? How does this involve healing, forgiveness, understanding, and restoration?