Lectionary readings: Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Acts 10:34-43, and Mark 16:1-8
Let us pray:
As we celebrate the joy of your resurrection–the joy of our salvation–help us to see what this story means for us. Help us to see your Spirit among us. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
The Voyage of the Dawntreader has always been my favorite Narnia book. I just love the meandering adventures as the children sail the sea, going from island to island and having strange encounters with dragons and Dufflepuds and stars. And so I was both excited and nervous when they decided to make a movie version.
I went to go see it with a friend. I read the book beforehand, of course. And I was captivated by the story playing out in front of me, of the children miserably living with extended family, their arrival in Narnia and the adventure it drops them into. They go to the Lone Island, which is a familiar story right up until the carnivorous, poison-green mist–what is that? That’s not in the books. They escape the mist, set sail again, until they arrive at a second island, which is covered in beautiful manicured gardens. They all relax, until they hear footsteps but see no one. Thump. Thump.
This is when the theater screen goes black. Hm, this is an interesting artistic choice, I think, a bit confused. But it stays black. The sound goes out a few seconds later. We’re left sitting in a completely dark, silent theater.
Eventually someone from the theater comes to tell us that something in the projection room broke. We all get tickets for another showing of the movie.
What? What happens? I mean, I know what happens–probably. But what about the green mist? What are they going to do with that? Will the ending I know stay the same? How are they going to choose to tell this story?
Reading the gospel of Mark feels like that abrupt moment, that what?. Jesus has been crucified, has been laid to rest in a tomb. The male disciples have fled; the female disciples have watched from a distance, seeing Jesus’ death and burial. And so, after the Sabbath, they come to Jesus’ grave. They want to honor their Teacher by anointing His body with spices. They come as early as they can after the pause in work for the Sabbath of the day before, ready to do this difficult work.
Yet they come to the tomb and find an unexpected scene: the stone that had been protecting the body rolled away and the body gone, replaced by a young man they’ve never seen before. This man tells them that Jesus is gone, come to life again and gone to Galilee. ‘He told you this would happen, remember? So go, and tell the other disciples.’
The women, however, flee in terror and tell no one.
And… that’s it. That’s the end of the Gospel of Mark.
It’s a strange place to stop, to say the least. What about the resurrection? What about meeting the risen Jesus? What about the other disciples? What have they been doing? How do they react to seeing Jesus again? How do the women react–especially after they’ve run from the angel? Stopping here leaves us unsatisfied, even unsettled, for we end not only without having seen the risen Jesus, but also with the women fleeing in terror from the good news that Jesus is no longer dead.
You may, in fact, be wondering what I’m talking about. You may have read further in the gospel of Mark than I read today; you may remember that it does continue with a brief account of Jesus meeting with His disciples. But every early manuscript we’ve found ends at verse 8, ends with the women running away from the angel. Ways of tying everything up with a neat conclusion, a few words to remind the reader that Jesus really did appear to the disciples, came later. There are a few versions of these conclusions, in fact. That cliff of an ending seems to have made people uncomfortable ever since it was written. Even now, people like to argue about whether or not we’ve lost some part of the story, that Mark wrote more stories of Jesus coming to the disciples like the other gospels have and that these stories were just lost to time somehow.
It’s a strange, uncomfortable place to end. Maybe even more so on Easter Day: we sing Alleluia, we remember especially Christ’s resurrection and celebrate the salvation we are given through it, we decorate with flowers to remember new life, we blessed a new paschal candle–and then the gospel reading doesn’t even give us a glimpse of the risen Jesus, just of disciples fleeing the good news in terror.
We don’t even get to see Jesus in our reading today? We don’t get to see the disciples celebrating? gaining new faith? new understanding? new… anything??
It feels like my own experience of Easter, really. We see signs of hope, as they did in the passage, like the sun rising, like the impossible-to-move stone being gone from the tomb entrance already, like the women’s faithful presence. We see signs of hope: the spring flowers beginning to sprout and the buds beginning to grow, the ways that we met God this Lent in our disciplines and in the brokenness that it brought out of all of us, the whisper of the Spirit in a song or a conversation. We hear the good news: Christ is risen! Christ is risen!
But so often that news fills us with fear–fear that sends us running from God, sends us clamoring for God’s death, leaves us paralyzed with indecision.
Mark’s Easter story is an Easter story that’s full of humanness, full of all the ways that we see and hear and touch God’s good news and still don’t commit, full of the messiness and unresolved nature of life here on earth, where most loose ends don’t get tied up by the end and the story finishes with every character still human, still flawed, still left imperfect and with the message sunk in skin-deep at best. It’s full of women who try their best, but don’t understand: who go to anoint Jesus’ body, because all of the times He told them that He would die and then return to life flew right over their heads; who hear the good news, but are too afraid to speak it; who hear the angel’s command to go, and obey only because they are too afraid to stay any longer.
This is an Easter story that knows who we are, that knows all of the ways we flee from God, are possessed by fear, obey by accident and totally miss the point no matter how many times we come to church or read our Bibles. This is an Easter story that knows who we are. This is an Easter story for those people, that sees who we are and still offers us the good news, still tells us that Jesus is risen and that it’s beautiful, wonderful news. This is an Easter story for all of us, however messed up we may be, however afraid, however hurt or angry or grieving, however paralyzed, however oblivious or confused.
Because we are not given this gift because we are cool and collected. We are given the gift of Jesus’ death and resurrection because we need it. We need it.
We need it as people, as selfish, forgetful, fearful, people. We need it as a world that’s full of violence and demonization and greed. We need it as we go back out into the world and face it all again, that world that is just as full of loose ends and discomfort as our story, as we go back to fighting our addictions, to caring for our parents or friends or children who are ill, who are in nursing homes or hospitals, to grieving those we’ve lost, to trying to figure out how to follow God and feeling like every step is a step a wrong direction, a step in the dark.
Because this is an Easter story as full of messiness and brokenness as us. And into that story came the news of the resurrection, the news of God’s barrier-smashing love, just as it comes to us today.
Alleluia, and Amen.