Easter Sunday + April 1, 2018
“Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen indeed!” This is the announcement that greets the woman who have come to the tomb on that first Easter morning. And their reaction is immediate, - they run away and say nothing to anyone! And before you are tempted to make fun of these women for their moment of fear, just remember where Peter and the other male disciples are in this moment, - they are not at the tomb, they are hiding away, in fear, behind locked doors. The woman who ventured out on that first day were certainly not timid, they were most likely - bold and courageous. However even these strong women were not prepared for what they were about to see and hear, an empty tomb and the outrageous news that Jesus had been raised up from the dead. It’s not surprising that they run away, that “terror and amazement had seized them.” In fact, it seems like the right thing to do! This is not normal.
I suppose what is really surprising about today’s Gospel reading, is not that the first witnesses to the resurrection “freaked out,” but rather, that this is how the Gospel of Mark ends! I assume that all of you remember my sermon from earlier this year on January 7th? Right? In that sermon I preached about the uniqueness of the Gospel of Mark. We discussed its sense of urgency, how the word “immediately” appears some 28 times; How Jesus is on the move sowing the seeds of the kingdom here, there, and seemingly everywhere; And finally, I talked about the strange, seemingly unfinished ending of Mark’s Gospel.
For those who don’t remember the sermon, I pointed out that in most bibles you will find an editor’s note on the last page of Mark’s Gospel. It will tell you that the oldest and most original manuscripts end with chapter 16, verse 8, the place where our reading ends today. And that over time two different endings (Cleverly referred to as the shorter ending and the longer ending) have been “tacked on” to “complete” the gospel - adding verses 9 through 19.
Yet Mark's original gospel ends at verse eight, and it does end strangely. Jesus does not even make a cameo appearance, there are absolutely no post resurrection stories in the original Gospel of Mark. It just ends unexpectedly, and somewhat disappointedly, with these words, “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.”
Yep, the woman have found the empty tomb and heard the good news of the resurrection yet they say nothing because they are afraid. The gospel that begins with boldness, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” ends with a sense of “incompleted-ness.” There is no great proclamation, no great commission, no “touch, see and believe,” no joyful reunions; and so, we find ourselves asking, "What happens next?" The Gospel of Mark leaves us wanting more, wanting resolution, wanting to experience the resurrection!
So where do we see the resurrection according to St. Mark? The clue to finding this resurrection is found in Jesus’ invitation to the disciples to return to Galilee! Those were the instructions that Jesus gave them as they sang hymns on the Mount of Olives after they celebrated the Passover, Jesus Last Supper, “After I am raised up I will go before you to Galilee!” Yet after the events of the passion, the disciples found themselves in Jerusalem hiding away in fear. Once again, only the women have enough courage to venture out and go to the tomb. But even they don’t have the story right, the angel tells them “matter of factly,” “He’s not here, He’s already on his way to Galilee, where you’re supposed to be meeting him.”
The region of Galilee was home to a humble and diverse population. They were farmers, fisherman, traders, and shop keepers. They were the people of Jesus parables, simple, hard-working, and down to earth. After the resurrection Jesus is not found on the pinnacle of the temple with a holy band of angels but rather he has gone back to Galilee, gone back to a simple yet profound presence among people, where they work and play, where life is lived, where bread is broken, where people are hurting, where people need healing and love. The Gospel of Mark ends where it began, and that’s where the resurrected Jesus can be found, simply yet profoundly present in Galilee in the midst of the people.
Lutheran Theologian, Dr. Phil Ruge-Jones, writes about the Easter story in Mark, “The story leaves many wanting more resolution, but has the restraint not to give it away cheaply. If you want to experience the risen Jesus, you have to go back to Galilee where he promises to meet us. Going back to Galilee means going back to the margins where Jesus ministered and encountering him again feeding the hungry, driving out the demons that torment people, preaching words of hope to the broken-hearted, healing those in distress, and breaking down the barrier walls that separate people.”
The Gospel of Mark and its strange and abrupt ending forces us to ask some very important questions. Where are we looking to find the resurrected Jesus? Are we still in “Jerusalem” waiting for the heavens to open up, waiting for a miraculous, supernatural, ending to the story? Are we looking in grave yards, empty tombs, and dead ends? Are we still in hiding, still afraid of the power of death? Or are we on the way to Galilee? And where is Galilee today? Where is Jesus waiting to meet us, waiting to be discovered? Where might we experience the resurrection? Where is the kingdom of God being raised up in our world?
Perhaps for us Galilee is not really that far away? Perhaps the resurrection is being experienced right in our very midst? Are not people being raised up on Tuesday evenings when they are being served a gracious hot meal? Are not people being raised up on Wednesday mornings when they get the opportunity to shop with dignity at the Caring Hands Pantry? Are not people being raised up at the new Sunday Diner, in the simple opportunity to delight in a “made to order” sandwich? And what if we emptied out some of the other spaces filled with clutter in our building and filled them with people and organizations that are seeking to make a difference, would not people be raised up? What if we hosted some doctors and nurses? What if we provided opportunities for art? What if we created spaces where we could find a way to share our varied passions in ways that might change just one person’s world? Would not people be raised up? What if next Sunday we take some time to sit around tables and just brainstorm such “resurrection” ideas? Would not people be raised up? And would not we too be raised up? Would we not encounter that resurrection of life that we so desperately want to experience?
Mark’s Gospel denies us an account of what fully happened on that first Easter Morning, but in doing so Mark gifts us with the opportunity to experience the resurrection first hand. I wonder if the author knew that the details of the first Easter might have a way of keeping us at a distance, keeping us in the audience, keeping us somehow detached. For a fully completed story does not leave room for us to enter into the story!
That’s why I like Mark’s strange non-ending - because it forces me into the story, it entrusts the story with me, it invites me to be “on the way,” active in my faith, active in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It invites me to find God in “Galilee.” It invites me to find the ever present, powerful and transforming God, in my everyday life, serving alongside with you! It fleshes out Easter right here, right now; it brings the resurrection home.
So how will the story end with you? What seed has been sown in you - even today? What seed is pushing its way up and out of the earth revealing the kingdom to you, within you? Are you ready to make the journey to Galilee?
May the urgency and passion of Mark’s story about Jesus become your entrance into the divine story, your calling, your resurrection story unto life abundant in the kingdom that is rising up, all around us, even now!
Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!
Let us pray .....
Almighty God, through your son Jesus you have overcome death and opened for us the gate of everlasting life. Give us your continual help; put good desires into our minds and bring them to full effect; inspire us to leave death and fear behind; lead us back to Galilee, the place where the kingdom is at hand. Amen.
1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 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." 8 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.