Scripture - Mark 16:1-8
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 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.
*Hymn - He Lives, UMH 310
2004. Last game of the World Series. The Red Sox were ahead 3-0 in the bottom of the 9th against the cardinals. Keith Foulke was looking to close out the game with one out down and two more outs to go. Pujols was on first...so anything could happen. The energy and the excitement was high. It looked like the curse was about to be broken. Foulke wound up to throw the first pitch to Edmonds....and the Emergency Alert System came on.
Ben and I were watching the game together in his dorm room. The whole campus exploded as everyone checked with neighbors to see if - by some miracle - their television wasn’t affected by the interruption. People started to break out radios to try and find the radio broadcast of the game so we wouldn’t miss a play. Everyone was worried - what if we missed something? What if the Cardinals got on base or scored a run? What if we missed the final out? What if the curse was broken while the voice on the screen was telling us, “this is not an emergency”? (Irony of ironies there -- of course it was an emergency! Riots threatened to break out all over the state unless the game was put back on!) We all wanted to know -- what happened next?
But what if the game never came back on? What if we were left perpetually in this state of “what happened next?”
This is what the early readers of Mark’s gospel must have felt like. The ending that Mark gives is abrupt. In the original Greek, the ending is even more sudden. Our english translations have verse 8 read: and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. The original Greek reads more like: “They said nothing to nobody; they were afraid for....”
It almost sounds like Mark slumped over, dead of a sudden heart attack while finishing the story. Or maybe he was attacked by Roman soldiers as he was hastily penning the last few words. Maybe the original manuscript got ripped, the true ending lost and never to be found again. Or maybe, Mark’s not that good of a story-teller, and just doesn’t know how to end a story.
Whatever the reason, it’s obvious that some people felt uncomfortable with the ending. Readers wanted to know: what happened next? Later editions of the gospel tack on extra bits of the story - and in fact, you’ll find in your Bibles that verses 9 through 20 are bracketed and that there’s a note about them being added on later, even though all of our earliest manuscripts end the story right where Mark left off.
All the other gospels give so many more details about the day of Jesus’s resurrection. John places the scene in a garden, and writes in a conversation between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Matthew includes an earthquake and an angel with shining white robes. Luke has two angels in dazzling clothes with the women cowering in fear before them. Mark, on the other hand, simply shares a story of an empty tomb, a mysterious young man in a white robe, and a word - go and tell. We’re left with three women who initially kept quiet and who were afraid.
The women expected a body to embalm. Instead, they encounter the truth that the past is no longer bound by death, the tomb is no longer sealed, and a call into an uncertain future - to go and tell...and their fear in the face of this reality is understandable. Where do we go from here? What happens next?
The story as Mark tells it isn’t wrapped up in a neat bow. Jesus makes no final appearances, the women don’t have any conversations with the disciples, there are no final parting words of wisdom from Christ. It even ends with an incomplete sentence - we don’t know why they were afraid. It’s an unsettling story.
But what if Mark meant to leave the story there?
The gospel of Jesus Christ is an unsettling, open-ended thing -- it’s unsettling to announce that Christ has come back and the future is open. It means that what you thought you knew, what you expected to be true, all the assumptions you thought you could rely on have suddenly gone out the window in the face of the empty tomb and an unfinished story -- a story with no assurances as to what happens next.
We want the nice, shiny ending. We want to know what the moral of the story is, we want everything to resolve nicely and neatly, with a final concluding speech and a dropped curtain. Applause! We know that the story is over, and that we can move on, having enjoyed a good tale and satisfied that the world is as it should be.
For Mark, the good news of the resurrection is so much more than a polished ending. What happens next? For Mark, it isn’t Jesus appearing to select disciples, it isn’t some final parting instructions or a brilliant ascension into heaven. For Mark, what happens next is us.
And for the women at the tomb, the first witnesses to see death’s undoing and to experience the reality of the resurrection, perhaps a lot of that fear came from the recognition that they were about to write the next chapter in God’s story -- that they had the responsibility to continue the work that Jesus was about....that the hope and vision they had believed in while following Jesus was actually real, and that it was up to them to take that next step - to go and tell - to spread the news that God really was doing something radically new and different in the world.
We know, despite their fear and initial silence, that the women do eventually tell the others what they saw and heard, that we wouldn’t be here today without that testimony of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, that they found it within them to break out from their fear and spread the word of this news that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee. We know the story continues to unfold...just as it has been unfolding for nearly two thousand years until this very day.
We are what happens next. The rest of the story is up to us. And that’s a scary thought, isn’t it? We’re used to Easter being a time of comfort and joy, a time to celebrate that because God raised Jesus from the dead, we can brush off our hands, lay back and live our lives rest assured that God’s got everything under control. We’re off the hook because Jesus already did it all. The story has a nice ending and all we need to do is remember it from time to time.
It is up to us to continue the story that Mark started. Mark’s gospel starts off with the words, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” What happened 2000 years ago was just the beginning of what God was doing through Jesus in the world...and the ending was open enough to include God’s continuing work - inviting us to step into the story, to pick up the narrative where Mark left off, and to go and tell others -- inviting them to participate and experience the good news of Jesus’s resurrection. The story isn’t over yet - because now it’s our story.
The story of Christ happens through us together -- we see it where charity and love prevail over injustice and violence; where compassion and hope replace cynicism and despair; where peace and love take root in lives that are empty and lost; where human beings know joy and justice, dignity and delight: there is the risen Christ, beckoning to us, calling us forward to continue the good news, and inviting us to keep writing the story of God’s love in the world.
This week it’s up to you to live out the Easter story -- when you do spend time with the lost and the lonely, you continue the Easter story. When you feed the hungry and eat with friends and neighbors, you continue the Easter story. When you offer a word of hope and encouragement to someone in despair, you continue the Easter story. When you choose to love in the face of a world that calls for hate and indifference, you continue the Easter story.
This day, this empty tomb: this has been our destination for the season of Lent. But we see, with Mary Magdalene, that this is not a place to stop. This is not the end toward which we have been traveling.
This is only just the beginning of the Easter story.
We are what happens next. As we encounter the empty tomb, as we are drawn into God’s larger story, and as we face the unfinished possibilities that have not yet been written - it is up to us to chose to live into the same future the women faced - one that is uncertain, one where the next steps are not yet outlined - but one that proclaims God’s resurrection power goes before us...and that God’s story is not finished yet. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.