Easter: April 4, 2021

April 18, 2021

Easter, Year B                                                                       Mark 16: 1-8                                                               

           When we had to close our church building last year weeks before Easter, I thought that would be the hardest moment of the pandemic for the church.  I comforted myself and others with visions of Christmas inside, surrounded by poinsettias and carols.  When we were not able to worship in person for Christmas, I said, well we will definitely be open for Easter.  And we are. Alleluia, Christ is Risen! We are open!

            But I have to say, it’s not what I pictured a year ago.  If you had told me then that we would still be wearing masks, separated by 6 feet, unable to sing the hymns– I would have disagreed vehemently.  I’ve decided denial is a unique form of optimism. I am thrilled to see your faces and hear your voices–but there is a small part of me that is disappointed.  This is certainly better than meeting online, but it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.  I know that others feel that too because some have said that they don’t want to come if it has to be like this.  It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

            I cannot help but wonder if that is how many people feel about the ending of Mark’s Gospel.  There is no appearance of the resurrected Jesus.  Not only that, but the last line is: “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.” Jesus never appeared and talked to the disciples.  He never sat and ate a meal with them.  The women ran away in terror.  This is the original ending of Mark. 

            Now if we were allowed to have Bibles in the pews, I could direct you to the end of the Gospel of Mark and you would see that while it ends on verse 8, there are two possible additions.  There is a “shorter ending” and a “longer ending.”  It is the only Gospel where you get to pick your own ending.  Most Biblical scholars will tell you that the earliest versions of the manuscript ended at verse 8.  So why do we have these alternate endings?

            Because this ending feels unsatisfactory.  This is not what we want for Easter.  To be fair, these 8 verses aren’t completely devoid of Easter imagery. We know that something miraculous happened because the huge stone has been rolled away and there is an angelic messenger announcing that Jesus is risen– but we want to see Jesus—alive.  We understand that these women are afraid, but in the other Gospels, we see the disciples move past the fear because they get to meet the risen Christ.  I don’t want the Easter story ending in silence and fear. 

            Perhaps that is what makes this Gospel ending so appropriate for Easter 2021.  We are back in church.  There are lilies.  It’s definitely Easter.  Yet there is still silence (no congregational singing) and fears (too many to mention).  While I was so excited when I found out we could open, I was also afraid that people would be disappointed, because it’s not the same.  And I am not sure it ever will be.

            That scares me and I know it scares many of you.  But I learned something about faith and fear over this last year and while studying Mark.  Many assume that since the women ran away from the empty tomb in fear, then that implies they failed in their mission—that they did not do as the angelic messenger asked them to. They were supposed to tell the disciples that Jesus was going ahead of them to Galilee. It says they didn’t tell anyone—-well not immediately.  Obviously they must have, or we would not be telling this story 2000 years later.

            Throughout the Gospel of Mark, fear doesn’t imply desertion or even failure.  Fear is a part of our journey with Jesus.   That is why angels are always telling people not to be afraid…because they know it’s a natural reaction to encountering God.  There were many times when the disciples were afraid and they didn’t always look so good when they were.  And yet…the fear did not stop them as followers of Jesus and it definitely didn’t stop Jesus.

Photo by Jonny Gios

            I’ve always found it interesting that the women were so concerned about the stone.  Given everything that had happened, and all that Jesus had foretold, why were they worried about a stone– a stone that could have been rolled away?  But isn’t that always the way, instead of looking for openings and new opportunities, we looks for roadblocks and impediments.  Instead of rejoicing about worshipping in person with you lovely people, I’ve been freaking out about what we can and cannot do.  And I am not saying we should not be taking these important precautions—we should.  However, once we have done all that we can do, then we need to put ourselves in God’s capable hands.  We can rest in the assurance that we worship a living God who continues to walk with us even when we stumble around in fear.

            While the women were worried, they didn’t let that stop them from going to the tomb.  That’s what matters…when all the other disciples hid or ran away, these women showed up.  They didn’t just show up, the text says: “When they looked up…”  They faced their fears and they looked up, they raised their eyes and their heart to the road ahead.  When they did—they realized that God had already removed the stone.  They just needed to open their eyes wide enough to see it.

            As we move into this 2nd or 45th phase of pandemic life, let us take a new look at the perceived barriers in front of us.  We may find that those barriers aren’t really barriers at all. They are opportunities for a new path.  The angelic visitor told the women that Jesus has already gone ahead of them to Galilee.  While they stared at an empty tomb—while the disciples hid in a locked room, Jesus was already charting a new course. He was moving ahead. 

            I don’t know what is next for our schools, our jobs, our economy or our church.  What I know is that Jesus is already there.  He’s been busy moving boulders out of the way.  When we follow him, it might feel like a tricky obstacle course at times—but the obstacles aren’t endings, they are new beginnings.  That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but it’s still amazing and achingly beautiful at times.     Let’s not spend too much time looking back because that’s not where Jesus is.  He’s on his was to Galilee and the question is—are we ready to follow?