This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! Alleluia!
You know, there was this guy who faithfully showed up at church every Easter Sunday … and only on Easter Sunday. The pastor approached him after the service; “Jim, it sure is good to see you today. We’d love to see you on other Sundays too!” Jim thought about it and replied, “Well Pastor, I’d come to church more often if only you would preach on something different!”
On Easter Sunday we have one thing to preach about and it’s a big one: Christ is risen. It is the biggest story of the Christian faith but there are different tellings of this story in every gospel and they don’t agree with each other. The stories don’t agree on what day or time they went to the tomb. They don’t agree on who was there, whether there were angels or even if Jesus was there. There are some women, or at least one woman and maybe there are some disciples. So what do the gospels agree on in this most important story?
Christ is alive. Jesus got up. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. The vital part of this story is that Jesus lives. Everyone agrees on that.
I am choosing to preach today from the gospel of Mark, a gospel that is not often used for Easter Sunday because it is the only resurrection story where Jesus doesn’t show up. From a chronological point of view, Mark is the first gospel. Now think of this: the people who were originally exposed to this gospel had no other written text about the story of Jesus. Matthew, Luke and John had not been written. So let’s be like those first followers of Christ and pretend that this is the only story we know.
Mark tells us it's early Sunday morning, it's still dark, the sad women are going to the tomb to tend Jesus’ body, the stone is rolled away, they hear word that Jesus has been raised, they're sent back to tell others. So they went out and fled the tomb, for trauma and ecstasy had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Here is the kicker. It is generally agreed by scholars that this is exactly where the gospel of Mark ends. There are a few more paragraphs to the gospel of Mark - but look in your bibles and read the footnotes: what follows this portion of the gospel has been added on by other authors, in language that sounds nothing like Mark. They must have thought that Mark did a terrible job, leaving us on Easter Sunday with nothing more than running, terrified, silent women.
Instead, Mark leaves us with a cliffhanger, wondering what will happen next. And that invites us into the story. Instead of being passive listeners, we sit up and wonder; well, what happened to those women? What did they do next? Did they tell the disciples about what they found?
Of all the Easter Gospels, Mark's story invites us to stand where those first terrified women stood. Those three women didn't see Jesus. Neither do we. They didn't hear Jesus call their names. Neither have we. They weren't invited to touch his wounded body. We haven't touched Jesus' body either. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome are our silent sisters. The story is left for us, the readers, to complete.
Jesus was always asked this question: What is the kingdom of heaven like? He answered in confusing parables about mustard seeds, great pearls, planting in bad soil … what if this is one more parable? The kingdom of heaven is like the time the beloved son of God dies on a cross then gets up and walks away, leaving an empty tomb. The kingdom of heaven when you, each of you, to finish this story by living out the hopes and prayers of that son of God.
Mark places the burden of telling the rest of the story right here - right here on my shoulder, right on your shoulder. We get to share the storytelling burden with those traumatized, ecstatic women of old. We get to turn what looks like a bad ending into a new beginning.
Mark’s gospel begins with these words; “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This whole gospel is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. Yes, this is the beginning and it is up to us to pick up where Mark leaves off and finish the story.
Mark leaves us with such an abrupt ending it makes me wonder who gets the last word in this story? Well, God, of course. Who gets the last word in Jesus’ ministry? Rome? Herod? The mocking soldiers at the cross? No, God gets the final word. God wraps up the extraordinary story of Jesus with a big BANG! “I’ll show you” God says. “Watch this:” and he brings his son back to life.
What are the the Herods, the Romes, the crucifixes of our day? How about cancer, AIDS, Alzheimers, poverty, injustice, homelessness? Well, they don’t get the final word. Jesus shows us this today. There is hope beyond hope. The impossible is possible. Life triumphs over death. Love wins. God gets the final word and the final word is Glory. The final word is Hope. Jesus comes back. Jesus will come back again. Now join me in shouting: Alleluia! Alleluia!