This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014.
Reading: Mark 16:1-8
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. Amen.
Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
It’s an odd way for the Gospel to end. Did the other disciples, “especially Peter,” ever find out that Jesus had been raised? Did the women ever find the courage to tell others about they had seen?
It’s a peculiar end to the Gospel of Mark. The angel proclaims that Jesus is raised from the dead, but no one sees him. Unlike the Gospel of John (see John 20:11-18), Mark’s Mary does not exit the tomb, fall at the knees of a gardener, and discover that it’s Jesus. Unlike the Gospel of Matthew (see Matthew 28:8-10), Mary and the women do not run out of the tomb and stumble over the risen Christ who verifies the command of the angel. Unlike the Gospel of Luke (see Luke 24:8), the women in Mark’s Gospel fail to recall Jesus’ promise of resurrection. In Mark’s Gospel, the women flee, overcome with terror and dread. They say nothing to anyone. They run!
It’s a confusing ending that has left Christians unsatisfied for centuries. It is so unsatisfying that the scribes who copied this Gospel eventually added to it. The “shorter ending,” most likely added in the 4th century, cleans up the story in a single verse. The “longer ending,” most likely added in the 2nd century (at earliest some 40-50 years after the Gospel was originally written), has Jesus appearing “first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons” One of the reasons that this “longer ending” is disputed is because the story of Jesus healing Mary of seven demons isn’t found in Mark’s Gospel at all, it’s found in Luke (8:2). At any rate this longer reading wants to satisfy our thirst for neat conclusions by having Jesus appear to Mary, and after that “in a different form to two of [the disciples] who were walking along in the countryside” and “finally…to the eleven.” These alternative endings seek to add a satisfying conclusion to the Mark’s Gospel.
After seeing the angel, the women,
got out as fast as they could, beside themselves, their heads swimming. Stunned, they said nothing to anyone.
While Christians throughout the centuries have found this ending less than compelling, I find it inspiring.
Over the last 40 days, I’ve been engrossed in the Gospel of Mark. Each day during Lent, I—along with others here at Wesley Church—have been reading the Gospel of Mark verse by verse. It is, perhaps, my favorite Gospel: and, that’s not just because it is the shortest of the four Gospels. Mark doesn’t mince words. He tells the Good News—the story of God’s coming kingdom—with urgency. He uses the word immediately some 40 times! But…
Perhaps what’s most compelling about Mark is that Jesus’ disciples are far from perfect in the story. Sometimes they misunderstand Jesus’ teaching (Mark 4:13). At other times they fail to appreciate his power (Mark 4:40; 6:52). They also seek status instead of service (Mark 9:34-37; 10:35-40). They sleep when he’s asked them to remain awake (Mark 14:32-42); they scatter when he’s arrested (Mark 14:50); and Peter denies him not once but three times (Mark 14:66-72).
In the Gospel of Mark, the disciples don’t make the Sunday School honor roll. He portrays the disciples as ignorant, self-serving, overconfident students who all too often fail to understand and live up to their teacher’s lessons. Rather than showing a group of people to emulate, Mark portrays a bumbling group of faith fumbling disciples. And, I don’t know about you, but I can relate to that.
So, when we come to the end of Mark’s Gospel and find that the disciples still don’t get it, when the only response they can come up with is to run in the other direction, I’m encouraged.
I’m encouraged that God entrusts the Gospel, the Good News of God’s kingdom, to people who don’t always “get it” because that is, more often than not, me. Like the disciples portrayed in Mark’s Gospel, I often don’t get it. Like the disciples, I fail to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ teaching let alone put it into practice. Like the disciples, I fail to recognize and appreciate the great power of Christ to calm the storm and heal the sick. Like the disciples, I seek status instead of service toward God. Like the disciples, my mind wanders, I get tired, and I fall asleep. Like the disciples, all too often, I flee, I run the other direction when the demands of faith seem untenable and unattainable. Like the disciples, like Peter, I all too often deny that I even know Christ. Like the disciples, I often falter in faith.
I’ve only told this story to a few people, but when I first arrived in Culver, I was invited to go fishing with Father Tad, the local Roman Catholic priest at the time, and Pastor AnnMarie, the local United Church of Christ pastor. I thought it was a strange invitation, but I was excited to meet local clergy so I said yes.
We met at the marina around 10am and started fishing around the southern lakeshore. Around 11:30am, Pastor AnnMarie said she needed to use the restroom. Father Tad said he’d be more than willing to pull the boat up to the nearest house with a dock–it was one of his parishoners–he was confident they would allow her to use the facilities. She said not to worry about moving the boat; afterall, we were in a sweet fishing spot. Since we weren’t going to shore, I wondered what she would do… What happened next is better than any fish-story I can tell. I kid you not, she stepped right out of that boat, walked across the water, walked up to the house next to Father Tad’s suggested location, and walked right in. She was gone a while. She emerged from the house, came to the shoreline, and again walked across the water (!) got in the boat, picked up her fishing pole and danged if she didn’t catch a fish no sooner than her bait got wet. My jaw hit the boat deck. We fished a bit longer, it was now around noon, when Father Tad mentioned he was hungry. I told him, I’d be more than happy to drive the boat to the public dock next to the main beach. He said not to worry; and, before I could respond he had jumped out of the boat and was walking across the water. He made it to the shoreline without even getting the cuffs of his pants wet! He was gone a while. Lake Maxincuckee is a big lake to have to walk around. But, he came back, walked across the water and delivered my veggie sub, not my favorite, but he said it was Friday. We ate together. I was astounded by my new clergy friends’ faith. After drinking a large soda from Subway, I too had to use the facilities so, not to be out done, I announced rather boldly that it was best to keep the boat where it was. I stepped out of the boat and sank into the cold waters of Lake Maxincuckee. As my head came above water, I could hear Pastor AnnMarie and Father Tad laughing. About the third time my head came above water, I heard them say, “think we should have told him where the stepping stones are?”
All too often, I am ignorant of the path I should take, oblivious to the stepping stones that God has placed before me. All too often, my faith is weak. I falter. I sink in the water. And, I have a feeling, if you’re anything like me, you might too.
So, on this Easter morning, as we bear witness to the risen Christ, hear the good news. Those first disciples were just like you and me.
They didn’t always have the ways of God figured out; in fact, when they came to the tomb that first Easter morning, all they could do was “tuck tail” and run. Those first disciples—the ones that got to walk, talk and eat with Jesus—were just like us. They didn’t have the ways of God all figured out, but God chose them nonetheless.
So, it doesn’t matter where you’re running from today. It doesn’t matter if you’re running out of terror. It doesn’t matter if you’re running from change, health concerns, or conflict. It doesn’t matter if you’re running in the opposite direction of God.
Hear the Good News: “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised.” And know that no matter where you’re running—no matter what you’re running from or what you’re running to–this day, know that Christ will meet you. Christ will meet you in your brokenness. Christ will meet you in your sorrow and in your grief. Christ will meet you in the midst of your greatest pain. Christ will meet you when you’re afraid and don’t know where to go.
Hear the Good News: it doesn’t matter how scared you might be. It doesn’t matter how fast you can run. Christ is going before you. And, he’ll meet you wherever you might go.
God of life,
On this Easter morning, we are reminded that the disciples are a lot like us. We, like them, are on the run, fleeing in terror and dread. For whatever reason we may be on the run this morning, remind us that wherever we might be going that you’ll meet us there. Remind us that we can never run so fast as to go out ahead of you. You are always there; ready to meet us wherever we are and wherever we may go.
Help us God to find comfort the tomb on that first Easter morning in terror and dread. Remind us of your presence with us this day.
Help us to find hope in your unending love: a love that would bear scorn, pain, and death on our behalf.
Help us, O God, to stop running so that we might learn to run to you: that we might find hope in the face of sorrow, pain, and death; that we might know that no matter how uncertain this life might be, “we can face uncertain days because Christ lives.” Amen
 Mark 16:8, Common English Bible.
 Mark 16:9, Common English Bible.
 Mark 16:12, Common English Bible.
 Mark 16:14, Common English Bible.
 Mark 16:8, The Message.
 “Introduction to the Gospel of Mark” by Suzanne from The CEB Study Bible: The Book of Markpluss excerpts from Exodus and Leviticus (uncorrected, promotional proof), p22.