The last words we say to people are important. They stay with us. When I was 9 years old, my aunt committed suicide. My cousin, who is four years older than I, was 14 at the time. She and her mother had a typical mother-daughter relationship, when one is 14 years old. After her mother died, one of the things my cousin had to cope with was she didn’t tell her mother she loved her before she left for school that day. She couldn’t help but wonder if she could have prevented it, if she had told her mother she loved her.
Grief reminds me of that experience when you go swimming in a lake or body of water and all of sudden you feel a current of cold water rush through your body. Sometimes we are swimming in grief and other times it comes back like that cold current that startles you. When the women go to the tomb in the Gospel of Mark, they are submerged in grief, they have been taken in by the undertow of it all, swallowed up by it, it’s all they know and it’s all they think they will ever know. They go to the tomb, not really knowing what they are going to do when they get there, because no one is going be able to roll the stone away. It will be too heavy to move, but they go anyway. Let’s stop there for a moment. Think about that for a second. They go to a tomb, to lay spices and oils on a body, that they know they probably won’t be able to get to, but they go anyway. Why do that do that? Why don’t they sit at home and drink hot tea, and cry at their kitchen table and grieve and hold each other and say, “I wish we could go lay spices on him. I wish we could give him a proper burial, but we can’t, because the stone is impossible to move, we might as well sit here in the dark, predawn morning and cry, because there is nothing we can do.” But they don’t do that. They get up. They put on their sandals and wrap a shawl around their shoulders and gather their spices and oils and start walking in the cold morning air to the tomb.
You know why I think they go? Because they love him. And love doesn’t require reason. Love is many things. Paul tells us love is patient, kind, and generous, but never does he say that is reasonable. Love is what moves them to the tomb.
When they arrive, they discover that the tomb stone has been moved, and upon entering the see a man sitting there, now if that wouldn’t freak you out, I don’t know what would, maybe the only the next thing that happens, the body is gone, and the man, the messenger who says he knows they are looking for Jesus, that he was crucified, past tense, that he has been raised, past tense, and now he is alive, present tense and has gone ahead and is waiting for them, future tense.
The women came to the tomb confused about the past, bewildered about the present and scared about the future. And we too come feeling all of those things: confused about our past, bewildered about our present and scared about our future.
To both the women at the tomb and to us, the angel gives three messages: one about the past, one about the present, one about the future. The first message is this: "He has been raised." It has already happened. Death could not hold him. The consequences of human sin could not imprison him.
But if he is not here, if he is not dead, where is he now? The young man speaks again: "He is going ahead of you." This is a message about the present. God’s activity did not stop at the cross, it did not stop in the raising of Christ. He is still alive and active, still busy, still going ahead of us.
Whatever difficulties lie ahead, he is already meeting them before we do. He was betrayed, tried, persecuted, killed: so may we be. He was raised: so will we be. Our faith is founded in a unique event in the past: "He has been raised." But it is alive in the present: "He is going ahead of you." This is the foundation of Christianity, and it lies in something unique that has already happened.
Human failure has not had the last word. The last word lies with God.
When the women went to the tomb that morning, they went to tell him goodbye, that they the loved him, but Jesus had another plan, he wasn’t there, he was already on the loose, out front, moving in the world, alive. He would be waiting for them when they got there.
You know sometimes where we are is not where we want to be. Sometimes we don’t want to be at another doctor’s appointment. Sometimes we don’t want to be at school. Sometimes we don’t want to be in a relationship. Sometimes we don’t want to face death. Those are really hard moments and they can be all encompassing, and we can wonder if we will ever move beyond them. But here is what Easter morning tells us: Jesus is just up ahead, waiting for us, and that whatever happens good or bad, hard or hopeful, life or death, peace or war, Jesus is already there, waiting, and because of that we can trust that whatever is we are afraid will happen, that he will be with us and see us through, therefore we have nothing to fear.
You see, here’s what we need to remember, while the women are motivated by love to go to the tomb, so is Jesus to leave it. He doesn’t let death be the last word. He doesn’t let stone walls hold him back. He doesn’t let persecution, or structures, or political systems, or people as small as Pontius Pilate, hold him back. He’s alive. Why? Because love is not reasonable, its not logical, and it doesn’t hold back, it bears all things, believes all things. Love never dies.