A sermon delivered in Lancaster Theological Seminary's Santee Chapel, April 11, 2012
In Bethany an anonymous woman empties an alabaster vial of pure nard -- very costly, Mark insists -- and just pours it over Jesus' head. It looks like an anointing, a most lavish one indeed. But, Jesus says, this anointing is for his burial. When Jesus drags his way to the cross, one imagines, the scent of this perfume still lingers. On his scourged body.
After the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, sees to Jesus' body. He calls on Pilate -- daring, Mark reminds us -- to request Jesus' body. And Joseph tends to Jesus' body, bringing it down from the cross, wrapping it in a linen shroud, and placing it in a tomb. At the risk of his own life, Joseph sees to Jesus' body.
And on the first day after Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome -- these women who have endured with Jesus after the men who had followed him fled in fright -- these women come to anoint Jesus' body. They will see to its proper burial. Very early, on the first day they can, Mark points out, they arrive at the tomb. Risking their own bodies, identifying themselves as followers of this crucified one, they dare care for Jesus' body.
Jesus' body is not there. The tomb is empty. The body is absent. Yet this body, by its absence, dominates the story. Jesus' body. Jesus' body.
Nobody had been really responsible for Jesus' murder. Nobody stood there to carry that load.
Judas betrayed Jesus, and "woe to the one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!" But Judas didn't arrest Jesus, didn't beat Jesus, didn't see to his crucifixion.
The disciples surely failed Jesus. So palpable was their cowardice that Luke covers it up by staging a scuffle. Cowardice is one thing, but murder is another. Right? The disciples didn't kill Jesus.
The temple authorities had Jesus arrested. They staged a kangaroo court. They had him beaten and mocked. They handed him over to Pilate. But they lacked jurisdiction to kill Jesus. Not saying they were innocent, but we can't hold the temple authorities responsible for Jesus' death. They didn't kill him.
Pilate? Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified. Pilate was in charge. Pilate had jurisdiction. But let's face it: things were sensitive. Pilate had a touchy scene to manage. It's Passover and this enraged crowd confronted him. What was Pilate gonna do? "Wishing to satisfy the crowd," Mark tells us, Pilate handed Jesus over. Yes, Pilate had jurisdiction, but he didn't really control the proceedings.
So the crowds then? Pilate crucified Jesus to pacify the crowds? But come on, they weren't responsible. The crowds didn't even touch Jesus. The crowds had no authority to kill him. You can't hold a group accountable for murder when they didn't even touch the body. Right?
Ah, but the soldiers. They paraded Jesus to his death. They flogged him and mocked him. They hung Jesus on the cross. Here we have the guys who saw to Jesus' death. But really? The soldiers were just following orders. Cruel, they may have been, but cruelty was their job. Nobody seriously blames the soldiers.
No, nobody was really responsible for Jesus' death. There's nobody to hold to account. It's just another tragedy, lots of people involved -- and no one directly accountable.
Afghanistan. Sanford. El Cajon. We're in a season of death without accountability.
A US Army sergeant murders 17 Afghan civilians -- sure, he's accountable. Eight adults, nine children. Sure, he's accountable, and he'll pay.
We hold this Army sergeant accountable in the midst of hundreds, maybe thousands of "accidental" killings in Afghanistan. Sometimes those accidental killings receive an apology. Often they do not. Oh, he's accountable. After three combat deployments to Iraq, and now an extra trip to Afghanistan, he's accountable.
This guy is accountable, this father of two children who killed children as well as adults.
One man. One man held accountable -- why? -- to show that the United States actually cares how many Afghan civilians die at our hands? Death everywhere, but we got this guy. He's accountable. What about the rest of us?
So far no one's accountable for Trayvon Martin's death. The man who shot him in the chest says he was defending himself. And Florida law says you can kill people if you feel threatened.
So one young man, walking home with Skittles and Arizona iced tea, dies with a bullet wound to his chest -- but no one is accountable.
One young black man, chatting with his girlfriend on his cell phone: that kid dies, and no one is accountable. Or wait -- now we've got bloggers calling Trayvon a thug, a drug dealer -- some kind of menace. We suppose Trayvon must be accountable for his Skittles and the hole in his chest?
No one's accountable for the beating death of Shaima Alawadi, mother of five, in El Cajon. A police statement had this to say: "Evidence thus far leads us to believe this is an isolated incident." "An isolated incident." However, the murderer left a sign near Shaima's body: "Go back to your own country, you terrorist." This after a cascade of "All Muslims are terrorists" propaganda, including Franklin Graham's claim that Islam is wicked and evil. Must be an isolated incident -- no one accountable for what happened to Shaima.
We're living it: a world of death without accountability. El Cajon. Sanford. Afghanistan. Innocent people die, like Jesus died, with no one accountable. But of course, we're all accountable. All of us. We built this world, and we live in it.
Those women -- Mary, Mary, and Salome -- know about bodies as they move toward the tomb. They know life ends quickly, and often in ugly ways. They're ready to face a body that has been cut and pierced and stretched. They know what they're in for.
But -- mmmm. They stone is gone -- and so is Jesus' body. The stone rolled away and Jesus' body gone. It's Easter, people! The stone, gone -- Jesus too!
We won't dwell on it -- the Gospels don't, so we won't -- we won't dwell on all that had happened to Jesus' body. No, we won't. But let us say this -- what happened to Jesus' body constitutes an integral part of the story. What happened to Jesus' body -- the torture and the wounds -- all that results from Jesus' own faithfulness, the path Jesus walked. Not incidental, but basic. These women seek Jesus' body.
And -- mmmm. The absence of Jesus' body constitutes an integral part of Easter. His body -- his stretched out, whipped, and nailed body -- is not incidental to Easter. Our ancestors got it right, 100% right: Not "I believe in the immortality of the soul," but "I believe in the resurrection of the body."
Mary, Mary and Salome never meet Jesus' risen body in Mark. Mark includes no walk to Emmaus. No sneaky appearance behind closed doors. No Thomas to probe the wounds. But Mark testifies -- as clearly as do Matthew, Luke and John, Mark testifies -- that Jesus' body has been taken into the life of God. He is not here -- he is risen!
Oh, and that is just the beginning. For resurrection is about bodies. No: resurrection is about God's claim on our bodies. Jesus' missing body tells us about God's claim on those poor Afghans and their bodies. It tells us about God's claim on Trayvon and his body. It reveals God's claim on Shaima and her body.
Just the beginning, just the beginning. For Jesus' resurrection claims every/body, victim and killer alike. All raised into the being of God, who is bringing all things together in Christ. Mary, Mary and Salome know about bodies -- but they don't know what they're in for.
Somebody had better testify! Somebody had better tell! After dealing with bodies and caring for bodies, after seeing what can happen to innocent bodies, somebody had better run from the tomb, and go forth!
We get that Mary and her colleagues are terrified. We get that Peter and the other guys have hightailed it long before. We get that the gruesomeness of Jesus' fate scares off the one group, while the stunning newness of his resurrection terrifies the other into silence. But we know, somebody's gotta tell.
Mark ends on a promise, that somebody's gotta tell. We have no linen wrappings in the tomb, no traces of Jesus' death reside there. Somebody's gotta testify because "He is not here; he is risen." Somebody's gotta tell that story.
We all know other writers tried to fix Mark's ending. Some added this version and that version to the ending of Mark. Even Matthew couldn't leave Mark's ending alone -- the women are afraid but joyful to tell the story. Mark's editors and Matthew knew what we know. They were frustrated. Because somebody's got to tell this new thing.
Somebody's got to testify because this thing is still new. Somebody's gotta testify because Jesus' empty tomb sends us forth! It is still news that the risen Jesus dwells with Trayvon, that he roams around Afghanistan, and that he resides in solidarity with Shaima. That's news, it's scary news, and somebody has got to go out and tell it!
Somebody has to tell that the risen Jesus is Lord of all the bodies -- all the bodies of murdered children, all the bodies of bludgeoned Muslim women, all the bodies of the killers and the killed, whatever their motives, heroes or villains. Fear can't hold us back because somebody's gotta testify that Jesus' body was beaten, that Jesus' body was crucified, that Jesus body is risen -- somebody has got to tell that God is on the move to make all these things right.