It’s Only the Beginning

SD Lolitas - Balboa Park-4776I was thinking about Easter and realized I never preached an Easter service using the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of John is probably the most used, followed by Luke and Matthew. Mark is rarely used, if ever. And no wonder! This is how Mark ends his account:

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. ~ Mark 16:8

Not exactly the captivating, shout-it-from-the-church-spires-with-full-orchestra-rendition-of-up-from-the-grave-he-arose-Christ-the-Lord-is-risen-today-hallelujah we expect in the Easter story. Nope. Mark devotes exactly 7.5 verses to the resurrection, the most significant event that sets Christianity apart from all other faith traditions.

In fact, this is what Mark has to say:

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. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 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. 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.” 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. ~ Mark 16:1-8a

What an awkward, unsatisfying, and completely distressing way to end the story! Can you imagine if that was the end of a book your book club was reading?!? Your sister readers would be so bothered by the abrupt ending, they’d be adding alternative or additional endings that would tie things together a little better.

And that’s exactly what happened with Mark’s gospel. Numerous later manuscripts have alternative and longer endings. but the earliest manuscripts end just like what’s above, which means that’s most likely where Mark intended his story to end.

No doubt the men (I’m assuming they were men because women were so inconsequential back then) who were copying this gospel were so shocked by this completely unsatisfying end to such a faced-paced, riveting story, they took matters into their own hands adding an ending or two to tie things up. That is why our Bibles now have The Shorter Ending of Mark and The Longer Ending of Mark. The shorter and longer endings neatly tie things up up into a tidy theological bow so Mark is more like the other gospels.

But what if Mark was serious about how he ended his account? What if he intended to leave his story hanging at the peak of disappointment and failure? Why would he do that?

Maybe because Mark knew that there was nothing neat and tidy about any story with death and resurrection. Maybe because Mark knew that anyone reading this gospel would be more than a little uncomfortable and unnerved with the idea of a convicted criminal coming back to life. Maybe because Mark knew that the story was far from over and that each person would have their own ending they would write into this story in how they lived their lives. Maybe Mark intentionally left the story open-ended, inviting others to join in and continue the saga with their part in it.

All throughout Mark’s gospel, we see the failure of those closest to Jesus to step up and share the good news of Jesus’ message. The other thing we see are the ones who do get what Jesus is all about aren’t exactly the most reliable witnesses. Several of the various demons Jesus casts out instantly recognize Jesus and the power of his ministry, but you can’t really rely on the testimony of demons, can you? The Roman centurion who was a member of Jesus’ execution team, acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God, but he just executed Jesus and is not likely to go around sharing his new insight, is he?

So Mark continues his pattern, ending the story with the failure of the women to share their discovery at the tomb.

Here’s the thing. The story of what God is doing does not end with the empty tomb. In fact, the empty tomb is only the beginning! The resurrection isn’t the end of the story of what God is doing in the world, but an invitation to live the story of your life with God in it. The whole point of Mark’s gospel is to invite us to live resurrection lives and continue God’s work of redemption in the world.

Mark starts his gospel with, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It’s only the beginning of the good news of what God has done, and is doing, in the world through Jesus Christ. It’s only the beginning and we have a part to play in God’s redemptive work in the world. We only need to read the headlines and open our eyes to the awful distress all around us to see that God’s work is far from done. God is inviting each of us to join in sharing the good news of Jesus’ complete identification with those who suffering and his triumph over injustice and death with everyone we meet.

The resurrection is only the beginning. We are invited into the resurrection story. The wonder will be how it unfolds before us and the parts we will play in God’s great love story.

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