Sunday, April 01, 2018

Sermon for Easter Sunday, Year B, "That's How It Could Have Happened," Mark 16:1-8


Sermon 4/1/18
Mark 16:1-8

That’s How It Could Have Happened


            In 1985, the movie Clue was released. Unlike movies based on books, the movie Clue was strangely based on the popular board game. You’ve probably played the game, where you race other players around the board, trying to solve the murder. You have to make accusations: “I think it was Miss Scarlett with the Rope in the Conservatory.” The movie brought these characters to life in a campy comedy film that did very poorly at the box office. In fact, the film did not earn as much as the movie cost to make. If you went to see the film in theatres and compared notes with your friend who attended a different showing, you might find that you’d seen a different ending. The film has three different ending – three different “solutions” to the mystery – and theatregoers were treated to one of the three endings at random. Like I said, though, the film wasn’t very successful in theatres. Eventually though, when released for home viewing, the movie gained quite a following. I first saw it at home, and it has become one of my favorites – just a clever, goofy movie. And if you rented the movie, you had a different experience of the ending: all three endings were shown, one after the other. So you’d watched the movie through the end, when the mystery was solved, and then, you’d see this screen: That’s How It Could Have Happened…and then But How about This? on the next screen. And then finally, But Here’s What Really Happened as the three endings played one after the other.
            I feel like we need a That’s How It Could Have Happened screen at the end of the gospel of Mark. When it comes to an account of Easter morning in the gospels, the gospel of Mark is startlingly different. The gospel of John is usually the odd gospel of the four, but not when it comes to the account of the resurrection of Jesus. Mark is really unique. If you flip in your Bibles to Mark chapter 16, you’ll see the brief account of the resurrection that we just read. You know, the awful one, where the women go back home and don’t tell anyone what’s happened! But then after that you’ll see notes adding “the shorter ending of Mark” – another verse – and “the longer ending of Mark” – another several paragraphs of text. What’s going on here? How strange is that? It reads like a choose-your-own-adventure. Which ending of Mark would you like? What’s going on with the crazy gospel of Mark?
            If you look at the footnotes that are likely to be in your Bible for Mark 16, the footnotes will tell you that the oldest copies of Mark’s gospel that we have end the way that we heard the gospel today: that short, clipped “and everybody went back home, afraid” ending. But some later manuscripts, copies of Mark’s gospel that appear in the hundred years or two hundred years after that include one of these longer endings. Most biblical scholars agree that they were additions, not written by Mark. The motive is clear? Everyone thought Mark’s ending was awful, awful enough that others tried to fix it by adding their own ending.
            And that’s ok, I guess. Because to be clear, Jesus is still resurrected in the gospel of Mark – God’s messengers at the tomb tell that to the women: “Jesus has been raised – Go, tell his disciples that Jesus is going to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Jesus is resurrected. It’s just that no one seems to know it. The women are too stunned and afraid to really absorb what they’re hearing, and they just go back home. The alternate endings of Mark just fix the part that we, the humans in this story, seem to screw up at first. The other endings fix the failures of Mark’s ending.     
            But what if, this Easter morning, we sit with the failure for a little bit? During Holy Week, we talked a bit here about letting ourselves stay in difficult places, by Jesus’ side, even though they make us anxious, uncomfortable, and we don’t know quite what to say. I think the ending of Mark’s Easter story is another uncomfortable place, but if we can just stay here long enough, I think there’s a purpose for our being here.
            Lutheran pastor Diane Roth writes, "In Mark’s Gospel, failure is a more relevant word than triumph: the failure of the disciples, of the women, our failure, my failure … Among other things, that’s what I come face to face with in Mark’s story of the resurrection. The disciples fail to understand Jesus. The women run away and say nothing to anyone. Jesus rises from the dead but no one sees him. How is it possible that there is even a church around after 2,000 years, with all of this failure? … But lately I’m thinking that failure is the point. That Mark is the gospel of failure, our failure—and that resurrection grows only out of this … The Gospel of Mark is the gospel of failure. It is the theme that runs through the whole book, and it doesn’t resolve during those last eight verses—it’s like a piece of music that ends on a discordant note. I suppose this is why there are so many attempts to resolve it. Make your own ending! Add verses! But the gospel of failure is the gospel of life. It is the gospel of our lives, which, no matter how successful they are, always end in death. It is left to God to resurrect us, to complete the story and resolve the chord. It is left to God to overturn failure and create and re-create the church, despite our failures. It is up to God to raise the dead, including us. The women run away and say nothing to anyone. The disciples miss the point. The church leaders set the wrong priorities. The people are petty and small. And we’re here. Turning to the people, lifting high the cross. Listening once again to the music of failure, the triumph of God."[1]
            We are here! Easter people, even after failure. Resurrection people, even after the terrible ending of the gospel of Mark! And we’re here because even though we forget it over and over, resurrection isn’t something we do. Resurrection is what God does in us. I think we face failure again and again in life because we are trying so hard to resurrected ourselves, to create new life on our own steam, our own strength, our own gumption, and again and again we come up short, we find we can’t quite do it, and we fail. But here is the truly good news of our failure on this Easter morning: It is God who resurrects. We just have to open ourselves to God at work in us. We just get invited to share the amazing new of God’s work with others. And even when we screw that up, God of resurrection keeps on working, telling us that what we thought was the ending really wasn’t after all. Nadia Bolz-Webber says that our whole Christian faith is “really about resurrection. It’s about how God continues to reach into the graves we dig for ourselves and pull us out, giving us new life, in ways both dramatic and small.”[2]
            Whatever grave you think you’re in, friends, whatever ending you think you’ve reached in your life, your story, God promises resurrection to you, new life to you. Even with a start to Easter morning like the one Mark gives us, one that seems like a clear failure, where no one announces the good news, somehow, here we sit  two thousand years later, calling ourselves Easter people, resurrection people, followers of Jesus who believe that God has the power of life over death. Our very presence here is a testament to God’s resurrection power. God is in the business of pulling us out of our graves, pulling us out of death, out of isolation, out of destruction, out of failure, and setting us down in life, in hope, in promise, in love, in joy. The worst thing is never the last thing. We will choose the wrong endings. We will turn away, again, from the God who loves us unconditionally. We will fail. But the God of resurrection shows us a beginning beyond every ending.
            The tomb is empty. The women leave. They flee the site, seized by terror and amazement. They’re afraid. They say nothing to anyone. That’s how it could have happened…
            But … at some point … however long it took them, those women chose faith over fear, responding to the irresistible resurrection that God was working in the world. Look around, friends. Here we are, telling the resurrection story still, living it still, thanks to those very women. God is resurrecting us. God’s beginnings after our stumbling endings. Thanks be to God. Amen.





[1] Diane Roth, “April 1st 2018 Easter Sunday,” The Christian Century,
[2] Bolz-Weber, Nadia, https://www.facebook.com/nanjackwalter/posts/10215463073911520. I’m unsure where this quotation originates.

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