Mark decides that Easter morning is a good time to discuss fashion. I know in my family the girls get fancy dresses at Easter. Maybe that’s his inspiration. He tells us what the young man is wearing. All I can say is, Why? The grave is empty, Mark! I don’t think we can overstate how disturbed these women at the grave are. And the young man is so nonchalant about the resurrection that it doesn’t occur to anyone to doubt him. He must be telling the truth, and that’s scarier than anything. If a dead man is alive and on the loose, I don’t know what else to believe. We all have expectations of reality, and the resurrection puts all of them to the question. When our reality breaks, we try to reorient ourselves. What’s something we can use to make sense of this story?
Mark takes time to describe the young man’s clothes, so I am going to start there. Some of you have heard me before call Mark the New Testament’s fashionista. Mark spends a greater percentage of space on clothing than any other gospel. He thinks clothes matter. What is this young man wearing? Mark says he was in a white robe. That’s kind of a blah choice, but Mark thinks this is a big deal. Consider what this guy was wearing. A couple of nights ago this guy was in Gethsemane wearing only a linen cloth—which is odd. It’s like going out for the evening wearing a towel. But Mark, ever the fashion critic, has to mention even what Jesus wears to the grave, and wouldn’t you know it: Jesus gets buried in a linen cloth. The linen cloth is a garment of death. The white robe? That is what Jesus wears at Transfiguration, when we see him not only as Jesus of Nazareth but as the Eternal Word, the Second Person of the Triune God. The white robe is a garment of life. Mark’s Easter Morning Fashion Column is telling us that this young man has discarded his garment of death, and Christ has clothed him in a garment of life. Christ calls each of us to discard our garments of death and let Christ clothe us in a garment of life. When Mark posts this on his blog, he’s going to include #GarmentOfLife Challenge.
#GarmentOfLife is the look this Easter season. Clothes communicate things about the wearer. What does our #GarmentOfLife mean for us and for the world? To start with, it means being open to whatever happens. The world doesn’t end with us getting a new outfit. We’ve got an empty grave to deal with. If we’re going to wear our Garment of Life, then let’s be honest: life isn’t tidy. Life does not resolve. Death resolves. Death ends things. The story had an ending: Jesus was dead, his guy friends fled, his gal friends watched the burial. The End. Today, there is life. Jesus’ grave is empty. Jesus is on the loose. The future is open. Life opens the future to us. The Garment of Life is worn facing a new day.
Speaking of an empty grave, how do we know? Mark famously ends his gospel with terrified women running away and not proclaiming the resurrection. No reputable scholar believes either the so-called short or long endings of Mark are original, and arguments that Mark once had a longer ending that’s been lost simply don’t add up. What we have is what Mark wrote. The young man says, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he’s going to Galilee…are you going to tell them? You look like you’re just running away. They’re just running away. God, what now? We’re done? Really?” If they don’t tell anyone, how do we know? In one sense, this is Mark’s way of telling us that God overcomes human failure. If we’re rocking our #GarmentOfLife, that means we live acknowledging that sometimes we are too terrified to talk and knowing even our terrified silence cannot stop God. Word gets out. Literally, Jesus, the Living Word, gets out of the grave; the Living Word will overcome any silence. That’s what our #GarmentOfLife means for us who wear it.
That’s one sense of Mark’s ending. It also bears mentioning that Mark’s first readers, wearing their own #GarmentOfLife as they were, already knew that Christ was raised from the dead. Mark writes such a great story it is hard for us to remember that it is a story written by a human being for other human beings. It’s not surveillance footage. Mark’s readers knew Jesus had risen. They didn’t need a story to inform them; they believed it already. That means the world of knowing Jesus is outside the story. Our world of believing in Jesus is outside of the book.
We sometimes want to elevate the Bible to divine status, but the Bible is holy only as the book that belongs to the people who believe in the God revealed in Jesus Christ. We’re tempted to treat the Bible like an article on Facebook or Twitter: we don’t actually read it or understand it, but we liked the headline, so we share it and claim it says what we already meant and anyone who disagrees can be referred to it, and it’s entirely too long, didn’t read. And if we don’t treat the Bible that way, enough others have that we’re just reluctant to crack it open and track down what it says. Mark’s ending tells us that the world of knowing Jesus is not bound in his story or in the covers of the book; our world of knowing Jesus is alive, impossible to record definitively or describe exhaustively. Wearing a #GarmentOfLife means we cannot stop. We cannot respond to the events of daily life by referring people to the big book we don’t expect them to read. Nor can we respond to life by saying the book is too long, so just make something up. Those of us wearing our #GarmentOfLife are constantly trying with each new day. Each new day lived in the faith of Christ cannot be summed up and solved for all time. It is open. #GarmentOfLife means facing what is open. Perhaps, facing Jesus’ empty grave.
Facing an empty grave, I turned to the young man and his Garment of Life because that’s what we’ve got. The resurrection leaves us with only this guy and the clothes on his back. The world is shattered. We all have a symbolic reality—images and ideas around which we organize life: home, family, holidays, values. For observant Jews in Jesus’ day, the Temple was at the center of symbolic reality. Home, family, holidays, values—they all involved the Temple and revolved around the Temple. Jesus, though, famously “cleanses” the Temple. In Mark, it’s more thorough than that. Jesus shuts down the Temple. He won’t let anyone move around or work, and he offers himself in the Temple’s place. He says he is the one through whom we connect with God. Now, that’s a tall order: throw out your symbolic reality and follow an unemployed carpenter. It gets harder because in the Passion, Jesus is destroyed. He is betrayed, abandoned, falsely condemned, beaten, humiliated, flogged half to death, hung from a cross until dead, and his body is buried. He’s gone, and, in Mark, we don’t meet him again. The only person left when the story ends is the certain young man in the Garment of Life, telling us to look for Jesus in Galilee.
Galilee is where most of Jesus’ work happens in Mark. It’s home for most of the disciples and it’s where the disciples (and Mark’s readers) saw Jesus welcome strangers, foreigners, outcasts; where they saw Jesus listening to people and not simply telling them what was what; where they saw Jesus feeding people simply because they were hungry, healing people because they were sick, and teaching people that all of this was God’s work—this was what God was about. The young man in the Garment of Life tells us, “Go, meet Jesus doing the things Jesus did.” Our Garment of life is clothing for a symbolic world that henceforth centers on serving as Jesus did.
Wanna do #GarmentOfLife? Our home, our family, our holidays, our values are to center on seeing Jesus by doing as he did. There is no temple—no holy building—and there is no unemployed carpenter—no charismatic leader. Rather, we welcome strangers, we welcome foreigners and refugees, we welcome children and young people who are told their opinions don’t matter, we welcome people society casts off. We listen to those who are silenced. We feed those who are hungry because they are hungry, and house those who are without a house because they are without a house. We offer healing and wholeness to those who are sick in spirit (and we advocate for them in seeking help for maladies of mind or body). And we teach each other, our children, and the world that this is what God is about. This is what that looks like.
Mark decides that Easter morning is a good time to discuss fashion. He has written probably the most important fashion column of all time. That column calls us to take the #GarmentOfLife challenge, to discard our old garments of death and let Jesus clothe us in a Garment of Life. And that column calls us to go, look for Jesus where he said all along he would be: serving others. In the resurrection, the thing to wear is the Garment of Life, and the place to be is with Jesus. What’ll happen, though, is anybody’s guess. The story will not resolve. The grave is empty. Jesus is on the loose. And the future is open.