John 20:1-18, Mark 16:1-8
Point of View: Easter
Typically, at Easter, we read the resurrection story from the gospel of John – the first lesson we heard today. It’s the most well known, the most liked – the intimate scene of Mary Magdalene discovering Jesus himself at the tomb, finally recognizing him and calling him Teacher. In the three year cycle of scripture texts, you might also hear the resurrection story from Matthew and Luke. But it’s hard to ever focus on the resurrection story from the gospel of Mark. That’s because, like the rest of Mark’s gospel, his resurrection story is pretty short on details. It is only 8 verses long, and it was so upsetting to the early church that by the fourth century, manuscripts existed giving Mark longer endings. In most Bibles today, you’ll see Mark ending at chapter 16 verse 8, with footnotes or other section headings noting a verse 8(b) listed as the “shorter ending of Mark” and then verse 9-20, called the “longer ending of Mark.” Most scholars agree, however, that verses 9-20, in any version, were added on later to compensate for Mark’s strangely brief Easter story, with some scholars speculating that perhaps Mark died before he could finish the gospel, or perhaps the last page of Mark’s work was lost somehow.
Why all this speculation and rewriting? Well, of course, if we take just verses 1-8 in Mark, we never hear about anyone actually seeing the risen Jesus. The young man at the tomb that the women see just tells the women that Jesus has risen and to tell the disciples about it. But the women respond differently than the messenger says. We read, “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.” Leaving it where Mark leaves things, no one proclaims the Easter message that Jesus has risen, at least not right away.
I think the early church added to Mark’s ending because they knew that wasn’t all there was to the story. Obviously, if the women had never told anyone what happened, the news about Jesus wouldn’t have spread. No one would have thought he had risen. So eventually, they must have gotten over their fear and shared the news, and that’s the story folks in the early church wanted to make sure was in Mark’s gospel. But however it came about, I kind of like Mark’s short story, just eight verses long, because in Mark’s original ending, the women had probably the most proper reaction of all to the Easter story – they ran away scared! They were baffled by the news, they had no idea what to do with finding the empty tomb and the man’s strange words, and they were afraid to say anything about their terrifying experience. To me, at least in terms of initial reactions to what was happening, Mark’s gospel makes the most sense of all. But we will come back to Mark in a bit.
As I was preparing my sermon this week, I came upon an article by Carl Gregg that really touched on what I think of when I think of resurrection. Gregg starts with a quote from theologian Clarence Jordan, “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.” Gregg reflects on these words, writing, “As Easter approaches, I invite you to consider that we should worry less . . . what people say they believe happened 2,000 years ago and more whether we are living as if resurrection still happens. The question is, “How are we partnering with God today in transforming despair into hope, apathy into compassion, hate into love, and death into new life?” Gregg continues with one more quote, this one from Peter Rollins, who says, “Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think. (Pause) I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system. However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.” (1) Resurrection still happens.
Were any of you fans of the TV show Scrubs? It was never my favorite, but it is one I liked to watch, enjoy watching reruns from time to time. There were a few standout episodes, and one that stands out is where JD, the main doctor on the show, was discussing what dying or heaven might be like with a patient. She, the patient, said that she envisioned a big Broadway production number, with her taking center stage. She dies in the episode, and JD envisions a complete show-stopping ballad, with this woman singing a Colin Hay song. These are some of the lyrics:
And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart
Let the light shine in
But don't you understand
I already have a plan
I'm waiting for my real life to begin
And you say, just be here now
Forget about the past, your mask is wearing thin
Let me throw one more dice
I know that I can win
I'm waiting for my real life to begin
The song and scene are beautiful. But the lyrics, though poetic, I find troubling. Waiting for my real life to begin. Sometimes, that is exactly what gets me into trouble, or at least, what keeps me from the real life I want: being convinced that I am just waiting for the right moment to start living as I really want to live. Is there something you are putting off doing? A dream you have for your life? Something you’ve wanted to accomplish, but haven’t even started at? Some deeper purpose for your life that you want to reach for and explore, but for some reason, keeping telling yourself, not just yet?
I think maybe people of faith get the message a bit confused, mixed up about the good news of Jesus, the life-giving message of Easter. Jesus didn’t say: don’t worry about what you do now, because the afterlife is really awesome. He didn’t say this life is nothing and heaven is everything. The message Jesus tried to hammer home in a million parables and lessons and teachings and metaphors was: your real life is right now, because God's kingdom, God's eternity, God's good gifts for you are right now! So stop living like those who are dying, and start living like those for whom death means nothing in the face of abundant, everlasting life. And then, to make sure we really have the message, Jesus himself shows that his death is nothing, means nothing, holds no power over face-to-face with his life. Jesus, whom death cannot hold, asks us: “Real life is here, a gift from God. Why on earth are we not using up every edge and corner of it?”
Resurrection still happens. Real life is here and now. To me, that is the core of the Easter message, the “so what” of it. All season, we have been asking, “who do we say Jesus is?” We have used the characters of the passion to draw us in closer, but ultimately, we must answer for ourselves. Mark describes followers of Jesus who were overwhelmed at first, on the first Easter. It took a bit for them to know what to make of it. But what we see in John, and in the stories that follow in Acts and in early church history is that resurrection happened – for them. Their lives were resurrected. And so now, the question turns back to us. What happened on that first Easter morning? The gospels point us to the story. But what will happen on this Easter day? You have to tell me. I believe resurrection still happens. I believe Jesus wants us to use up every nook and cranny of our abundant lives. I'm not waiting anymore for real life to begin. I'm going to start living it. Won’t you join me? Amen.