Christ is risen! Love wins! Resurrection is real!
… and yet the Year of Mark is not over yet.
This week I preached on the shorter ending of the Gospel of Mark and I talked about how, even thought this is probably the least satisfying resurrection story, it is also a really realistic one when it comes to how we experience the Risen Christ in our lives.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
July 7, 2019
A Realistic Expression Of What It Means To Encounter The Risen Christ
This is it! Christ is risen! God’s love has proven to be stronger than death, itself, and here we are at the, um, almost end of the Year of Mark.
You might be wondering why Christ is risen and, yet, we still have a week to go before we finish the Year of Mark. Well, as it turns out, there are actually two endings to the Gospel of Mark.
I mean, technically, there is one ending – Christ is risen. However, the jury is still out as to what happened next; after the women discovered that the tomb was empty.
If you were to open up your bible to the last chapter of the Gospel of Mark, chapter 16, most likely there would be 20 verses. However, verses 9-20 are notably missing from the earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts of Mark. Most scholars believe that verses 9-20 did not appear until the late second century, likely because the scribes recording the gospel were not satisfied with the original ending that we just heard.
In fact, it is commonly understood that Mark ends with that eight verse, “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.” The two sentences that follow this verse in brackets with the title, The Shorter Ending Of Mark, – “And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the scared and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” – were added no earlier than the fourth century.
The Gospel of Mark is the oldest of the four gospels – it is the earliest recorded history of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. You can understand why, perhaps, scribes recording this important piece of the history of their faith wanted something a little bit more resolved than what is at the end of verse 8, “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” After all, this is supposed to be the defining moment of Christianity: Resurrection! Redemption, eternal life, salvation for all who believe.
I have to admit, the original ending does seem a little anticlimactic. The story does not end with reassurance and bold proclamation, but with fear and timid reticence. This ending does not really lend itself to a confetti-filled sanctuary on Easter morning; rather there are still so many unanswered questions.
And yet, part of me thinks that this is the most realistic expression of what it means to encounter the risen Christ. It is not always confetti flying through the air and science experiments demonstrating God’s overflowing love. Sometimes it is fear and hesitation to tell others what we have seen and experienced. Sometimes it is not resolved as nicely as we would like it to be. Sometimes there are still unanswered questions.
One of the things that I love about the resurrection story is the unexpected nature of it. Three women – Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, who is not identified in the Gospel of Mark, but is in the Gospel of Matthew as the mother of the sons of Zebedee – approach the tomb and expect nothing else but to find the stone rolled in front of the tomb with the body of Jesus inside.
There is no indication in this story that they even thoughtthey might arrive at the tomb and find something different. In fact, as they approached the tomb, they were so preoccupied with a conversation about how they were going to roll away the stone, that it was not until they arrived and “looked up” that they saw the stone had already been rolled back.
We were in Connecticut this week for my parent’s 4thof July party and Bruce and I were, unsuccessfully, trying to get Harrison to nap one afternoon at my sister’s house when I ran outside to get something out of my car and Harrison insisted on coming with me. I had him in one arm and a bag in the other arm and was not at all paying attention to anything else happening around me when I looked up and realized we were standing ten feet from a black bear.
And, like the women who arrived at the tomb and looked up and unexpectedly saw that the stone had already been rolled away, I was not at all expecting to see a bear when I looked up (though the difference between the women and Harrison and me is that we told everybody what we had seen!).
But I think it is in the unexpected moments where we experience the Risen Christ in all of its glory; these are the moments of resurrection that remind us that God’s love is powerful and that grace is real. Even here at church, the most memorable encounters with grace often do not happen in the moments that I carefully orchestrate, week after week, but in the moments where I accidentally say, “angeltude” during the Christmas Cantata or look up and realize that a cat has run into the sanctuary at the end of my sermon.
This story teaches us that resurrection is quite often found in the unexpected. It is sometimes nothing that we can plan for – but it is real and it is powerful and it is life-changing.
One of the reasons that I think people find this ending to be so unsatisfactory is that the very end goes against what we are taught as Christians – that we are supposed to proclaim the Good News that Christ is risen, that we are supposed to talk about our faith and tell others about the moments in our lives when we realize just how powerful God is.
But the women “said nothing to anyone” – they were afraid to tell people what they had seen.
And yet, again, what a realistic expression of what it means to encounter the Risen Christ and then figure out what to do next. How many of us sitting in this sanctuary today have hesitated to talk about our faith? How many of us have been afraid to even tell someone that we come to church?
Running from the tomb boldly proclaiming that Christ is Risen makes for a victorious celebration on Easter morning, but, in reality, living this out every single day of our lives is not always easy.
And so, when I read this story, the original ending of the very first recording of Jesus’ life, I take heart in knowing that my own struggle with talking openly about my faith sometimes is something that Christians have struggled with since the very beginning.
Are we supposed to fervently declare the Good News of Jesus Christ? Yes. Is that sometimes a scary thing for us to do? Apparently it always has been.
Finally, I think what also makes this story such a realistic expression of what it means to encounter the Risen Christ is the way in which we really do not know how the story ends. Jesus’ body is gone, the women encounter a young man dressed in white who tells them Jesus has been raised and they are supposed to tell Jesus’ disciples and Peter to meet Jesus in Galilee. The women flee the tomb, but are afraid to tell anyone. End scene.
So what happens next?
This ending has always reminded me of a television series that ends without really tying up all of the loose storylines. Those shows often receive negative reviews afterwards because people want things to be resolved and they are not.
But also – neither is life sometimes. There are things that happen in this world and in our lives and in our faith that we just cannot reconcile. And I think part of being Christian and holding onto the hope of resurrection is believing that God’s triumphant love is just as present in the midst of the unresolved stuff as it is in the stuff that makes a lot of sense.
As we read this story today – the resurrection of Christ as told in the shorter ending of the Gospel of Mark, I encourage us all to put ourselves inside the narrative. Because I do think that, on an ordinary, everyday level, this is a real and human expression of what it means to encounter the Risen Christ. Resurrection is not always confetti flying through the air and brass ensembles filling the sanctuary with some of our favorite Easter hymns. Sometimes resurrection is unexpected, it is hard to talk about and it is unresolved. Sometimes resurrection can be found in grief and sadness, in mistakes and frustration, in stuff that just does not seem to be working itself out. Sometimes resurrection can be found in the arguments that we do not win, the things we do not understand and the moments where we feel like we have failed.
But it is still resurrection. It is still the bold proclamation the death did not, does not and will not have the final word.
And so while it might not be resolved and while it might not be satisfactory, it is still resurrection. In this story, God’s love has still won.
Just like it does every single day of our lives.
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
Thanks be to God!