You can see why they thought it must have been a mistake. Mark couldn’t really have intended his gospel to end like that–”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.” He even ends the sentence with a preposition–gar–”for”. There must have been a mistake. The real ending of the gospel must have been lost or torn off–surely there was an appearance of the risen Jesus, some happy reunion with the disciples, something other than the women running off in terror and saying nothing to anyone, “they were afraid for…”
So in the later manuscripts, the ones copied faithfully by the monks, Jesus does appear to Mary Magdalene, and to the disciples, and sends them all out to spread the good news. He even tells them they’ll be able to do all sorts of things–cast out demons, handle poisonous snakes, drink poison. You get the feeling that maybe the monks or one of Mark’s followers got carried away with their own imaginations about what the ending of the gospel really should have been–not “they were afraid for…”
But they were frightened. All the gospels–even the ones with longer endings–say that the discovery of the empty tomb wasn’t an immediate cause of joy and celebration. We may shout, “Christ is risen!” and respond to such news with “Christ is risen indeed!” But the first reaction to that discovery was more like, “Holy … you know what! Let’s get out of here!” Instead of confidence and joy and a desire to go and tell others, the first followers of Jesus responded with fear and silence and running away.
The apostle Paul wisely insists that there is no resurrection that is not resurrection from the dead. Tom Currie suggests that “the church has always wanted something less miraculous. We would like a resurrection that would be more like self-improvement, a resurrection that would not so messy, so intrusive, so threatening.”[Journal for Preachers, Easter 2015, p. 3] “Because,” as another writer notes, “when a guy executed for sedition is raised to new life, the line between life and death suddenly grows paper-thin. As a result we’re asked to re-assess all our familiar assumptions.” [Mark Skinner, Odyssey Networks, 3-30-15]
You may be here this morning under protest. Not only may the whole “Church Thing” feel incredibly uncomfortable and even alien to anything else in your life; but you may also be thinking this “resurrection” stuff is just impossible to believe. It’s a fool’s crutch. You should know you’ve got lots of company–a company that goes back thousands of years–all the way back to that first Easter morning when the women got away as fast as they could and no way were they going to tell anybody about they’d found. A person could get killed for saying stuff like that; and they did. At best, you’d be called a fool; and they were.
Mark is not interested in proving that Jesus was raised from the dead. The ending of his gospel–what I think was the real ending–leaves us all in krisis–in a moment of crisis or decision, which is what that word means. Maybe it’s incomplete by design, as David Lose says, for “no story about death and resurrection could possibly have a neat and tidy ending.” It’s open-ended so we’ll jump in. “It’s only just getting started,…[he says] Resurrection isn’t a conclusion, it’s an invitation.” [David Lose, inthemeantime, 3/30/15] Your future–our future– must be lived into, and we have to decide how we will do that–paralyzed by fear, deadened by cynicism, carelessly without hope, or trusting in the power that is able to bring life out of death.
“The ‘Fear not’ of the Easter message [Tom Currie writes] is not a declaration that there is no reason to fear or that our fears are illusions which we can ignore or wish away. It is not even a message that tells us that death has no power….The reason we are told to ‘Fear not’ is not that there is not reason to fear, but that amidst our fears, amidst our running away in terror, our walking in discouragement and isolation, there is one who has broken through the imprisoning bonds of death, one whose fellowship has overcome that deep loneliness that death intends for all of human life, one whose risen life is always a life together.” [Currie, op cit., p. 4]
“Do not be alarmed,” the young man in the white robe said to the women. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here…But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Death is a scary thing, but we know that life can be a scary thing too. And we know that life is full of all kinds of little deaths–disappointments, failures, sickness, injury, betrayals, moving, graduating, divorce, losing a job, losing a loved one, endings of relationships. We get lots of chances to practice dying during our lifetimes, and it doesn’t always feel good.
But the message of the Easter story is that we don’t have to live our lives in a state of fear, despite what the news media and politicians would sometimes have us believe. We can acknowledge our fears and anxieties–after all, our bodies have built in ways to handle dangers and assaults– but then we might remember to breathe, especially if we’ve practiced taking deep breaths in the midst of anxiety. And maybe in that moment we can remember that we’re not alone. There is One beside us who’s been through all those little deaths and the Big Death, who did not run away but went through them, so we wouldn’t have to be alone, so we wouldn’t think that God wasn’t right there with us. And then on the other side of death–whether big or little–we are still not alone. We may be different, our loved ones are not present in the way they were before, in those same bodies, but they–we–are still held, together, in God’s loving embrace. Just how that all is is a mystery. Words fail us here; it gets messy and ragged. We might even end the story with a preposition.
“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Mark’s gospel may have ended there, but we know the story didn’t end there. They must have eventually told someone, because we’re hearing the story today! As Fred Craddock said, “When the women finally find their voices, what powerful witnesses! No glib and easy Easter words here. They had been to the cemetery.” [Christian Century, 4/5/03] Their story passed the reality check of their own experience of encountering the risen Christ. Their story passed the reality check of the experience of generations of followers who have experienced the presence of the Risen Christ, who have experienced new and abundant life even after the most crushing of defeats and death.
The resurrection is not a conclusion but an invitation. Enter into the story. Don’t let your head become a dead end for possibility. Open up to new life. Be part of the blossoming of hope –and blossoms always start out as little things–seeds or bulbs or buds. So find one small act to begin the revolution–you might help us transform the cross into not just and ending but a beginning. Place, if you will, one of the flowers into the wire, and help us create a symbol of new life. Become part of the good news!
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
Rev. Mary Lee-Clark