Just Beginning: April 1, 2018

April 3, 2018

Year B, Easter                                                          
Mark 16:1-8                                                             

            I like happy endings.  If I learn that a book doesn’t have a happy ending, I don’t read it.  If I accidently read a book that has a bad ending, I feel betrayed and angry.  I want a neat and tidy ending.  I know that life is not like that.  Our problems aren’t resolved in 250 pages.  Sometimes they are never resolved, which is why I need it in my books.  Therefore, I have always found it strange that I am so fond of the ending of the Gospel of Mark.  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.”  If you read this in Greek, which was the language in which it was originally written, the last sentence is incomplete.  Mark didn’t even finish the sentence.  It’s like his pen ran out of ink or he decided he needed a snack and just forgot to add the conclusion.  It’s that abrupt.

            In the other three Gospels, Jesus appeared in bodily form to the disciples and the women who came to the tomb.  In the Gospels of Luke and John, Jesus shared a meal with the disciples.  He even did a little fishing.  In Mark, we end with an empty tomb and a strange man telling the women that Jesus had been raised and was going to meet them in Galilee.  But no one actually saw the risen Christ. If that was not bad enough, the last line said the women ran away and said nothing for they were afraid—which means that they never told the disciples.  They never shared the good news. 

            For centuries, people have struggled with the ending of Mark.  In the earliest translations, there is no evidence of verses that come after verse 8 (which is where we ended today).  However, within less than 100 years of the writing of Mark, there is evidence that additional verses were added. The theory is that people were uncomfortable with the ending because there was no real conclusion. It essentially ended on what we would now refer to as a cliff hanger.  If it was a TV show, you would hear a voiceover that said, “Did the women ever tell anyone about the tomb?  Did Jesus show himself?  Was he really resurrected? Find out next week on the Jesus Story!  Yet there was no next week.  The story just ended. 

            Because that was such an unsatisfactory ending, someone added a few verses. That is why if you look at most Bibles, there will be an option for a shorter ending and a longer ending. There is an additional 12 verses that uses text from the other Gospels to fill in the gaps and show Jesus Christ risen and interacting with his disciples.  What this proves is that even the earliest Christians were desperate for a good ending—which is completely understandable.  The early Christians were building a movement. They needed something that they could lift up, a narrative that would provide hope for those Christians who were being persecuted.  An empty tomb and people running away scared isn’t exactly a rallying cry. 

            But what if we look at it a different way?  Instead of it being an unsatisfactory ending, what if it is an opportunity for a new beginning?  To try to put an ending on this story…to edit the story so that it could be more palatable, is a mistake. Because this is not our ending to control. We don’t get to decide how this part of the story is told.  What we do have, is an opportunity to be a part of the new beginning.

            One of the awesome aspects of the Gospel of Mark is that it is a Gospel of expectation, of what is to come.  That is what our church is about. When we look at the church calendar, we see many beginnings.  Advent, which is the season before Christmas, is the beginning of the church year.  It is a season of expectation for the birth of Christ.  Lent is also an opportunity for new beginning.  We talk about the need to repent.  Repentance is not just saying “I am sorry” and moving on, it’s about a complete change of orientation.  It’s the act of turning around and starting over.  Then we have Easter, where Jesus defeats death and comes back to life, for a new beginning.  After Easter we enter the season of Pentecost which marks the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the church.  Every season of the church offers a chance for a new beginning. 

            Some people criticize the church as being stuck in the past or being overly concerned about guilt and judgment.  That could not be further from the truth.  Yes, we honor the past and hopefully we learn from the past.  We also admit our guilt in our confession every Sunday.  But those things are only part of the story.  If the story of our faith ended with guilt and condemnation, that would make for a horrible ending.  But it doesn’t, because with every season and every Sunday, we have an opportunity to start over.  Our faith is a faith marked by new beginnings.

            When the women saw the empty tomb, they were understandably confused.  There was an angelic visitor there who told them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here…But go, tell the disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”  It’s odd that he mentioned Peter by name.  The angel told the women to go tell the disciples.  Peter was one of the disciples.  Why did he have to be specifically named? 

            One theory is that he was mentioning Peter because there was a very real chance that Peter felt bad about the fact that he had denied being a disciple of Jesus.  Peter might have thought that he had ended his relationship with Jesus because of his denial.  Perhaps he thought that if Jesus really was back from the dead, he did not want to see the man who had denied him.  That was what I would have thought if I was Peter.  That is why the angel specifically mentioned Peter. Jesus had not just risen for a select few…a select few who deserved to see him again.  He rose for everyone.  This was a new day and a new beginning. 

            Maybe you are here today for the first time in awhile and feel a little uncomfortable about that. Guess what? We are all starting over, so you are not alone.  It is never too late to come back to faith or rekindle your relationship with God and the community of faith.    Jesus rose for you.  He lived, died and was resurrected for every person here, even those who do not deserve it, which is everyone by the way.  No one deserves God’s unconditional love, but he gives it anyways.

            As I said at the beginning, I like the way Mark ends.  However, I am not sure I would have if I was hearing it told in the first century and if I had not heard the other Gospels.  I would have liked some certainty and clarity.  While it might not be the ending we want, it’s the ending we all need.  Because it forces us to enter into the story, be part of the ongoing story of Jesus Christ.  We aren’t just reading the story, we are participating in it.

          We have an opportunity to live in the promise Mark made so long ago—the promise that we will meet the risen Christ.  Remember, the angel said that Jesus was going ahead of them…ahead.  That is why we continue to move forward and sometimes start over.  We do that so we too can meet the risen Christ.