By The Rev. Sherry Deets
Easter Day – April 8, 2012
Happy Easter! Ok, so Mark’s gospel ending this morning is not really a great ending. If you notice in your bulletin, there is a longer ending to Mark added. Most all scholars believe Mark ends at 16:8a, where the Easter reading traditionally breaks off. Most of our bibles have additional endings, most likely added later, perhaps centuries later, because none of the earliest manuscripts contain them.
But I can understand why they were added. Because while Mark starts out in the usual fashion – it’s early Sunday morning, it’s still dark, the women are going to the tomb, the stone is rolled away, they hear word that Jesus has been raised, they’re sent back to tell – Mark seems to botch the ending completely: “So they went out and fled the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Do you see what I mean? First, it’s the only resurrection story in the Bible where Jesus never actually makes an appearance. That’s a problem!
Second, the two women disciples utterly fail. Which seems a little surprising. After all, the young man in white has met them with the classic greeting that always signals good news: “Do not be afraid.” If that sounds familiar, it should. Throughout the Bible – from the prophets of old to Gabriel greeting Mary – every time someone starts a speech with “Do not be afraid,” you know what’s coming is going to be good news. So the young man greets Mary with the signal that what’s coming is good news and then offers the best news these women could have imagined: “Jesus, who was crucified, has been raised. Here is not here.” Then he gives them clear and simple instructions: “Go and tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee…just as he told you.” And yet after all this they fail – miserably – fleeing the tomb and saying absolutely nothing to anyone.
And so there you have it: a resurrection scene without Jesus that ends in failure. Looked at this way, I can totally understand how a well-intentioned monk, after reading this ending in dismay, suddenly thinks, “I can fix that!” and adds a short, sweet ending, that while it sounds like nothing else in Mark, at least brings things to a better end.
So what gives with Mark? Actually, I think Mark was brilliant in his writing style. I read it somewhere, but I can’t remember where! – that maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised about his ending after all. Because this ending actually fits into a two-part pattern that permeates the whole of Mark’s gospel. The first part goes like this: the people who should know what’s going on, like the disciples, don’t. Jesus predicts his passion three different times and yet they still don’t understand, are surprised by what happens, and don’t believe what he said. Again and again, the disciples disappoint, and so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that these women who, let’s remember, had the courage to stay with Jesus to the end and then ventured to his tomb to tend him, nevertheless fail like the other disciples.
The second part of the pattern goes like this: the people who do realize who Jesus is can’t be trusted to tell. Take, for instance, the demon who possesses a young man at Gerasene. He recognizes Jesus, asking, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Mark 5:7). The demon knows who Jesus is, but can you count on a demon for a testimony?! And then there’s the Roman centurion, who immediately after watching Jesus die states, “Truly, this man was God’s son” (Mark 15:39). But can you count on a Roman centurion for a testimony?
So there we are. All the people who should know, don’t. And those who do, can’t be counted on. So it appears we’re in a bind. Except…except there’s one other person who has seen and heard everything Jesus has said and done. One other who heard Jesus’ predictions and then watched as they came true. One other who listened to the amazing news at the empty tomb and heard the order to go and tell. Do you know who what other person is? It’s you. And me. And all the readers of Mark’s gospel.
Mark writes this open-ended gospel that threatens to end in failure, precisely to place the burden of responsibility for telling the good news squarely on our shoulders. Mark isn’t terrible at endings, it turns out, he’s brilliant, and by ending his account in this way, he invites us into the story, to pick up where these women left off and, indeed, go and tell that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised, and is going ahead to meet us, just as he promised.
Well, once we realize Mark’s better at endings then we thought, it seems worthwhile to look again at that beginning. And that’s where things get really interesting, as you realize that when Mark says, “This is the beginning of the good news,” he doesn’t mean just this one verse, Mark 1:1; he’s talking about his whole gospel. All sixteen chapters are just the beginning of the good news because the story doesn’t end with Jesus’ resurrection but continues, moving forward all the way up to our own day and time.
So here’s the thing, I think our life together is something like this, too. We’re often tempted to fix “bad endings” – that’s understandable, even reasonable, but it’s not always our call. Because we worship the God who meets us precisely at the point where things seem the worst, not merely to fix things, but to redeem them – and us! – turning what looks like an ending into a new beginning and taking what looks like a failure and offering it back to us an opportunity.
I believe Mark ends it that way to create a reaction on our part. I believe this story demands that we find our own response.
Will we be like the women and run in terror of the unknown? Or will we stand outside the tomb and point to the incredible evidence at hand?
Will we keep silent about what God has done? Or will we shout from the rooftops what we know to be true? Will we resist the change that resurrection brings to our lives? Or will we respond to resurrection by living our lives differently? Will we allow our own fears about how resurrection will change our lives to keep us from acting? Or will we enter the tomb and experience the rich rewards of the new life Christ offers to us?
Mark leaves the response up to each of us and to all of us. Mark invites us to peer into the tomb ourselves. Mark invites us to confront our own fears and allow God to work within and among us. Whether we are afraid to face our own addictions or our own broken relationships; whether we are afraid to walk in our neighborhoods or to acknowledge how we have contributed to a declining environment; whether we are afraid to become involved in conflicts or poverty; the invitation is to face our fears.
The good news is that Jesus goes before us. If we will act in faith, we will meet him where he sends us. We will see signs of new life and resurrection all around us. We will meet him in the grocery stores and in the office. We will meet him at the restaurant and in the classroom. We will meet him in the “Galilee” of our lives, the everyday places we frequent and the places we know so well (Mk 16:7).
But if we run in fear, we will never see him at work. If we keep looking in the tomb, we will never find him. If we close our eyes we will never find the treasures God has in store for us.
The women eventually told the story or it would not be written.
But the question still remains, how will we respond? Which way will we run? This is not a story we can just read and ask, “Isn’t that a nice story?” The way Mark tells it demands a response on our part. We must complete the story. What we do today and the rest of this week will be our ending to the story.
The invitation is face your own fears and allow God to lead you. The promise is that if you take the risk of change in your life, that God will go before you and be with you wherever you go. You don’t need to be afraid. Thanks be to God and Alleluia! Amen.
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