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Resurrection Living

stoneremovedMark 16: 1-8
The Gospel of Mark is the earliest of the four gospels in the Bible, probably composed in the late middle of the 1st century, around the year 70.  Mark’s work was formative for the later gospel writers Matthew and Luke; both used material from Mark in their writing, nearly word for word in some places.

So Mark is early, authoritative… and short, the shortest of the four.  Mark’s sole purpose is to bear witness to Jesus Christ as the embodiment and proclaimer of the kingdom of God, which is what he declares in the very first sentence:  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)  Mark gives us the most tightly written story of Jesus:  no birth narrative; no personal vignettes; only a few succinct parables; but – miracles, healings, exorcisms, the feeding of thousands, and the continuous, patient teaching of his disciples. From the outset, Mark aims at the climax, the eight verses we read today.   The crucifixion and resurrection are key to understanding who Jesus is, and nearly half of Mark’s gospel deals with these events.

Does it not, therefore, seem strange for the story to have such an unexpected, bizarre and unhopeful – or as one commentator put it, unsuccessful - ending?  Instead of doing what they were commanded, the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  

One thing after another could have caused that reaction:  the heavy stone rolled away; the appearance of the young man in white, presumably a divine messenger; the fact that Jesus was gone.  All that, compounded by their grief at Jesus’s death.  It was just too much to process at that moment; they were reduced to flight and fearful silence.  Period.  That is where Mark ends the story of Jesus.

It is no wonder that later writers added more verses to Mark’s last chapter.  And so, if you look in the Bible, you will see two other endings, a short one, which is sometimes actually a footnote, and a longer, more elaborate one, with language that is clearly different from Mark’s style of writing.  These supply the more satisfying post-resurrection appearances, so that Mark feels more finished, like the other gospels.

But it is much more intriguing to stick with Mark’s original ending.  Why so?  Because it is full of potential meaning for us.

  • How many times do we choose to flee from, or hide from, a situation that scares us to the core?  Or troubles or saddens or shocks us?  We’re just like those women.  Mark knows that Jesus knows that.
  • Our own lives are filled with uncertainties, unresolved issues, lingering questions and uncomfortable tensions.  There is no neat, happy-ever-after ending, as in a novel or a movie.  Life goes on, up and down, around the next turn, totally open-ended.  Mark knows that Jesus knows that. 

But the resurrection!  There is the resurrection!  There is hope.  This is a promise.

Resurrection is continuous, both an open-ended process and a practice.  Resurrections, both momentous and mundane, happen every day, all around us, in places and to people we know and love very much.

  • The heart wrenching process of dealing with illness with no prospect of recovery.  Where are the resurrection moments of joy, laughter, love?
  • The worrisome search for employment, one job ended, another not yet begun.  Or retirement.  Or motherhood.  How does what I do define who I am or who will I become?
  • Facing our own mortality, the end of life as we know it.  What happens when we die?  Our faith directs us to call a funeral a “Service of Witness to the Resurrection,” not the end but the beginning of something new.

Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite theological writers, tells a resurrection story that is possible for anyone to take personally.

Late one winter afternoon as I was walking to a class I had to teach, I noticed the beginnings of what promised to be one of the great local sunsets.  There was just the right kind of clouds and the sky was starting to burn and the bare trees were black as soot against it.

When I got to the classroom, the lights were all on, of course, and the students were chattering, and I was just about to start things off, when I thought of the sunset going on out there in the winter dusk, and on impulse, without warning, I snapped off the classroom lights.  The room faced west so as soon as it went dark, everything disappeared except what we could see through the windows, and there it was – the entire sky was on fire by then, like the end of the world or the beginning of the world.  You might think that someone would have said something.  Teachers do not usually plunge their students into that kind of darkness, and you might have expected a wisecrack or two…  But the astonishing thing was that the silence was as complete as you can get it in a room full of people, and we all sat there unmoving for as long as it took the extraordinary spectacle to fade slowly away.
For over 20 minutes nobody spoke a word.  Nobody did anything.  We just sat there in the near-dark and watched one day of our lives come to an end, and it is no immodesty to say that it was a great class because my only contribution was to snap off the lights and then hold my tongue… (Buechner, 75)  

Always Jesus goes before us, in the Galilee of the whole world, in the Galilee of our daily lives.  We never know where or when it will be that we encounter Jesus, God’s Holy Spirit, encouraging, comforting, challenging, daring, explaining, chiding…as our living – our resurrection living - continues despite our fears, uncertainties, doubts and questions.  

Mark wants us to know what Jesus knows and what God has been telling humanity from the first day: there is no ending to the gospel, no end to the good news of forgiveness, reconciliation, salvation, peace, joy and love of God.
The end of Mark’s gospel is really just the beginning of the good news, just as he said it would be.  Amen.

Buechner, Frederick. The Hungering Dark. San Francisco: HarperOne, 1985.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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