- Published: 13 May 2015
There is a fascinating detail in the way the writer of the gospel of Mark tells the story of the resurrection. This writer describes “a young man dressed in a dazzling robe” sitting where the corpse of Jesus had been.
This detail of a dazzling, glistening robe is interesting for this reason. This young man is identified by the descriptor “nea-nis-kos” a word used only two other times in all of the gospels. The writer of the gospel of John uses it to describe a young man, the only son of a widow from the town of Nain, who had died. Jesus interrupted the funeral procession and raised the young man from the dead in a rather dramatic fashion and restored the young man to his mother.
The other time the word is used occurs in the gospel of Mark itself and occurs just a few paragraphs before this description in the empty tomb. The word appears when Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, his prayers were interrupted by the betrayer who came leading a cohort armed with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus. Around Jesus were followers, and in the moment of arrest, though some were prepared to wield swords in defence, Jesus put a stop to the violence. Jesus would walk another pathway.
The result of this non-violent choice was that the followers fled, they scattered, including a young man who had followed Jesus wearing nothing but a linen cloth. It is a rather strange way to walk about the city. The storyteller describes how those carrying the swords and clubs grabbed for the young man, but he slipped out of the linen cloth and ran away naked.
This detail is unique to the gospel of Mark, the oldest of the gospels. It is in this first telling that the writer begins to name the meaning of resurrection.
This young man flees naked. His desertion is a moment of disintegration for the community. He is stripped naked as a symbol of an ultimate experience of diminishment. This experience of diminishment continues through the lengthy description of the crucifixion of Jesus who dies naked on a cross. This naked death, intended to bring shame and instil fear by the powerful civic and religious leaders, ironically is birthing another response. A response that begins when a wealthy follower of Jesus requests the body for burial. This follower wraps the naked body in a linen cloth.
After the Sabbath, after a time of resting and reflecting, women came to tend and to care for the body. These women had left their homes to follow Jesus and were part of the community that Jesus had created. It was these women who had huddled in the shadows of the crucifixion and watched the burial of Jesus. These women were the face of the community Jesus created, a community providing solace and comfort to the scattered and shattered group of followers like the naked man. His fear and desertion was scarring him.
These women having provided comfort to the distressed now come to the tomb, and lo and behold, there is a young man, not naked and fleeing, but clothed with a glistening brilliance that echoes the description of Jesus when Jesus was transfigured on a mountain, when Jesus was named as God’s beloved, as God’s child in whom God is well pleased.
This young man reappears as one journeying from desertion to reconnection, from disintegration to reconciliation, from diminishment to restoration, from death to resurrection.
The writer captures the power of the resurrection through this detail.
It is often in the details of our lives that the clues and hints of resurrection are most clearly revealed. Those who work in healing and transformation often talk about identifying “glistening moments” in our lives, those glistening moments which are the energy for transformation and healing, are the energy which enable us to write a resurrection story. In our world, there are those who use coercion and violence to control but these efforts, while successful in the short-term, fail in the long-term, faith because the power of love is greater. This is the meaning of the resurrection story.
It has a practical impact on our lives. Through this detail of “glistening clothing” we are reminded to embrace the “glistening moments” which are in our lives, the glistening moments embodied in the dazzling robe of this young man, moments that are stronger than those moment when we have been running away naked.
The unnamed naked young man is us, and in the Easter story all of us are clothed in glistening robes, named as God’s beloved. Desertion, disintegration, diminishment and death are not the final story, reconnection, reconciliation, restoration and resurrection are the final story. This is the faith we proclaim on Easter Sunday when we tell the story of an empty tomb.
The writer of the gospel of Mark, along with the community who followed Jesus, is writing a new narrative, a narrative of a rising Jesus, a rising Christ depicted in an empty tomb. While the oppressive civic and religious leaders were determined to silence Jesus through crucifixion, the community told the story. While the crucifixion was a means to shame and instil fear in those who followed Jesus, the courage and dignity and truth-telling that Jesus embodied rose up within the followers who determined that the cross was not the last word. Instead, an empty tomb would be the last word.
What is particularly fascinating about the gospel of Mark is the silence that occurs within the text. In advent we noticed there was no birth story, we honoured that silence. At Easter, the original gospel of Mark ends with our reading. The verses that appear afterward in your Bibles are a later addition.
In the gospel of Mark, there are no appearances of the Rising Jesus, no appearances of the rising Christ, just the image of an empty tomb. In the gospel, the Rising Jesus rises in silence. Biblical scholars note that such silences are a technique of gospel writers to purposefully place the story into the hands of the followers of Jesus and into the hands of the readers. The gospel ends with a proclamation and conviction that the story of Jesus is not about some “dead past”, but about a “living present”.
As one of our favourite hymns declares, Jesus came singing love, he lived singing love, he died singing love, he arose in silence and for the love to go on we must make it our song, you and I be the singers. That song happens in the details of our lives, in the glistening moments that we embrace just as the naked young man was clothed in a glistening robe. This Easter we are reminded that we are robed with God’s love, we are glistening.