A sermon preached at United Reformed Church of Clifton,
April 12, 2020
To hear the author preach this sermon follow this link https://www.facebook.com/105243486193626/videos/263096531520668/
There is no way around it. The ending of Mark’s gospel is disappointing.
In the first place, Jesus doesn’t even show up to his own party. In Matthew, after the angel tells the two Mary’s that Jesus has been raised from the dead, Jesus himself appears, greets them, and they fall at his feet to worship him.
In Luke, Jesus goes on a hike with 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus and shares a meal with them. Later that night Jesus also appears to the 10 disciples and asks for a piece of fish to eat in order to prove to them that he is alive. (This is the first church “fish fry” recorded in the Bible and it didn’t even happen on a Friday during Lent.)
And in John, Jesus appears four times: first to Mary Magdalene on resurrection morning, then to the 10 disciples on resurrection evening, and then to Thomas and the 10 one week later. Finally, a few days later, he shows up at yet another fish fry on the beach with Peter and few other disciples.
In Mark, however, Jesus doesn’t even make a cameo appearance. Furthermore, his resurrection is not announced by angels but according to verse 5 only by a “young man in white clothes.” Kind of disappointing.
In the second place, Mark ends his gospel on a note of fear and silence. Verse 8 says, “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.”
All his ministry, Jesus has been telling everyone he helps to not say anything about him. However, when he finally gives the women permission to speak up with the good news he is alive, they say nothing. Eventually they must have said something, but their first reaction was to keep their mouths shut. How odd.
Elisabeth Johnson, a professor at the Lutheran Institute of Theology in Meiganga, Cameroon, says this:
This is hardly the satisfying ending we would hope for. We want closure; we want an ending that ties up the loose ends in the story and brings it to a satisfying conclusion. Most of all, we want a happy ending. We want to see Jesus, touch him, and rejoice with the disciples that he is alive! But the risen Jesus does not appear in Mark. We are left, with the women, in their fear and confusion.Working Preacher, April 12, 2020
And yet, maybe this is exactly the gospel we need on this 5th Sunday in the Season of Corona Virus. For like the two Mary’s and Salome at the tomb we too have been seized by terror and amazement.
Most scholars believe that Mark wrote his gospel for the Christians in Rome, shortly after Peter was martyred for his faith. Mark was Peter ‘s companion, who had heard him tell these stories, over and over again. When Peter was crucified, Mark decided it was time to record Peter’s stories. He wrote this gospel for Christians who faced persecution and who feared for their lives. Like the women at the tomb, they may have been afraid to share their faith in Jesus.
Like those early Christians, we live in a time of fear and uncertainty. Every day we check the news to see how many of cases of Covid-19 have been reported in our local community and around the nation. Every day we learn of someone new, whom we know personally, who has died from this disease. So perhaps this unsatisfying ending rings true to our experience. And perhaps if we listen carefully, we may receive a gift that keeps us going in our time of fear.
So what can we learn from this story?
1. The Power of Darkness Is Broken, Even If We Don’t Realize It Yet
Elisabeth Johnson says this:
In the real world, tensions are often unresolved and loose ends are rarely all tied up—the opportunity we let pass by, the relationship that fell apart, the family member or friend who died far too young. We try to find ways to make sense of our stories, to find an ending that satisfies, but every ending we fashion inevitably disappoints.
Mark’s Gospel is jarring in its realism. Yet despite its unsettled, unsatisfying ending, it creates anticipation and gives reason to hope. Why? Because the tomb is empty, because death could not hold Jesus down.Working Preacher, April 12, 2020
Before, the women reached the tomb, Jesus was already gone. It didn’t matter that they were afraid. It didn’t matter how they felt. The fact remained that Christ was risen.
This morning we can feel the power of darkness pressing in on us. It’s hard to be in a festive mood when we can’t be together, when we watch our loved ones threatened by a pandemic, when we worry about the future.
But our feelings and our worries don’t change the facts. “Christ is risen.” And although we may only say it weakly, we can still say, “HE IS RISEN INDEED.” We make this confession, not because we feel good, not because everything is “fine.” We make this confession because it is true and the truth will sustain us, even in these hard times. The power of darkness is broken, even if we don’t realize it yet.
2. We Will Find the Resurrected Christ, Not in the Church Building, But in Our Daily Life.
This Easter we would like to meet the resurrected Christ in a church building, filled with family and friends, smelling of wonderful flowers, hearing powerful music and hopefully a stirring sermon. But what if church isn’t the place where we are to meet the resurrected Christ? What if we are to meet him in our ordinary life?
The message the young man gave to the three women that first Easter morning was this. “He is not here; he has been raised. Go, tell his disciples that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
Lance Pape, a professor of homiletics at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth Texas says this,
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? Sorry, you just missed him.”Working Preacher, April 5, 2015
You’ve missed him because he has moved on ahead to other pressing business. The resurrected Lord has no intention of giving us time to sit around pondering whether we believe in this sort of thing or not. Instead, he tells the women to tell the disciples (and the rest of us), that we had better get on the move.
The disciples were all from Galilee. That’s where they first met Jesus; that’s where they heard Jesus teach and preach; that’s where they watched him heal the sick, feed the hungry and raise the dead. And THAT’S where they will meet him again.
You see, Galilee is your ordinary, everyday life. This Easter Jesus is going ahead of you into your Galilee. It doesn’t matter if you are confined at home or if you are an essential worker. Jesus is ahead you and THAT is where you will find him.
Open your eyes this week and see the resurrected Christ there before you. Open your hearts and hands and join with him in doing the Father’s work—caring for your neighbor, praying for those who are sick, sharing the good news with those who need to hear it.
3. No Matter How Badly You Have Screwed Up, Jesus Still Has a Place for You.
In verse 7, the young man told the women to “Go tell his disciples, AND PETER, that he is going before you to Galilee.” Why was Peter singled out from the rest disciples?
Of course, you know the answer—because Peter blew it big time. On the night that Jesus was betrayed, blustering Peter had boldly said, “Even though all of your other disciples desert you, I will not.” And yet before the sun dawned the next morning Peter denied his Lord three times.”
Peter was singled out because Peter had failed miserably. And yet the Lord still had a place for him.
How about you? Is there something in your past of which you are ashamed? Some failing or shortcoming that you think will keep Jesus from welcoming you? Then listen again to this message. “Go tell his disciples AND PASTOR MIKE … AND SHERRY … AND (put your name here) that he is going ahead of you to Galilee.” Jesus still has a place for you.