The End is the Beginning
Rev. Julie Jensen
April 5, 2015 First Presbyterian Church, Cartersville GA
We don’t often think of approaching Easter with fear. This is the day we sing “Christ is Risen” and say “Alleliua” as many times as we can count to express our joy at Christ’s triumph over death. We wear bright colors to celebrate the resurrection and our return to joy after the sorrow of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. This is the high point of the liturgical year for us as Christians and a chance to celebrate that in his Resurrection, Christ’s work is complete. Yet the Gospel reading for today is not filled with joy, it instead tells the story of the women who went to anoint Jesus. They had been delayed in this task by the approaching Sabbath, and wanted to complete what they thought would be their final act of service to their Lord. They were still serving him even in his death.
They were so preoccupied when they approached the tomb; they almost didn’t notice at first that the stone had been rolled away for them. They hear the news that Jesus is not there, and they are told to go and tell Peter and the Disciples that Jesus has gone ahead and will see them in Galilee. The women are scared. Which is understandable – there is a stranger in the tomb and the one they came to see is gone. They are seized with terror and amazement – ecstasy in the Greek – and they run away and don’t tell anyone what they have seen.
This was the original end of the story. There was no Jesus in this account, no one telling the good news, no one rejoicing that Our Lord has risen as he said he would. There is no encounter with the resurrected Christ, to call the disciples to faith, which is what we get in the other Gospels. There is just an abrupt ending leaving us all a little confused and wanting more. So it makes sense that if you look at this passage in your Bibles – you will find it on pages 55 and 56, you will see a shorter and longer ending containing what we may hope to see – an end to the story.
But what if – what if this is exactly where Mark intended to end the story. Not with Alleluia, but with the failure of the women to share the good news, and an abrupt ending? It actually makes sense. If you go all the way back to the beginning of Mark you hear this: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
Mark set us up for the abrupt ending with an abrupt beginning. The entirety of the Good News of Jesus Christ is not contained in this Gospel. No, the beginning of the Good News is what we see here. Even in the first verse we read that Christ has been sent ahead of us to prepare the way. So the Gospel ending with the words that Christ has gone ahead of the women to Galilee echoes back to where we began. Many times we see what one scholar has pointed out – “that the people who should know what’s going on, like the disciples, don’t. Jesus predicts his passion three different times and yet they still don’t understand, are surprised by what happens, and don’t believe what he said. Again and again, the disciples disappoint, and so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that these women who, let’s remember, had the courage to stay with Jesus to the end and then ventured to his tomb to tend him, nevertheless fail like the other disciples.” (David Loose. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1506)
Then we realize that “the people who do realize who Jesus is can’t be trusted to tell. Take, for instance, the demon who possesses a young man at Garazene. He recognizes Jesus, asking, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Mark 5:7). The demon knows who Jesus is, but can you count on a demon for a testimony?! And then there’s the Roman centurion, who immediately after watching Jesus dies states, “Truly, this man was God’s son” (Mark 15:39). But can you count on a Roman centurion for a testimony?”
“So here we are. All the people who should know, don’t. And those who do, can’t be counted on. So it appears we’re in a bind. Except … except there’s one other person who has seen and heard everything Jesus has said and done. One other who heard Jesus’ predictions and then watched as they came true. One other who listened to the amazing news at the empty tomb and heard the order to go and tell. Do you know who what other person is? It’s you. And me. And all the readers of Mark’s gospel” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1506).
We, the ones who have been with Jesus since the beginning, since we lit candles on Christmas Eve and sang Silent night at his birth, know all that he has said and done. We, the ones who heard the stories of miracles and listened to his parables, know what he has done. We are the ones who ate at table with him, and watched his crucifixion. And we are the one who heard him predict his death and resurrection, and know that this is good news.
The end of the Gospel of Mark is not the end of the story. We knew this even before we walked to the tomb with the women. We had seen and heard and believed, and today we know that we have the same task given to those who discovered the empty tomb. Our task is to tell what we have seen and heard and know.
God is not finished with us. Not by a long shot. Easter is just the beginning. The Alleluias we sing today should not die on our lips as we walk out the door. The music filling our souls should not be silenced when we sit down to brunch. We are called Disciples, and it is our job to continue the story.
How do we do that in this day and age? That is a central question to out faith. How do we continue to be witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ?
We continue when we answer his call to love one another.
We continue when we serve those we consider the least of these, those who are marginalized, bullied, cast aside.
We continue when we gather around font and table, and come to church to hear and re-hear the stories of our faith.
We continue when we teach our children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and students and all we care for what it means to follow Jesus.
We bear witness to the Good News when we remember that in his death, Christ has overcome death once and for all, for all of us.
We bear witness when we refuse to participate in business practices that hurt rather than help, which cheat or rob rather than model the ethics of Christ.
When we fight for justice, when we stand up for what is right, we continue to tell the story.
When we model care and compassion we model what it looks like to be a faithful Christ follower.
When we step up to serve in the church as part of the body of Christ, we continue the story.
And, just as the Gospel is the beginning of the story, this list is the beginning as well. God is not finished with us, not even close.
Yesterday, my niece went to see her first live performance of a Broadway show. She is 4, and for Christmas their family received tickets to see The Lion King Musical. If you have not seen it, the first act is pretty long, and the second act is shorter. Act 1 ends with an exiled Simba – the lion king -who has been found by a meer kat and a warthog and taken into their family. If you are 4, it seems like a good place for the story to end. As the curtain came up for intermission, Charlotte looked at my sister and said “Is the story over? Is it time to go home?” No, the story was not over, and there was more to see.
Friends, this is only the beginning for us, and the story is not yet over. Mark invites us to enter into the Easter story as the ones who have seen it all – from the beginning to the – no, not the end — how about the intermission? It’s time for us to pick up where the women left off, and share the good news and rejoice! Christ is risen – Alleluia! Share the joy, the good news, and be part of the work God is doing now and always. Amen.