Commonplace Accounts of Resurrections

Easter, April 4, 2021, Mark 16:1-8

The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas

I wonder why the women in this resurrection account of Mark’s Gospel were afraid. Were they afraid of what they were running from – the ghost who haunted the tomb and greeted them following the resurrection, or what they were running to – the disciples who had all abandoned Jesus in his time of need and who might react in both anger and sarcasm at the news that the one who suffered a humiliating death on a foreigner’s cross was now alive.

Resurrection accounts were commonplace in ancient times as a means of verifying the important role and place great people held in their relationship with God. However, one such account, conveyed by the sixth-century pope, Gregory the Great, shares the story of a common businessman named Stephen, who rejects all notions of hell, who dies prematurely, goes to hell and then returns from the dead because, according to his testimony, he was mistaken for another Stephen more deserving of hell’s punishment. However, his experience of the afterlife restored his faith in God and the church and inspired him to become a better person.

One might also assume that the resurrection of Lazarus from the grave that Jesus initiated was unexpected in the schedule of the divine calendar and, therefore, reversed. But this assumption leaves a terrible impression on the hearts of those who suffer the premature loss of loved ones, especially innocent children, due to sickness or other tragic incidents leaving them to wonder why God plays favorites.

Still, despite the theological questions and faith convictions incited by these afterlife encounters, they, even the belief that Jesus descended to hell and preached to the captives there (1st Peter 4:6), were pretty much confined to the realm of irrelevant spiritual speculation until the advent of the ventilator that allowed people to continue breathing through mechanical means when their bodies could not do so on their own.

Individuals whose heart or brain ceased to function temporarily and were later resuscitated reported out-of-body experiences, observations and conversation they should not have known since they were not physically present and, supposedly, dead. The ever-growing testimony of such experiences, coupled with the equally increasing after-death physical resurrections of patients pronounced dead, add fuel to the belief in life after death, even among those who formerly considered themselves atheists or agnostics.

Yet the more important testimony of these after-death experiences is the realization that, if not for unfinished business in the support and care of those they loved, they would have remained in the realm beyond.

Now I’m confident that such revelation provokes as many questions as answers. But belief in the realm and reality of the spirit is not intended to offer fullness of clarity. “For now,” says the Apostle Paul, “we see in a mirror dimly, but later we will see face to face.” (1st Corinthians 13:12)

What is crucial is the testimony of the people who return from the dead; the conviction that love is the guiding principle and power of all creation and life. And those who have experienced the rapture of divine love by which death is no longer feared, the same have encountered the presence of God.

As the women who ran in fear from the angel of the tomb, we too run from the specter of divine love so magnificent that we fail to fully comprehend it to the equally daunting intimidation of worldly skepticism so blinded by physical sight that it fails to discern with insight. The resurrection compels us to choose between the fear of uncertainty and intrigue that draws us to the light of new life beyond the grave, or the death-dealing physicality of tangible mortality we know only too well.

Children of God, don’t be afraid. Why do you seek the living among the dead? Christ has risen. Christ has risen indeed; and by the grace of God, so will we. Amen.