Most scholars agree that the original version of Mark’s gospel ends at Mark 16:8. There is no image of a physically resurrected Christ, just the promise that Christ is going ahead of us. Now, I happen to believe the resurrection reflects the real experience of transformed lives. But, its truth is in the rolled away stone and the empty tomb, not some life-like replica of human embodiment.
“Who will roll away the stone for us?” is not just the women’s question, it is ours. We are confronted by immobile obstacles and opaque futures, we feel trapped in past failure and don’t know where to go with our lives; the once-secure future is now completely uncertain. And, we can’t save ourselves by our own efforts. Indeed, we may have tried everything, and believe we have nothing left to give.
Yet, in the midst of the most difficult day, when all hope in the future is lost, we discover that the stone has been rolled away, and holy messengers tell us “Jesus is going ahead of you” not just to Galilee but everywhere. In every situation and challenge, you are not – and will not be – alone and without resource. Jesus goes ahead of you, loving guiding, embracing, and inspiring your future as it unfolds. This is not a sectarian Jesus, but a healer and companion who chooses to present in every pathway of sorrow and joy.
Now, we can’t pin down who this Jesus really is or where we will encounter Jesus next. The Risen Jesus defies limitation or description, except that he comes to us in the form that opens the future. With Mary of Magdala, we never know when he will call our name – our true name – and we will know him as he is for us. But, with John’s resurrection (John 20:17), we are told, once again with Mary of Magdala, “Don’t hold onto me.” Don’t localize me, don’t limit my presence, and don’t assume this is my only revelation. Let me be free to take the form that brings healing and wholeness and love, utterly personal and intimate, no generalized or dogmatized divinity.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, healing companion, retreat leader and lecturer, and author of nineteen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living; God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus; and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry. He has taught at Georgetown University, Wesley Theological Seminary, Claremont School of Theology, and Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is currently theologian in residence at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His most recent book Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed will be released in May 2011. He can be reached for lectures, seminars, and retreats at firstname.lastname@example.org