Sermon Seeds: Terror and Amazement

Sunday, March 31, 2024
Resurrection Sunday | Year B
(Liturgical Color: White)

Lectionary Citations
Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9 • Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 • 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43 • John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8

Focus Scripture: Mark 16:1-8
Focus Theme: Terror and Amazement
Series: Waiting for the Feast (Click here for the series overview.)

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

Mark tells the gospel as a drama and has no issue leaving a cliffhanger. Using the short ending of Mark can be decidedly unsatisfying as nothing is resolved. The narration leaves more questions than answers, and there is no appearance by Jesus. If it were a movie, you would expect a sequel. As it is, the church benefits from the addition of three other authorized accounts that tell the next part of the story. Yet, as the first gospel to be written and performed, the early church immersed itself in the terror and amazement of the women on that first Easter morning.

I have heard speculation that Mark intended for his work to be performed. Its brevity lends itself to a public reading that would have only taken a couple of hours. The woodenness of the language would not have been so stark when dramatized by an actor or actors on a stage. Facial expressions and embodied gestures would have smoothed those rough edges even if the rough edge of his seemingly abrupt ending remained. Of course, the story seemed to have a tragic climax where the hero dies a horrible death. In the aftermath, the grieving witnesses to his death come to anoint his body for burial even though he has been in the tomb for nearly three days. They arrive only to be greeted by a young man they do not know who shares the shocking good news. The women flee from his resurrection as the disciples dispersed from his passion. The question from the audience, after the concluding words, would have come naturally: “What happened next?” Mark sets the stage for the rest of the story to be told to an audience primed to be moved from the climactic moment to a resolved ending.

Unlike the ancient scribes who composed what they regarded as more-satisfactory endings for Mark, or like generations of Christians familiar with the “longer ending” and the resurrection narratives of the other Gospels, Mark’s first-degree audience, who had never heard a written Gospel before, did not necessarily expect the story to conclude with accounts of meetings with the risen Jesus. The Markan Passion predictions (8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34) all foretell that Jesus will rise from the dead, but make no mention of resurrection appearances. The messenger’s command to the disciples corresponds with Jesus’s prophecy at the Last Supper that he will go before them to Galilee (14:28); since Jesus’s prophetic utterances inevitably come to pass in Mark, it is unlikely that the evangelist regarded this prophecy to be unfulfilled. Collins (2007, 797) reports that in ancient writings, it was “standard literary practice… to allude to well-known events that occurred after those being narrated in the text, without actually narrating those later events.”
Mary Ann Beavis

In the Markan narrative, the emphasis is on the detail of the crucifixion. It follows that even in his account of the resurrection, he focuses on the unfinished work of caring for the dead body of Jesus. The women who abided with Jesus until his death on the cross will journey to his tomb as a final act of honor, care, and presence.

These are women with names, and they are doing what no one else in the story has thought to do, what no other character is able to do. Undeterred even by the danger and public disaster of Jesus’ death, they do what women in many cultures do: they tend to community integrity and trustworthiness by tending to the dead. Though all other characters have abandoned the story, these women have not. They emerge, faithful and strong, after everything has ground to a halt, and they calmly prepare to move the story forward. Their surprising presence and their faithful activity imply that there may still be hope for community and continuity.
Richard W. Swanson

Yet, they do not expect to find a risen savior; they come to anoint a fallen leader.

When the Sabbath is over the same three women come with spices to the tomb so that they might anoint Jesus. Although they were followers of Jesus from earliest times and had probably heard his predictions of death and resurrection, the purchase of spices to anoint him suggests that they were expecting to find a corpse in the tomb. They had set off very early and only on the way do they wonder who will roll the stone away from the tomb. One might ask: why did they not think of that before they set out? Looking up they see that the stone has already been rolled away. They enter the tomb unafraid. Ministry to the suffering even in the face of death is familiar to them. They have come to do women’s work. The dead do not scare them. But when they enter the tomb and see a young man in a white robe sitting on the right-hand side, “they were struck with amazement” (w 5-6).
Léoncienne Labonté

These women overcame their fright when Jesus was convicted and sentenced to death. They did not allow fear to keep them from staying near to him as he was tormented and mocked. They did not attempt to distance themselves from him out of self-preservation. They do not even protect themselves from the horrors of the execution itself. They have confidence in the location of his tomb because they followed his body in death as they were attracted to his ministry in life. These women seem to be fearless, and yet, when confronted with the wonderful news that Jesus lives, they now flee in amazed silence.

The women, Jesus’ last and most faithful followers, come to the tomb. They see it empty. They hear the message for which the story has been waiting. They are shattered into incoherent silence. There is no resolution here. There is scarcely a resurrection. The messenger says that Jesus is raised, but no one sees him, not even the reader. If this ending to the story finally blesses violence by refusing to undercut it, then more has died here than Jesus, and more has ended than the story.
Richard W. Swanson

Mark’s ending does not allow us to move too quickly from the violence of betrayal, false accusation, denial, abandonment, and death to a neat, joyous ending. A good end does not negate a traumatic journey. The tragedy makes sense; the glory defies comprehension. We understand death; we may struggle to believe in the resurrection. How do we respond to the impossible? For the women, it was with terror and amazement.

Neither the absence of a resurrection appearance nor the fear and silence of the women nullifies Mark’s description of his work as “good news.” Emerson Powery states that for Mark, “hope is not defined by a resurrection or a physical appearance but by an empty tomb and a promised re-gathering” (Powery, 152). Herein lies the good news: not only is the tomb empty, but Jesus also has gone ahead of them to Galilee, “just as he said” (14:28; 16:7). There is no need to doubt Jesus’ words, as Mark has taken great pains to prove his trustworthiness. His instructions concerning his entry into Jerusalem (11:2–6), the preparation for the Passover meal (14:16), and the events surrounding the passion have all come to pass (Juel, 233). Moreover, Mark has kept his word. He promised to tell “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” Whether by accident or intent, this is exactly what he has done.
Raquel S. Lettsome

Mark’s ending is a beginning, and he leaves that story to be told by another. In the other gospel accounts, the narrative shifts to the disciples and their reactions, questions, and encounters with Jesus. Mark recognizes the audience, then and now, to be the disciples who get to respond to this incredible good news. The women may have been silent initially, but eventually the word gets out so we know they found their voice.

In those early moments, at the dawn of a new day, there’s time to be silent, to consider the wonder of what God can do, and to be in awe of it all. Terror and amazement are not all that different. They can stop us or propel us, and they can do both.

For a moment, as the unresolved ending of Mark’s gospel echoes with silence, we get to be the ones ready to run to the empty tomb to see for ourselves that this testimony is true. We identify with those gathered in the aftermath of Good Friday waiting for word that it’s safe to come out of our hiding places. We feel the anxiety caused when a story paused at a place of profound discomfort is poised for a second act still unwritten.

And we know all that we need to know to write it. It’s our act to narrate. It’s our story to finish….with terror and amazement.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“There, in the center of that silence was not eternity but the death of time and a loneliness so profound the word itself had no meaning. For loneliness assumed the absence of other people, and the solitude she found in that desperate terrain had never admitted the possibility of other people. She wept then. Tears for the deaths of the littlest things: the castaway shoes of children; broken stems of marsh grass battered and drowned by the sea; prom photographs of dead women she never knew; wedding rings in pawnshop windows; the tiny bodies of Cornish hens in a nest of rice.”
― Toni Morrison, Sula

For Further Reflection
“Each day, each moment
is a step into the unknown.
How can we feel anything
but amazement?” ― Ivan M. Granger
“Standing face to face with the world, we often sense a spirit which surpasses our ability to comprehend. The world is too much for us. It is crammed with marvel. The glory is not an exception but an aura that lies about all being, a spiritual setting of reality.” ― Abraham Joshua Heschel
“Almost the entire world is asleep. Those who are awake live in constant amazement ” ― John Patrick Shanley

Works Cited
Beavis, Mary Ann. Mark (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.
Labonté, Léoncienne. “The Women in the Gospel of Mark.” Grace & Truth 14, no. 1 (April 1997): 3–17.
Lettsome, Raquel S. “Mark.” Gale A. Yee, Ed. Fortress Commentary on the Bible: Two Volume Set. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.
Swanson, Richard W. “‘They Said Nothing.’” Currents in Theology and Mission 20, no. 6 (December 1993): 471–78.

Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
Invite worshippers to imagine the excitement and fear experienced by those first witnesses to the resurrection. Use of music, dance, and visuals would be appropriate to facilitate the alternating and co-mingling moods.

Worship Ways Liturgical Resources

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (, also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page:

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.