The Unfinished Story?

Text: Mark 16:1-8

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.

It’s not supposed to end like that!! What do you mean that they went out and fled from the tomb and said nothing to anyone? It is an ending that we hardly expect, especially since we have been building towards this for so long. Easter morning is finally here, we come out with our trumpets, our voices, expecting a big angel chorus, shining lights, fireworks and spectacle… and all we get is that those who went to the tomb ran away in fear. It’s as if the story simply stops mid-sentence. What a letdown!

After all, this is Easter Sunday! Early in the morning Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome go out to the tomb where Jesus was laid to rest. They brought herbs and spices with them so that they could anoint his body as was the funeral customs. The Sabbath was over, and so now this task that normally would have been done the day before had to wait until early the next day. As soon as they had light to see, they went out to the tomb to complete the unfinished grim task.

This is the story that we have come to know and love.  It’s the story of Easter… they approach the tomb, wondering how they are going to possibly roll the stone away. No sooner do they ask the question, that it is answered for them… the heavy stone sits to the side of the tomb… it’s open! They enter the tomb, and instead of seeing a body, they see a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side… Before they can say anything, he tells them “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here…”

The angel tells them to “Go… and tell…” But as the story ends, they flee from the tomb terrified and amazed… and say nothing to anyone.

There’s got to be more! We’ve been building towards this for weeks, hearing of God’s promise, building toward this moment. That’s no way to end the story! We want to hear more about how God’s promise is fulfilled in the resurrection.

But that is exactly how Mark brings it to a close. For some in the early church, even they found it unsettling. Even those in the early church were not comfortable with the way Mark’s gospel finishes, so much so that at least two different groups added alternative endings to it. As a brief advert for my Evolution of the Bible seminar that starts a week from tomorrow, I’ll be going into the “why” in a bit more detail.

We want to know more about the Easter story. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which followed Mark as an outline for their storyline each have a differing account as to what happens next. For the gospel of John it’s the same… each of them give a longer ending, a more detailed account of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene, the disciples, and to many others. To us, these endings are much more satisfying, because they bring it all to a close.

But the Gospel of Mark is different… this surprise ending is very intentional… this is how Mark’s gospel comes to a close because it’s how the writer wanted it to finish!

Mark’s style is unique when it comes to the gospels… and it is a very different way of writing. Unlike Matthew, Luke, or John, Mark is told in the present tense. It is written as if we are watching a play, and the events are unfolding as we experience them… rather than being recounted as something that happened way back then. For Mark, it was important that the story be told as if it were happening now, to really engage the people who were listening to it. By telling it in the present tense, it gets everyone involved in the story. Become involved in the story of Jesus, be part of the Easter Story…

Another part of Mark’s style has Jesus telling everyone to be quiet about what they’ve heard whenever he performs a miracle. Be quiet, don’t tell anybody! This usually falls on deaf ears, as someone doesn’t listen to what Jesus says, and goes and tells the countryside. At the end of the story, we have this reversal… Go and tell people of the greatest miracle of all… and those who are at the tomb don’t say a thing to anyone, for terror and amazement had seized them. When Jesus wants people to be quiet, the proclaim it all the louder, when Jesus wants something to be proclaimed, they say nothing because they are terrified. It seems that people just can’t get it right… but there is method to this madness.

To make sense of this surprise ending, we learn a lot from the beginning. The very first verse in the Gospel of Mark says, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” We treat it as a throwaway sentence, a title… something we don’t need to pay attention to… and yet how this Gospel begins tells us a lot of what the evangelist wanted to tell us. This whole story, this whole gospel is merely the beginning of the story. From Mark chapter one, verse one, to the end of chapter sixteen, verse eight, this whole thing is simply the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. Things are just getting started!

The people in the story aren’t the ones to tell the story of Easter… that call is made to the people listening to the story. Using the play metaphor, the reason that Jesus can’t show up risen at the end of the play, is because he is now out here with us in the audience! Mark is calling out to us to continue this story… to proclaim the good news of resurrection hope in the face of doom and gloom… When everything else seems hopeless, new life springs out of the place that we least expect it. The way Mark tells this story is to draw us in, to get us involved in the story, and then to get us so riled up by the end of it so that we become the ones to go out and proclaim the Good News at Easter. This becomes our story… our hope… and the call for us to see new life in our midst, celebrating the joy of resurrection when before all we saw was darkness.

It is an irony when those in the early church began writing their own versions and endings to the gospel of Mark, they were trying to wrap up a story that Mark intentionally wanted to keep wide open. The gospel, the good news of Easter, IS an open-ended story. The story of Jesus is only the beginning of the good news… even two thousand years later, we’re nowhere near the end… we’re still in the middle of the story, still call to proclaim the good news that the young man, the angel in the tomb told those first visitors to the tomb. The story is left unfinished, because the story of the resurrection is still unfolding!

From the way Mark tells us, after having listened to the gospel, it is now our turn… to share the news that Christ is risen, and is among us now. Even for us living almost two-thousand years later, the message is the same. The challenge is for us to open our eyes, and see moments of resurrection in our own lives, and to be able to share that with one another with joy and hope. For Mark, we are the ones who continue the story that began with Jesus Christ. Moreover, we are not afraid to share the good news that no earthly power, not even death itself has the final say over who we are. It is the great surprise ending that God calls each of us to live out and share!

Happy Easter!   Amen.