Sunday, April 05, 2015

Sermon; Easter Vigil; Mark 16:1-8

Out of all the gospels, the ending to Mark is the most confusing.  First, we have the question of “which ending?”  The passage you just heard is where Mark seems to have ended his story.  That gave rise to some people really not liking how it ended, and adding on another two sentences stating that everybody did exactly what Jesus told them to do.  This is called, “The Shorter Ending of Mark.”

A shorter ending, though, implies a longer ending, and so it is with Mark.  This longer ending includes stories of appearances, proclamations, disbelief, speaking in tongues, snake handling, poison drinking, faith healing and the Ascension.  Just in case you couldn't figure this out, the Longer Ending of Mark is not really popular with Episcopalians.

But there you have it.  Three endings; the first totally unsatisfactory, the second and third trying desperately to tie up all the loose ends.  It reminds me of the ending to “The Sopranos” with the screen cutting to black in that final episode.  The original ending was unsatisfactory to many people, so they all started filling in the gaps.  So it is and was with Mark.

For today, though, we have that original, unsatisfactory ending to the gospel: 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.

How does this make any sense?  For a gospel whose first words are, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” how is this good news?  This is no way to end a story.

And it's doubly disappointing for us.  Not only is it a disappointing end to the story, but this is Easter.  This is the Passover of the Lord.  This is when we are to celebrate his victory over death.  This is when we shout, “Alleluia!  Christ is risen! . . . . . .”  We light candles, turn on the lights, ring bells and make a joyful noise.  And this is what we get – they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid??

That ain't right.

We may not think it's right, but it's what we've got.  So rather than focus on what we think isn't right, or on what we don't have, let's focus on what we do have.

What we have before today is Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  What we have before today is the Last Supper, betrayal, desertion, arrest, denial and crucifixion.  What we have before today is death.  What we have before today is Jesus in a tomb.  And then we have today.

Early on the first day of the week, Mary, Mary and Salome went to the tomb to anoint the body.  When they drew near they noticed that the stone had been rolled away.  Upon entering the tomb, they were greeted by an angel and they were afraid.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel said.  “He is not here.  Go, tell his disciples, and Peter, that he is going ahead of you to Galilee and there you will see him.”

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.

Jesus has been raised and is going on ahead of you to Galilee.  Jesus and his disciples spent a lot of time in and around Galilee.  Andrew, Peter, James and John were from that area.  It's where Jesus calmed the sea and walked on water.  It wasn't his home base, but it's where he spent a lot of time.  It's where he called the first third of his disciples.  And this is the place he's going back to.

He's not going back to Jerusalem to appear before the Pharisees and Pilate in a “Gotcha!” moment.  He's not going back to the city where he was crucified to give all those people who wanted a sign the biggest sign imaginable.  He's going back to Galilee.

This is important and this is why the women were terrified and said nothing to anyone.  They were terrified and said nothing to anyone because Jesus was going back to Galilee.  He was, for all intents and purposes, going home.  He was going back into the normal and ordinary lives of normal and ordinary people.  It's one thing to proclaim the good news of Christ in far away, exotic places to people with whom you have no connection.  It's one thing to proclaim the good news of Christ to people you may never see again.  But this . . . Jesus is going back to Galilee.  Jesus is to be found in the drudgery of every day activities.  And that can be terrifying.

Go and proclaim the gospel, making disciples of all nations – beginning with your friends and family.  There's a lot of risk in that; after all, Jesus' own family thought he was a bit unstable.  If they thought that about Jesus himself, what about us?  Jesus is risen, he is not here.  Go and tell your friends and family what you have found.  And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

When it comes to family, friends and religion, we can be gripped by fear.  Some here might have come from a non-religious background and might be worried about being labeled superstitious, gullible or a Jesus freak.  Some here might come from other denominations and be looked down on because, well, it's the Episcopal church.  Some here might have family and friends who have left the Episcopal church because, well, it's the Episcopal church.  Religion in general, and proclaiming the good news in Christ as you hear the Spirit calling you, can be a scary proposition.

So here's a deal for you.  When you leave here, rather than showing up for the family Easter dinner or egg hunt and shout, “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  And I want to tell you all about the empty tomb,” recognize that Jesus has returned to Galilee.  When you leave here and are gathered together with your friends and families, recognize that that is where Jesus is – back home.

I invite you to do this as an Easter discipline.  The Easter season lasts fifty days, a little longer than Lent.  But instead of focusing on repentance, fasting and self-denial as we did in Lent, focus on seeing Jesus in the normal, every day people of your normal, every day lives and routines.  And then finish the story.

Mark's gospel ends suddenly, unsatisfactorily, and, more importantly, open-ended.

We went to the tomb, but he is not there.  He's back home.  He is to be found in our every day living.  Where the story goes from here is up to you.

Where will you find Jesus this Easter and what story will you tell?


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