“‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’” Mark 16: 6-7
It is that time of the year when we celebrate graduates. Students of all kinds have finished their course work, completed their training, earned the needed hours, and are prepared to graduate. These students have finished this chapter of their lives and are prepared to begin the next. Graduations are filled with a variety of emotions. Pride for a job well done and finished, sadness at the thought of moving away from friends and classmates, and excitement about starting something new and challenging are commonly expressed feelings.
However, these are not the only feelings graduates might experience. With every new chapter of life comes the unknown, which for many people can lead to fear, anxiety, and a sense of being overwhelmed. Whether it is graduation, a new job, loss of a relationship, or countless other circumstances, change can be difficult.
What are we to do? How do we balance the sense of joy, accomplishment, and excitement with the reality that things are going to be different, change is going to happen?
In a sense, in chapter 16 of Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ followers have graduated. They have followed Jesus all the way to the end; his death has closed one chapter of their lives. The next chapter of their lives is upon them, they must figure out where to go from here. We can be certain Jesus’ followers felt overwhelmed, fear, and anxiety. Like us, they would have asked: “Where to go from here? What is next? How are we going to make it now?”
For Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James; and Salome, the very next move is going to Jesus’ tomb with spices and oil to anoint Jesus’ body. To their surprise, instead of finding Jesus’ body, they found an empty tomb and a young man dressed in white (some say an angel). Which brings us to the conversation in verses 6 and 7. What these three woman thought was next changed in an instant. Before arriving at the tomb, they were confused and overwhelmed. Finding the tomb empty has compounded those feelings. Their desire to anoint Jesus’ body in an effort to show their respects is replaced with confusion and bewilderment. Before arriving at the tomb, they at least had some idea how to move forward. The empty tomb has left them completely lost.
Like the women at Jesus’ tomb, some graduates may also feel like they are lost or like they have no idea where to go from here. I believe verses 6 and 7 (see above) offer us some useful insight in moments like these.
The resurrected Jesus is fully aware that Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James; Salome; and the rest of his followers would not understand what was happening. He knew that his resurrection would change everything and that change is rarely easy. He knew his followers would be overwhelmed, anxious, and afraid. He knew they would need some direction. This is why, after telling the women to “not be alarmed,” the young man in white gives them some very simple instructions. “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that [Jesus] is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”
Jesus did not make the problems go away. He didn’t remove the confusion or anxiety. Rather, he went ahead of his disciples into Galilee. His invitation calls the disciples to face their fears and start the journey to Galilee, where they will find him. None of us knows the future. Things can and will always change, regardless of how well we may have prepared. However, Jesus’ invitation remains the same. Just as he went ahead of the disciples into Galilee, Jesus goes ahead of us into the Galilees of our lives. Our job, like that of the disciples, is to seek him out.
Since Christ has gone before, we can rest assured that there will always be a path for us, even when we do not see it. Our way forward, like the disciples before us, is to follow where Christ leads; down the path of faith, hope, and love. Knowing exactly where the path leads is impossible and unimportant. What is important is seeking Christ by loving God and loving our neighbor. When we approach the future in this manner, we will always find Christ waiting for us at our destination.
Congratulations, Class of 2021, I pray your future is filled with much joy and success as you begin the next chapter of your life.