God’s amazing surprise on Easter morning means many things, but what caught me this year is that it is only the beginning. As Mark’s jarring conclusion reminds us, the women at the tomb that morning aren’t the only people God had in mind. We worship a living Lord. We are as close to Jesus as the women were that morning. And the good news of Jesus Christ is ours to tell. It is new every morning. It is a story in which we are the main characters, and the story unfolds a little more each day. Let’s start writing our role in the great gospel story of Resurrection.
The Resurrection of Our Lord (Year B) – April 5, 2015
Mark 16:1-8; Psalm 118:1-2,14-24; Acts 10:34-43
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
“The Story Goes On” – Pastor Evan Davis
[don’t even say “The Gospel of the Lord”] Wait, what? That can’t be right. Let me read that again. “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Seriously? The Gospel of the Lord? Sure doesn’t sound like it. Wait, goodness, I need to explain this!!
Here’s the deal with Mark’s gospel: all the way through, the disciples, who should be really understanding everything about Jesus, never figure it out. Even when Peter does get it right that Jesus is the Messiah, he totally misses what that means – that it meant Jesus’ suffering and death. They’re expecting a Messiah who can get them something, not call them to take up their cross. And consistently, it’s the least likely people who actually get it right about who Jesus is – for example, the demons always recognize Jesus. And right at the end of the story, as Jesus is dying on the cross, it’s the Roman centurion who recognizes the crucified God: “truly this man was God’s Son!”
So it’s again no surprise that Mark portrays even the faithful women, who must get their credit for following Jesus all the way to the cross, and then having the guts to return to his tomb to anoint his Body, that even they are seized with fear when they face the reality that Jesus’ grave is empty. He is not there! Nobody saw this coming. Nobody expected Jesus’ tomb to be empty that Sunday morning. God has created this holy morning, this morning of all mornings, as a sheer surprise. What does that mean for me, for my life?
How could this possibly be the ending, though? With the only witnesses running away and telling no one? A bunch of monks thought the same thing. Over the centuries, they came across this terrible ending and thought, “oh my goodness! This just won’t do.” And so they added what in your Bible is called “the longer ending of Mark.” But all the earliest manuscripts have the text ending at verse 8, and virtually every scholar agrees that these conscientious monks were just trying to tie up Mark’s story with a neat little bow. So prim and proper, those monks.
But Mark wanted his story to hang open at the end….for not everything to be resolved. A week ago I promised you resolution on this Easter morning, but I have to take that back. Because it’s not over yet. Mark begins his gospel with what seems almost like a title, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Makes sense, he’s announcing the beginning of the story, right? But what if that’s not exactly what he’s up to? What if what he’s saying is that all this, the whole story of Jesus that he wrote down to transmit to you and to me, is just the beginning?1 What if it’s ok that the faithful women were too afraid to say anything right then and there at the moment they first walked into the empty tomb, because Mark knew, and Jesus knew, there would be someone else to tell the good news, someone in exactly the right place and the right time, some people who could hear the gospel and shout it out with their lives? Do you know who Mark had in mind?
You! All of you! You who hear this story – you are the ones Mark, and Jesus, had in mind. You are the ones in just the right place, at just the right time, to be witnesses that though they put him to death by hanging him on the tree of the cross, God raised him up on the third day. You’re the ones who can say, “this is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!”
Mark was saying, in effect, if you’re upset about this ending, go write your own!!! Literally! It’s your turn now…what are you going to say about this?
This has been making the rounds for a while now, and maybe it’s a bit over-quoted, but it so fits our gospel this morning. It’s a quotation from my wife’s favorite movie, Dead Poets Society, from the main character, John Keating, the teacher, played by Robin Williams:
We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?2
In the powerful play of the ongoing good news of Jesus Christ, baptized women and men, disciples and witnesses of the risen Jesus, have been contributing their verses for nearly 2,000 years. St. Paul maybe got more than one verse. St. Francis’ verse echoes through the centuries. Martin Luther penned a memorable verse. How about Mother Theresa? How about your mother, or father, or grandparents? But what will your verse be? How will you keep the story going? Because the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has only begun. It continues to unfold every second of every day. Every morning we can rise with the joy we have this Easter morning and shout out, “this is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” Why? Because Christ’s resurrection is the first fruits, the down payment, on the resurrection of all! Because Christ is risen, all shall rise. Because Christ is risen, no matter how bad it seems in the world or in your life, in the end, all will be well. God has made this day – created this time and we know the future is open. We know that the very end of the story has already been written – that death will be vanquished and all will be with God and God will be all in all. Between now and then, we’re living the story of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. You and I are the main characters, at least in our little corner of the story.
So what will be your verse in the great story? Knowing that all wars will end, that all peoples will one day live together in harmony, that all families, all husbands and wives, all widows and widowers, all fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and dear friends will be reunited around the great heavenly banquet table of the Lord, with that hope in your heart, with this new morning given to you every day the sun rises, what will your verse be?
Every morning you begin writing again….so why don’t you sketch out a draft? Take these…We’ll find a way to post and publish all this….right now, if you had to write a rough draft of your verse, what would it be? How is the Resurrection real for you? How does it make a difference in your life?
What a book we’ll have once we put all our verses together. Think there’s room in here for a Book of St. Jacob’s?? We’ll find room. Because Christ is risen, and so the story goes on. Alleluia! Amen.
1All the above interpretation and background on Mark is fairly general understanding. This last point about the first verse has been made by many, but was lifted up to me this week by David Lose, “Easter B: Only the Beginning,” http://www.davidlose.net/2015/03/easter-b-only-the-beginning/ (accessed April 3, 2015).