An Easter Story

April 1, 2018-Easter Sunday/Mark 16:1-8


What about the rest of the story?

Were we to read the closing verses of Matthew or Luke or John this morning, we would hear stories of the risen Jesus walking along the road with two of his disciples, of his greeting Mary as she left the tomb, of Jesus cooking fish over an open fire and feeding his disciples.

But this morning, we read the Gospel of Mark.  The first gospel written, Mark served as a source for both Matthew and Luke.  But Mark did not offer those gospels a glimpse of life after resurrection.  Those extra verses at the end – noted in most Bibles as “the longer ending” – were written centuries after the writer of the gospel put pen to paper.  Mark offered only the brief glimpse of three women who set out in the early morning hours to offer loving care to the body of their friend, who ended their morning fleeing in terror and amazement.

For God’s sake, Mark!  Why didn’t you tell us the rest of the story?

These same three women had witnessed Jesus’ horrible death on the cross.  They saw where Joseph of Arimathea laid his body and watched as he rolled a heavy stone across the entrance.  They worried about the large stone that morning as they gathered their spices and walked toward the tomb.  They wondered how they would remove it, who might help them.

But they were determined to perform this last service for Jesus.  “They did not expect resurrection; they expected to find a corpse.”[1]  They brought spices – not the oil that might customarily be used to anoint the dead.  They brought spices as if they were preparing their king for burial.  Arriving at the grave, they discovered that they had worried needlessly; the stone had been rolled back.  They entered the tomb, focused on preparing Jesus’ body for final burial.  What they encountered was a young man dressed in white – an angel.  For the first time, they were alarmed.

The young man’s words would alarm them even more.  “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.”  “The message [this young man] brings is the … key to the entire Gospel.”[2]  The tragedy that had unfolded before them at Golgotha, the agonizing death of their teacher and friend, the story “that had seemed to end in abandonment and death of the Son of God,” now has been “stood on its head.”[3]  “He has risen; he is not here.”

The young man’s words point them ahead, directing their attention away from the past toward a future in which all things will be made well.  He directs them to tell the disciples that Jesus will go before them to Galilee; they will see him there.  He singles Peter out by name – “tell his disciples and Peter.”  These are the same men who abandoned Jesus in the garden when Judas betrayed him to the authorities.  This is the same Peter who denied ever knowing Jesus.  But “the falling away of the disciples and the denial of Peter are not the end of God’s plans for them.  In this command of the angel to the women lies the promise of forgiveness and restitution, of a renewed call and a fresh start for disciples chastened by failure and empowered by the resurrection.”[4]

This one verse “is crucial to Mark’s picture of discipleship. … Jesus is not ashamed of failed disciples. … A divine messenger has been dispatched to call them back.”[5]

But the women do not follow the young man’s instructions.  Rather than leaving the tomb to return to Jerusalem and report what they have seen to the disciples, they flee.  They tear out of there in terror and amazement.  They tell no one.

These are the women “who were strong enough to attend Jesus’ passion, brave enough to follow Joseph of Arimathea, courageous enough to go to the place of burial and enter a tomb not knowing what they would find – now, even they fail. … The Gospel ends on the chord it has struck throughout: one note is the call to discipleship and following, the other is the fear of what it will mean to do so.”[6]

And maybe that really is where the story should end.  After all, if we’re honest with ourselves, following this Jesus is scary business.  Washing dirty feet, feeding strangers, offering water to people who look different than us, giving the shirt off our back to clothe the naked – that is all scary business.  Mark ends his story with the focus right where it began – on discipleship.  “This fear is … the natural reaction to a discipleship whose content is the way of the cross.  Anybody who truly understands what it means to be a disciple of Jesus is afraid.  If you’re not afraid, you don’t understand.  This is why Mark doesn’t want to stress resurrection appearances that will wipe out the fear with a victorious ending.  He stresses the call and the challenge which that call represents.  He’s about calling faithful disciples to walk through the darkness, not comfortable Christians who want to glory triumphantly in the light.”[7]

So we are left with the story unfinished.  The end has not been written, because Mark intends that his readers will complete it.  “The shocking ending is shocking precisely because it intends to propel readers into the responsive role of filling the void create by the fear of the women and the disciples.”[8]  Mark chooses not to offer any resurrection proof – no Jesus sightings, no shared meals, no final charge.  For Mark, “there is only one genuine ‘witness’ to the risen Jesus: to follow in discipleship.  Only in this way will the truth of the resurrection be preserved.”[9]

“This ending was intended by Mark to be exactly like that.  [Music that keeps playing over and over again obsessively in your head.  No matter what you do you can’t stop it.  It breaks in, breaks your concentration, infuriates you, overwhelms you.]  A song that won’t stop until we get up and change our own tunes of living.  Until we stop looking for happy endings and, living a life of discipleship, start creating them.  Perhaps this is why Mark doesn’t have Jesus – who has appeared throughout this narrative – appear again.  Maybe he wants the reality of discipleship in his followers … finally to appear instead.  Maybe that’s the appearance he’s really looking for.  He is looking for it from us, the readers.  He wants us to finish his Jesus story.”[10]

The Gospel of Mark offers us the promise of Easter in a way none of the other gospel accounts does.  Mark calls us to witness to the miracle of Easter in how we answer the call to discipleship.  Presbyterian pastor Gary Charles hears Mark’s call this way:

The Easter destination to which the messenger calls the disciples [is] the Galilee that awaits all who are open to God’s future.  Galilee is ‘in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings’ of this life.  Galilee awaits people who have lost their bearings, whose faith flickers at best, who compromise their integrity for a buck, who sit in the pews most Sundays yet still are mostly confused about who Jesus is or how to follow him. … The good news is that the risen Lord awaits us … on our city streets, in the halls of our schools, in the wards of our hospitals, and behind the bars of our prisons.  The Lord awaits us in the market and the gym, when we sit down to dinner and when we lie down to sleep.  Want to find the risen Lord?  Want to serve the risen Christ?  Mark says, “Then go to Galilee.”[11]

Mark offers us the promise that even we can be disciples of Christ.  In all our messy imperfection, in all our brokenness.  And that is the true story of Easter.  Thanks be to God the Father, Jesus Christ our risen Lord, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen and amen.

[1] Bonnie Bowman Thurston, Preaching Mark, 185

[2] Lamar Williamson Jr., Interpretation: Mark, 284

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Thurston, 187

[6] Ibid.

[7] Brian Blount, “Happily Ever After,” Preaching Mark in Two Voices, 261-262

[8] Ibid., 263

[9] Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, 401

[10] Blount, 265

[11] Gary W. Charles, “Galilee,” Preaching Mark in Two Voices, 272-273

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