Three women walk into a graveyard wondering who will remove the stone. This is not the beginning of a joke. It is the setting for the Gospel reading appointed for Easter Sunday. It is also one of the few details unique to Mark’s account of the resurrection. Scholars debate questions about what (if anything) the evangelist wrote after verse 8. Such textual questions are important, but their homiletical potential is less obvious. In contrast, the women’s question about removing the stone resembles the kinds of questions asked by many Christians gathering for worship this Easter Sunday. For this reason, I suggest you focus your hearers’ attention on the women’s experience of the resurrection.

This is not the first time Mark mentions these women. He names all three of them as witnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion (15:40) and identifies two of them as bystanders when they laid Him in the tomb (15:47). Their presence at Jesus’ death and burial stands out because Mark says nothing about the male disciples. While a woman’s testimony would have had no legal status in that society,[1] these followers of Jesus play a pivotal role in the narrative. As one commentator puts it, “These women now become the ‘lifeline’ of the discipleship narrative.”[2] Together with the messenger in the tomb, they are the link between Jesus and the disciples who had deserted Him (see Mark 14:50).

While their gender is interesting for thinking about the reception of their testimony, it is the question they asked along the way which invites contemporary reflection. “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (16:3). They had watched as Joseph of Arimathea rolled the stone in front of the tomb (15:46). Mark makes sure we know it was “very large” (16:4b). This makes it difficult to reconcile their thoughts with their actions. They knew they would need help, and they did not have a plan. But that did not stop them. They made their way to the tomb to complete (somehow) the work they had begun.

Their question reminds us many Christians will gather for worship on Easter Sunday with questions of their own. You are aware of some of them:

  • After missing Easter services last year, many Christians are eager to gather with the faithful to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection in person. But many also wonder if their diminished congregation will return to form once the pandemic has ended. Perhaps you wonder, too.
  • Other Christians are preparing to repeat their part: “He is risen, indeed!” But they cannot shake the lingering questions after suffering another miscarriage, hearing of another suicide, reading about another shooting, or stressing over another diagnosis. They wonder if they will have the heart to rejoice.
  • Still other Christians long to experience the thrill of resurrection news. They would even welcome the fearful trembling and ecstasy (τρόμος καὶ ἔκστασις) of the women at the end of our reading. But their struggle with mental health has left them in a constant state of numbness and apathy. They wonder what, if anything, can help them feel alive again.

With questions like these, the people of God will make their way to worship on Easter Sunday. Like the women who came despite their questions, your hearers will gather despite their uncertainties, and they will be looking for a word of honest hope.

Like the women who came despite their questions, your hearers will gather despite their uncertainties, and they will be looking for a word of honest hope.

Your job is much like the job of the young man in the tomb. He was a messenger. He did not strive to make them feel better. He did not try to answer all their questions. If anything, his message created more. Judging by their response (16:8), they were not exactly encouraged. But he spoke what he had been sent to speak... and so will you.

What are you sent to proclaim? The fulfillment of a promise. The messenger announced, “He has risen. He is not here” (16:6). It happened, “...just as He told you” (16:7). Jesus had promised His disciples He would rise after three days, and now He had done it. What is more, the fulfillment of this promise signaled so we can trust all His promises. This brings your proclamation into even clearer view. Based on Jesus’ resurrection promise fulfilled, you have the privilege of proclaiming other promises of God which have not yet been fulfilled. For specific language, you might turn to Psalm 16, the appointed Psalm for this Sunday. There we are reminded how God “holds my lot” (Psalm 16:5), has secured for me a “beautiful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6), and He will not “abandon my soul” or let me “see corruption” (Psalm 16:10). In Christ, God has made know to us “the path of life” and promises “the fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

For the complete fulfillment of these promises we continue to wait. We may even leave worship this Sunday trembling and still afraid, still struggling with questions God does not answer directly. But the promises of God are secure. This is what the empty tomb assures us.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 16:1-8.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 16:1-8

Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 16:1-8.

[1] The testimony of women was not legally recognized. See Josephus, Antiquities 4.219.

[2] Myers, Binding the Strong Man, 396.