May the grace, mercy and peace of the risen Christ be with us as we celebrate the new life that is ours because of his resurrection; Amen.
“And they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and fear had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” And there you have it! In the oldest manuscripts of the very first Gospel ever written, the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus ends right there. If you check your Bibles, there are some more verses with notes about how they were added later – someone along the line was not satisfied with a resurrection account that is missing one important element…Jesus! But whoever this mysterious person known only to us as, “Mark” is, he left it right there: Jesus has already gone ahead of the disciples and these women to Galilee as he promised, and they are scared out of their wits.
When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. It follows the same form that Mark has used since he described Jesus' birth with only 17 words: “In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Before the first chapter of Mark is finished, Jesus is not only born and baptized, but has endured the temptations in the wilderness, called his disciples, began a preaching tour and healed quite a few people. Why should the ending of this account be any more detailed?
When I consider Mark's brief description of the empty tomb – why he portrayed it as he did and what message he was trying to convey – I cannot help but chuckle at one particular detail. The women are so worried about having access to Jesus as they arrive early on this morning, and rightfully so; but the reason they have to be worried, that the rock will be too heavy to move and allow entry into the tomb, is of no consequence - it has been taken care of already; it's been moved. No, the real reason for them not having access to Jesus is that the resurrected Lord has no intention of sitting around after he has received the gift of a resurrected life to wait for people to show up! As one commentator put it, “The young man dressed in a white robe delivers the good tidings of Easter morning like an administrative assistant explaining why you can't have a quick word with the boss: “You're looking for Jesus? Ohh, sorry, you just missed him!” He is not here. Not just because he is risen; as a matter of fact, there is a chance that a risen Jesus could still be there as other gospel writers report! No, he is not here because it is important that he fulfill his promise to go ahead of them to Galilee, the place of his origin and the place of much of his earthly ministry.
Mark is intentionally short with the ending of his Gospel, leaving us hanging on this moment of failure and disappointment for his followers. Why? Maybe because he knew that no story about death and resurrection could possibly have a neat and tidy ending and still be realistic! And maybe because he believed that this story isn't over yet, so he writes an open ending to his gospel in order to invite us to jump in and take up our part in continuing it!
The story of what God is doing in and through Jesus isn't over at the empty tomb! It's only the beginning! Resurrection isn't a conclusion; it's an invitation! Telling the story of 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 continuing the story of God's redemption in the world today.
As you ponder the words from Mark 16, I encourage you to consider that this was not the end of Jesus' story – a triumphant story where the good-guy makes a huge sacrifice and wins the war! As Mark said in chapter one, verse one, this is, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!”
If you are a regular worshiper here you know that I rarely (if ever) put a title to my sermons. When I do, it is to make an important point. Today the message from Mark and from me is that it's only the beginning. The story of Jesus isn't over – it's only the beginning…and we all 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! It's only the beginning, and Mark is inviting you to get out of your seats because the resurrected Christ isn't just sitting in the tomb waiting for someone to discover his body – he wants us to get out of our seats and into the game, sharing the good news of his complete identification with those who are suffering and his triumph over injustice and death with everyone we meet. It's only the beginning, and we're empowered and equipped to work for the good in all situations because we trust God's promise that all will in time come to a good end, even when we can't see evidence of it.
Recently, I attended an event at another church. It was very informative and inspirational. After it was over, the pastor of that church asked us to thank those who hosted and presented at the event. He said that while it was a good event for those there, the success of the event was going to depend on us – those who attended. If it made a difference in our lives, the way we view things and the way that we shared the information that we heard, then it would be a successful event.
Was the resurrection of Jesus a successful event? It certainly was a good, joyful one – who can argue that the raising of God's son back to life wasn't all of those things? But was it successful? It was if you, all other Christian people and I only see it as the beginning, and we go from this place as these women went – a little scared and filled with amazement, but looking to meet Jesus in the Galilees of our lives, just as he has promised us he will.
May we carry on the story of the resurrection of Jesus not only in what we say, but especially in what we do! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.