Greetings to all of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Conqueror of Death and bringer of Life. Welcome!
I call your attention to the way our Easter Gospel ends. I'm going to give you a rather literal rendering of it in the original, and it sounds like this: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them. To no one anything they said; afraid they were for…” Strange, isn’t it?
Scholarly consensus is that this is the way the original author of Mark’s Gospel ended the Gospel According to Mark. Later scribes will add the material which tries to give a more pleasing end to the story the Gospel is telling.
Tom Long tells a true story about a guy who memorized the whole Gospel according to Mark in order to deliver it as a dramatic performance before a live audience. He decided to end the performance in accordance with this consensus. At the first performance he spoke that last verse with its ambiguous ending. That was awkward! He stood there for a few seconds not knowing what to do, his uncertainty obvious in his body language. Finally he blurted out “Amen!” and dashed offstage. The audience, their tension relieved, burst out in loud applause.
Before the next performance the actor reconsidered, however. He realized he didn’t want to give the audience the satisfying conclusion, because that’s not what Mark’s Gospel intended. So when he got to the final verse he simply paused for one beat and then left the stage in silence.
One who was there reports: “The discomfort and uncertainty within the audience were obvious, and as people exited the buzz of conversation was dominated by the experience of the non-ending.
We like endings that wrap everything up in a happy way. This is not a satisfying happy ending; the kind where you put down the book or switch off the DVD and call it good entertainment. This is another kind of story, a story that is still being written, and the way Mark tells the story makes this quite clear!
We are the ones writing the rest of this story. We provide the ending.
The Gospel according to Mark tells us that Jesus told those around him what would happen to him; that he would be sentenced to death and die, but that he would live again. It wasn't a message they were willing to accept, or capable of accepting. It didn't fit their preconceived ideas of the ending of their story with Jesus. If I'm honest, I would say that I would have been one of them.
So it is that the women come to the tomb preparing for an ending that is all about Jesus' death, and come away stunned and breathless from an encounter with life, which opens up a non-ending and a new chapter!
They come away with an assignment for this new chapter of this story-that-won't-end. "Go meet the disciples and Peter back in the home territory of Galilee, tell them what they've seen, and tell them that they too can expect to see Jesus back on Galilean soil."
They receive this message, and are too terrified and amazed to say anything to anyone! So the telling of the Resurrection story is left hanging, and it is indeed a never-ending story. We who receive the message are writing the story by the way in which we react to it.
As Tim Geddert suggests, we may react in this way: How could the women keep silent about this amazing event? And the question comes back right to me. How can I keep silent? Will I tell? Will you tell?
You might react in this way out of spiritual longing: “I want to see Jesus on my home turf, in my Galilee!” And the Good News is that you and I are invited to see Jesus on our home turf. If the disciples who went around with Jesus and didn't get what he was about; who at the time of his trial forsook him and fled are all invited, then so are we. If Peter, who denied Jesus three times is invited, then so are we. We're all invited, and all because Jesus' love for us, which is God's love for us, just doesn't give up on you or I or anybody, or any part of God's creation. Jesus loves to invite unworthy people into his circle of mission. That's how I got here.
You might react in this way: “I would have preferred an ending which gave a nice wrap to the story and didn't ask so much of me.” And that's a choice as well.
The beginning of Mark's Gospel gives us a clue as to what we can expect in meeting Jesus in our Galilee, our Bellingham, our Deming, Sumas, Ferndale, Whatcom County, our wherever-we're-from. It begins as abruptly as it ends today: “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.
Reading Mark's Gospel, it becomes apparent that at the beginning of this chapter, then, we know we'll find Jesus wherever there's suffering and loss and the need for hope. We'll find him bringing newness there. We'll find him befriending lost and wayward and needy people; that's us, no matter how rich or poor we are. We'll find him bringing solace to those who mourn. We'll find him confronting the powers of this world that are prideful and arrogant and live by violence and corruption; those powers with which we all have more than we'd like to think.
Serene Jones sums it up:
"...It is not just pride or falsehood or arrogance or violent boasting that God redeems. It is also the nether regions of life where we are broken by violence and by love and by the sheer exhaustion of the labor it takes to go on. Here, where we expect to find him dead, the tomb does not hold him, as well. And with often unspoken force, grace abounds.”
We will find him helping us live with newness in the midst of the suffering we can't help, and with the power to alleviate the suffering that it is in our power to alleviate.
We are writing the story, but the plot and the ending of the narrative is in the hands of God who is author and finisher. God is victorious over death, and unpredictable. Jesus remains in control, and is unpredictable. The only predictable thing is that God is good, that Jesus will love us at every point in the story, and that the final ending is up to God.
There's a line from today's Psalm which we can own, if we receive this Good News and desire this day to bear it:
"I shall not die, but live and tell the works of the Lord."
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
image: Women at the Tomb
German, Hildesheim, about 1170s
colors, , silver, and ink on
J. Paul Getty Museum