Year B, Easter
I have always really appreciated the Gospel of Mark. For one thing, it is the shortest. If you only have a limited amount of time to experience the story of Jesus, read Mark. I also have this feeling as though I know Mark. He was the guy who wasn’t concerned with what people wanted to hear. He wasn’t worried about making the disciples look good or making the church appear to be triumphant and successful. His prose was not particularly formal or pretty. He did not need to impress the people who might be hearing his words. There were no good transitions between stories. His only real transition tool was to use the word “and” or “immediately.” Everything always happened immediately. There is urgency in his writing that was not emphasized in the other Gospels. It probably never occurred to him that we would still be reading his words today. Since his was the first Gospel that was written, he did not have to compare his writing to anything. He was not trying to be anyone else. He was writing the truth, from his perspective. For that reason, some people believe that Mark’s Gospel might be the one that is closest to the real story.
One of the other things that makes Mark so unique is the ending of the Gospel, the text that I read today. There is no resurrected Jesus. Jesus never appears to the women or Peter or the beloved disciple. He never walks through a door or eats fish with his disciples; nor does he give a final speech and then ascend into the clouds as his disciples watch on. In Mark, Jesus’ last words were, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The last time anyone saw him, he was dead. Sure, he had told them that he would be resurrected and return after three days. He told them that several times, but they really did not understand him and can we blame them? It might seem obvious to us now because we know the end of the story; but they didn’t. All they knew was that their friend who they had come to believe was the Son of God, was dead. Not only that, but not one of the 12 disciples remained with him until his last breath. There were only a few faithful women who watched from a distance.
It was these same women who returned to the tomb. They were there so that they could anoint the body. This is normally something that you do before the body is wrapped and placed in a tomb, but this was not a normal death nor was Jesus an ordinary man. So the women returned three days later. When they were walking there, they were not contemplating the possibility that he might be alive. It never seemed to occur to them. They were concerned about the details. How would they get into the tomb with a huge stone blocking it? That was their concern…how to move the stone.
As soon as they arrived they realized that the stone was no longer their main concern. The stone was moved and a strange man sat at the side of the tomb. As you can imagine, they were a little freaked out. They did not know this strange man and all of a sudden he was telling them not to worry….that Jesus, the man they were looking for, had risen. The tomb was empty. The strange man then told them to go tell the disciples that Jesus is not in the tomb, but is going ahead to Galilee to meet them. Then the man added, “just as he told you.” Just in case they were confused, he reminded them that Jesus already told them that all of this was going to happen. When Jesus says he is going to do something, it happens.
If Mark was like the other three Gospels, or any good movie, then the women would have leapt with joy and run as fast as they could to spread the good news that Jesus is alive…just like he told them he would be. But according to Mark, that is not what happened. The very 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.” That is a horrible ending. It’s like a bad movie where you get to the last 3 minutes and it looks like it will all wrap up the way you expected…but before that can happen, the credits roll. It is over and there is no closure.
This is not how it should have ended. These are the women who stayed with Jesus until the end. They were not supposed to run away. They were supposed to return to the disciples and tell them all that Jesus was back from the dead and they needed to get to Galilee immediately because that was where he was headed. Then they were meant to tell everyone so that 2000 years later we at St. John’s would remain grateful with the knowledge that we know about the resurrection because these women believed and shared that belief with others. But that is not how the story ends. It ends in terror and silence.
This ending of Mark made people so uncomfortable that they added alternate endings later on that sounded more like the other Gospels. In these alternate endings, the women told the disciples just like they were asked. Jesus appeared to them and eventually ascended into heaven. But Mark did not end it that way. He left the story open. He left us, the readers, hanging. We assume that these women must have shared and Jesus must have fulfilled his promise and appeared to his disciples. Otherwise, how would we know? But that was not how Mark ended it. Mark ended his Gospel with a challenge, a challenge for each one of us.
You can do what these women did. You can go home and eat a big meal. You can talk about how pretty the flowers were and how nice the music was, which is all true. And then you can take a couple of Sundays off because you know, Easter is over. And that’s ok. No one will get hurt. Life will remain just as it is. But that also means that the message never leaves this building. It means that your faith, your relationship with God is an unfinished story. If this is it… if we don’t keep working on our faith, committing ourselves to prayer, worship and a community of faith…the story never gets out. Finish the story. Don’t let it end here today. It’s a beautiful story. It’s more than any one of us can hope for.
That is why as a community of faith, we live the story together. While it is beautiful, it is challenging. It is terrifying at times because we do not always get the closure we want. It does not always make sense. But we keep praying. We keep studying, talking and praising God. Then one day when our personal story (our life) comes to an end, we will find that it has really just begun. You see, there is a twist at the end. Just when we think it is over, it starts again.