31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
Psalm 118: 19-24
Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” (Casablanca’s last line.)
Luke Skywalker and his squadron of x-wing fighters detonating the Evil Empire’s Death Star, making the universe safe for all.
The hero saves the princess, and she saves him right back, and they live happily ever after.
Those are good endings, but what kind of an ending is “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)
What kind of an ending is that? Where is the great joy the women should feel as they run to tell the disciples? Where is Jesus reassuring them that it is true, he has risen from the dead? Where is the beloved disciple, John’s instant belief upon seeing the empty tomb? Where is Mary Magdalene’s joyful announcement that she has seen the Lord?
The gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John all include these events in their Easter stories. Why doesn’t Mark? Why does Mark leave out the happy ending? How can this be the good news of Jesus Christ if Mark leaves out – the good news?
Clearly, others agreed that the gospel of Mark needed a different ending. In the years after the gospel was written, two other writers came along and added their own endings. Although they are marked in the Bible as the shorter and longer endings, you don’t have to be a Linguistics professor or an English teacher to tell that these endings are not original. They are quite different than the rest of the gospel.
But both give you that finished feeling. In both of these alternative endings, the disciples come to believe in the resurrection; they encounter Jesus and are commissioned for their ministry, going out to spread the good news to the world.
Professor Clifton Black from Princeton Theological Seminary is okay with the gospel of Mark ending like it originally does. In his commentary on this passage, he writes, “Mark is a book about God’s shattering of human expectations. Mark as a book shatters everything its readers thought it understood — even the conventions of how a Gospel should end.” (workingpreacher.org, March 27, 2016 Narrative Lectionary commentary)
God does shatter our expectations with the resurrection. It’s the ultimate movie ending twist! Just when you think it is all over, that Jesus is gone forever, that his teachings of love and inclusiveness will be buried with him, BOOM, here he is, to prove that not even death can stop God’s love.
The resurrection is not really a surprise though.
I can understand how the women are surprised and even terrified by their encounter with the young man in white. If he is an angel, as his clothing and presence in the tomb signify, then the power and peace he exuded must have been amazing, overwhelming. Who wouldn’t be surprised, and slightly terrified?!
But what doesn’t make sense is that the women were surprised by the angel’s words, surprised by the empty tomb.
Before he died, Jesus had told his disciples three times, three times, that when they went up to Jerusalem, he would be handed over to the chief priests and scribes and be condemned to death. He would then be handed over to the Romans, mocked, spit upon, flogged, and killed. And after three days, he would rise again.
Three times, Jesus told them the ending to the story. Three times, he told them in great detail exactly what to expect.
The triumphant earthly battle the disciples were expecting, the takeover of the palace in Jerusalem, that wasn’t God’s big plan. That ending was too small. God wasn’t going to conquer the Roman Empire with violence. God was going to conquer everything in heaven and on earth, even death, with unconditional, sacrificial love.
The women, the disciples, did not have to see the empty tomb; they did not have to be told by the angel; they did not need to encounter the Risen Christ, to know the certainty of the resurrection, the truth of God’s amazing love.
God had been telling them the ending since the beginning. Through God’s Word, through the prophets, and through Jesus, God had been revealing God’s plan, revealing God’s love all along.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1, 3-5)
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, the land and the seas, all living creatures – and humankind in God’s own image, and God saw that it was good, very good. (Genesis 1)
And from that moment on, God was present with us, loving us, guiding us, blessing us.
To Abraham, the father of all Jews, Christians, and Muslims, God said, “I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you so that you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2)
To the people living in slavery in Egypt, God promised to lead them through the wilderness to freedom in the Promised Land.
To the exiles living in Babylonia, God said, “For surely I know the plans I have for you…plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
God wants to shelter us under God’s wing like a mother hen does her chicks. God wants to welcome us home like a father extravagantly celebrates the return of his prodigal son. No matter where we go in life, how we might feel lost or forgotten, God is going to search for us like a lost coin, like a lost sheep.
Spoiler alert, God loves you. God’s love for you knows no bounds. God has done and will do anything to show you that unconditional love and grace. God will tell you so with words. God will show you with actions. God shed God’s majesty and might to inhabit a human body and then willingly sacrificed himself on the cross, to show us the depth of God’s love, to take away any excuse we might use to feel unworthy of God’s love or distant from God.
God’s love for you knows no bounds. God has resurrected Jesus the Christ, conquering death, all to show us that God’s love has no limits. God’s love never ends.
The gospel of Mark is not the traditional Easter story. There are no joyful proclamations of Christ’s resurrection. Mary Magdalene does not encounter the Risen Christ. We don’t hear how the disciples are redeemed from their Good Friday betrayal.
In his gospel, Mark does not write a traditional happy ending, but we don’t need one written for us. God’s plan, God’s good news, God’s love, has been being revealed to us from the beginning of time. God’s plan, God’s love is still being revealed to us.
Hallelujah! And Hosanna! Christ, our Lord, is Risen! Praise be to God for the gift of new life. Praise be to God for a love that will never let us go. Hallelujah and Amen!