Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Story Isn't Over Yet (Easter April 5th 2015)

Homily.  Easter Sunday Apr 5 2015. St. Albans Church
Readings:  Acts 10.34-43; Ps 118.1-2,14-24; 1 Cor 15.1-11; Mark 16.1-8

“Michael, are you sure you finished that reading?” 

Because if you did, that last sentence isn’t what I was expecting:  “So the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Really?  That’s it? Is that the way the story ends?  Because if that’s the way the Easter story ends, what are we doing here this morning?

I guess we’re lucky we have more than just Mark’s gospel.  We have Peter’s speech to Cornelius which talks about Jesus appearing to witnesses who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  We have Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  The Corinthians had doubts about the resurrection, and so Paul points them towards the more than five hundred people, most of whom were still alive, who saw the risen Christ.  Maybe Mark didn’t get the memo, because his Easter story finishes in terror and silence.

It’s a strange, if not shocking, ending.  Usually when we read a book, or when we watch a movie, we want some sort of closure at the end.  A conclusion that answers the unanswered questions, that resolves whatever conflict had been driving the plot forward, that ties together the loose ends.

And isn’t that what Easter is supposed to do for us?  Answer the unanswered questions, resolve the conflict and tie together the loose ends?  We’ve heard the story of Jesus ministry, of his teaching and healing, of the misunderstandings with his disciples and the conflict with the authorities which climaxes on that dark day that we now call Good Friday.  We want Easter to provide us with some closure, to tell us that even though things looked bad, it turned out alright after all and everyone lived happily ever after.  Butterflies and flowers and all that.

Instead Mark finishes with this:  “So the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Why do you think that Mark finishes his gospel this way?

I think that the reason Mark finishes his gospel like that, is because he’s trying to tell us that story isn’t over yet!  In fact, maybe it’s just getting started.

Sometimes we want it to be over, we’d just love to say all’s well that ends well, shout some alleluias, sing some hymns and then return to our normal lives, feeling just a little bit pumped up, with a ticket to heaven in our backpockets.

The three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome, they just wanted it to be over too.  It had been a rough ride, and they were looking for a little closure.  They got up early in the morning to go and visit the tomb of their friend who had just died.  Why did they go?  The same reasons that we go to visit the graves of our loved ones.  Out of a sense of duty, which in their world meant that they needed to anoint the body and give it a proper burial.  To pay their respects.  To shed some tears. To get some closure, to bring an end to this turbulent, traumatic chapter of their lives so that they could just get back to normal.

So the women got up early in the morning to go to the tomb.  They thought the big question they would face when they got there was what to do with the stone that covered the entrance.  But they were wrong.  It turned out that the big question they faced at the tomb was not what to do with the stone, but what to do with their lives.

Because when they arrived at the tomb, the stone had already been rolled away.  And when they entered the tomb they saw a young man in a white robe sitting on the right side.  They are terrified.  This wasn’t what they were expecting.  There is no closure here.  There’s certainly no normal.  The young man tells them that Jesus is not there.  He has been raised, he has gone ahead of you to Galilee, and he wants you to follow him.

And if those words have a familiar ring, maybe that’s because way back in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, back in Galilee, the first words that Jesus said to his disciples were these:  “Follow me.”

“Follow me.”  The two most disruptive words those women had ever heard.  The two words that started all this craziness.  Jesus isn’t lying in the tomb.  He has been raised.  But he isn’t just hanging around the tomb waiting for someone to show up.  He’s on the move, and he’s asking us to follow.  And if you do that, there’s no going back to normal.  The craziness starts all over again.  The women are given no plan, there are no details about what’s in store, just a next step.  This is your mission if you choose to accept it:  meet me in Galilee.

And so by the end of Mark’s gospel, the story isn’t over yet, not by a long shot.  But who’s left?  The male disciples, we were told that they took off when Jesus was arrested.  Jesus has gone on ahead.  And in that final sentence that Mark gives us, even the women flee from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they say nothing to anyone.  Who’s left?

The only one left at the end of Mark’s gospel is the reader, that is you, and me, oh, and the young man with the message from God.  The message is this:  that Jesus is going on ahead and he wants you to follow him.

The story isn’t over yet.  It’s Easter, the tomb is empty and you are being called to follow Jesus.  What happens next?

Today, four members of our community are taking up the invitation to follow Jesus by renewing their baptismal vows.  I would encourage you to seek out Meibh, Leah, Billie and Alan today or sometime soon, and ask them why they are doing this, why have they decided to follow Jesus and make that public declaration today.  Because their stories too, are very much part of the Easter story that we are celebrating this morning.

The reason that Mark never finishes his gospel story is so that we can be part of the story.  And how’s that going to play out?  How do you respond? 

There’s no closure.  There’s no going back to normal.  This is just the beginning.  The story is still unfolding because you’re part of it.  It’s Easter, the tomb is empty and you are being called to follow Jesus.  What happens next?


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