Easter Expectations: On Empty Baskets and Empty Tombs

Lectionary Reflections
Mark 16:1-18
Easter Sunday
April 8, 2012

One Easter when we lived in Pennsylvania, I took our daughter Rebecca, then three years old, to an Easter egg hunt at a large United Methodist Church near our home. They had sent out a brightly colored postcard advertising the event to surrounding neighborhoods. We pulled up right on time and joined a big crowd of parents and children milling around in front of the church.

The organizers, surprised by the turnout, decided to avoid a mad rush by letting the children go searching one group at a time. Kind of like boarding an airplane one group at a time. I'm not sure why they chose the older group as the priority access group, but the result was that the older kids eagerly searched the bushes and grounds for chocolate, foil-wrapped eggs and came back with laden baskets. They were such efficient egg gatherers that, by the time the younger group started their search, there were few eggs left. The crew in the kitchen was coloring hard boiled eggs as fast as they could and had sent someone to the grocery store down the hill to buy more chocolate ones. But in the meantime, I had a very disappointed three-year-old with an empty basket. Normally a shy child, she walked right up to the church member dressed as the Easter Bunny. "You said this was an egg hunt," she said. "But there are no eggs." She gazed up at him imploringly, with her big hazel eyes while holding up the empty basket for his inspection.

"I know, honey, we ran out."

"But you're the Easter Bunny," she said.

The Easter Bunny glanced at me through the eyeholes of what was, in retrospect, a rather creepy plastic face mask. His eyes had a desperate glint that said to me, "How about some help here?" I let him sweat it out. Just then a church helper came out with a couple of hastily painted hard-boiled eggs and offered one to Rebecca. "Here, honey. Here is an egg." "It's not chocolate," she said. "They got chocolate eggs," she gestured toward the older children seated on the grass, unwrapping their eggs.

I bought my girl a big chocolate bunny on the way home and let her eat more than I should have. My girl had made an excellent point. The Easter Bunny and his minions that morning should have known that when you promise people that if they show up at a certain time for something good, there better be enough for everybody. The Easter Bunny should also have known that children have very long memories.

Adults in the Gospel of Mark, not so much. Jesus sends out three postcards in the Gospel of Mark, each promising the disciples that after he was crucified and resurrected there would be some good news for them. He would be raised from the dead.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly (8:31).

The response? Peter contradicts and rebukes Jesus in 8:32.

After the Transfiguration, "As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead (9:9). They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again."

The response? "They did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him" (9:30-31).

In an embarrassing and ridiculous juxtaposition, the next scene depicts them arguing about who was the greatest (9:33-37).

"They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, 'See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him, and after three days he will rise again'" (10:32-34).

The response? "James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you . . . Grant us to sit, one on your right hand and one on your left, in your glory" (10:35-36).

Recent research shows that when the body undergoes great pain, the brain releases natural pain suppressant chemicals. They have an analgesic effect, the brain self-medicating. Every time Jesus predicts his death and resurrection, people can't deal with the painful death part and so they numb themselves before they hear the joyful resurrection part.

"I'm going to be abused and killed but rise on the third day," says Jesus. Peter self-medicates with denial. "Jesus, you must be joking" (8:32).

4/1/2012 4:00:00 AM
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  • Alyce McKenzie
    About Alyce McKenzie
    Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.