When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
As endings go, it can be argued that the Gospel of Mark really leaves something to desired.
Did you notice what—or who—was missing? Jesus. We don’t actually see the resurrected Jesus; we are only told that he isn’t there anymore.
And the last line is, “They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” Fear is not exactly the emotion we are supposed to associate with Easter morning, is it?
If you don’t like the ending of Mark, you are not alone.
Scholars believe that Mark’s gospel is the first one written of the four, and that Matthew and Luke both had Mark’s gospel in their possession when they wrote their own. And Matthew and Luke both changed the ending.
In Matthew, the women meet Jesus as they leave the empty tomb and the gospel ends with the risen Jesus in Galilee giving the (now) eleven their final instructions.
Luke has the risen Jesus appear to two friends walking home from Jerusalem, confused and wondering about the meaning of the empty tomb, then he suddenly appears to the disciples, huddled together in Jerusalem.
The Gospel of John does his own thing and his is probably the favorite empty tomb scene, the one in which a weeping Mary Magdalene mistakes Jesus for the gardener.
The other gospel writers aren’t the only ones who think Mark blew it with the ending. Check a bible for the Shorter Ending and the Longer Ending added in older manuscripts. It’s easy to imagine some monk, assigned the task of copying Mark’s gospel, being surprised by the sudden, unsatisfying ending and decided he could make it better.
For what it’s worth, I have great appreciation for the way Mark ends his gospel. To me, it is the most honest account of what that first experience with the empty tomb may have been like.
given their hopes about what Jesus might DO about the difficulty and the injustice of living in a land occupied by a ruthless, foreign power…
given the way those hopes were destroyed by the horrific violence they witnessed against their friend, Jesus (a violence that was a far too common event)…
given that their community scattered in the face of that violence…
given that their only way to move forward through the grief was to do what they knew to do and had seen done all of their lives,
which was to prepare the body for burial with spices and cloths,
and given that they can’t even do that because the body is gone but the angel is there declaring things they have never heard before and that don’t even make sense…
Fear, being absolutely immobilized, seems like the appropriate response, a natural response.
We’ve been reading through Mark since January and one of the things we’ve seen over and over again is how deliberate Mark is in the telling of his understanding of Jesus. Which also means the decision to end the story this way was deliberate as well.
One possible way to understand it is this:
We have seen time and again how the disciples and followers of Jesus, who are with him so much of the time and have the benefit of his teaching both in public and explaining it later again in private—they should understand, but almost never do.
Up until this point, the women had been the most reliable of Jesus’ followers. While the men all abandon Jesus in those final, awful hours, these same women who come to the tomb were the ones who stayed nearby, bearing witness to Jesu hanging from the cross.
But when they find the empty tomb, they too finally fail when they give in to fear, say and do nothing. Everyone closest to Jesus had failed him.
And yet…when we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we realize that those failures don’t mean very much. Because we are here and the story is there.
The failures of the past mean nothing, not when seen in the hope of the resurrection and the promise that God is with us and at work in us and the world around us, always and in every way.
We can think of the abrupt ending as an invitation, to us, to believe the good news, change our own hearts and minds and lives, for the first time or in newer and deeper ways.
Really, Mark gives us a heads up about this with the very first words of his gospel…”The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ…”
That was the beginning, but this is in no way the ending.
As Presbyterian pastor Tom Are says of this passage, “How do you bring closure to resurrection? If Jesus is alive, the story continues.”
And David Lose wrote (http://www.davidlose.net/2015/03/easter-b-only-the-beginning/)
“Jesus’ triumph over death, sin, and hate isn’t what Mark’s Gospel is all about. Rather, Mark’s Gospel is all about setting us up to live resurrection lives and continue the story of God’s redemption of the world.
It’s only the beginning; this story isn’t over. It’s only the beginning, and we have a part to play. It’s only the beginning, and if you wonder why there is still so much distress and pain in the world, it’s because God’s not done yet.”
Let’s acknowledge for a moment that distress and pain in the world—terrorist attacks, mass shootings, wars and conflicts, a refugee crisis, a depressing and distressing presidential campaign season, deepening divisions in our country along political, economic, religious and ideological lines. And this doesn’t even acknowledge the illnesses, the hardships, the stresses happening in our individual lives.
It’s easy to be like the women, terrified and immobilized at the tomb; to run away and hide like the men.
But what God calls us to do, what God needs us to do, is trust what is unbelievable and does not compute—that life is stronger than death, love is stronger than hate, goodness is stronger than evil. That God is at work in the world, working all things together for good.
The story is, in many ways, old. It is so familiar, it can seem worn out and to have lost its potency.
But it is as true this morning as it was over 2000 years ago:
The story isn’t over. It is only the beginning, “to be continued” in the world around us and in our lives.