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. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But 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. 7But 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.’ 8So 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.
May these written words lead us to the living word Jesus Christ. Amen.
I wonder what you like to watch on the television. Perhaps you like soap operas or period dramas or detective dramas or more scary dramas like Silent Witness or Line of Duty. Whatever it is I am sure most of us like to have a happy ending. It is part of human nature. There is a trend at the moment to leave us with endings that are ambiguous, or ones that we can’t understand. I know it is to create that cliff-hanger ending to entice us to watch the next series but it leaves an empty feeling of frustration.
It is interesting how the Church has taken the story of Jesus’ resurrection and made it a happy ending. But, actually, that is not how it is written in Marks Gospel. Bizarrely, the resurrection story is not a happy one at all. Let us look at the facts as Mark records them in his Gospel.
Jesus had suffered horrendous torture and an unimaginable death and then his body is taken away by Joseph of Arimathea. That is a bit odd in itself because traditionally the family would have taken the body. But this stranger comes along and asks for permission to take the body and the family are not included in the plans. Mary is completely side-lined. In chapter 15, it says: “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph were watching and saw where the body of Jesus was placed.”
The disciples certainly hadn’t experienced a happy ever after ending? They were depressed and terrified and had run away and gone into hiding. As far as everyone was concerned both family and friends, Jesus was dead, buried, gone. End of story.
Then as we know on Easter Day the Resurrection happens. “Alleluia” a happy ending. But look again at the story as Mark tells it. The women go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus and they are anxious. Verse 4 “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” Then they saw the angel and they were alarmed, and finally verse 8: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”
You will notice that there is no alleluia in Mark’s account. Depression, fear, anxiety, alarm, distress, terror, fleeing from the scene. These are the words used to describe people’s response to the Resurrection. There was no spring in the step of anyone that first Easter morning; only fear, distress and confusion and an urge to get away as soon as possible.
There is no happy ending at all. This is how Mark concludes the Good News of Jesus Christ: “So they went out and ran away from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” You would think he could come up with a better ending to his story. It is reminiscent of the type of ending a scriptwriter for Silent Witness might be proud of!
We have to ask the question - why did Mark end his account this way. As I have mentioned on many occasions Mark’s Gospel is action-packed: The women, at the start of the story are moving towards the tomb. At the end of the story, they are moving rapidly away from the tomb. But the women are not the only people on the move. They had come to minister to Jesus’ body, but the young man says to them, “Jesus has been raised. He is not here. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee.” Jesus is on the move, He has gone and is now on his way to Galilee. In other words if the women wanted to see Jesus again, they needed to get on the move too.
The next thing we need to ask is why Mark carefully records that Jesus has gone ahead of them to Galilee. We have heard those words before in Mark’s Gospel. At the beginning in Mark 1:9: “Not long afterwards, Jesus came from Nazareth in the province of Galilee”
Mark is telling us, you have the account of Jesus in my account. The stories of healings and miracles, and you have read the parables and all the wondrous events of Jesus’ life and death and now the Resurrection has happened and we need to go right back to the beginning again and reflect on it all in the light of the Resurrection. In the light of the cross and resurrection, we will find new meanings and new applications for our lives. And when we get to the Resurrection again, we need to go back to the beginning again it is a never ending story.
That is the beauty of following the church calendar and the seasons of the church year, as we are always brought back to Galilee and the story begins again. Every time we are tempted to think we have understood the story, we need to go back to the beginning again and see what fresh insights God wants to give us. Every time we get to the end of Mark, we are told to go back to square one, go back to Galilee, and experience the miracles of grace again and again and as we do that, we will experience grace in our lives and deepen our knowledge of what resurrection is really about.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not just an event that happened 2000 years ago. God wants to reveal his resurrection power to each one of us. We might be thinking that might be alright for everyone else but it doesn’t apply to me. Look again at the words of the young man to the women. Verse 7, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee”.
“Tell his disciples and Peter”
It is so significant that Peter gets singled out by name. No disciple had failed Jesus as much as Peter. No one had fallen as short as Peter had. No one felt as bad as he did. And yet Peter is singled out: “Go and tell the disciples and Peter” This is a clear sign that even Peter was forgiven by God. He had been singled out for God’s grace. There is nothing that you and I have ever done in the past that God cannot forgive. There is no shameful secret that cannot be brought before God that needs to remain hidden from his glorious, grace-filled light.
To return to the question we started with. Why did Mark end his Gospel like this with the women running away - afraid to tell anyone about what has happened? I think it is because Mark’s Gospel isn’t finished. The women in the story run away in silence - but someone has to proclaim the Gospel, we know in John’s account Mary ran to tell the disciples that Jesus was risen, and now it is up to you and me to finish the story. The Good News of Jesus Christ can’t end in silence.
The young man the women encountered at the tomb that first Easter presents each of us with an incredible challenge as we read this today. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here.”
This is the glorious truth of the resurrection. This is the wonderful truth of the Easter Story. Jesus has gone ahead of us. The challenge this morning is not to have Easter as a one-off event and forget it for another year, but to go back to the beginning, to soak ourselves in the Scriptures. To allow his life-changing teaching and promised Holy Spirit to fill our lives so that we can share our experience with a broken world.
So there is a happy ending to Marks Gospel after all – it is us. And so, this morning, we don’t shout “Alleluia” because the story has ended. We shout “Alleluia” because the story continues
May God richly bless each one reading this today. May God give us all the courage and grace to be the Easter People he has called us to be, living in the power of the resurrected and risen Christ. Amen