Sunday, April 8, 2012

We Know!

“In The New Beginning”
Mark 16:1-8
April 8, 2012/Easter Sunday

            Christos Anesthi.  Aliethos Anesthi.
            Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.
            Thanks to the Greek contingent in my family I can speak a few words in Greek – a very few.  I can say hello, stop, leave it, yes, etc.  But the most important words I know are the ones I just said.  Christos Anesthi.  Aliethos Anesthi.  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed. 
            These words will be heard all over the world today.  They will be proclaimed in every language we can think of.  As a congregation we began our service with them and they will keep being offered throughout our service.  Yet what I find interesting and strange is that while we are literally and figuratively shouting them from the rooftops this day, they cannot seem to be found in Mark’s gospel. 
            The passage that we read today from Mark’s gospel is considered to be the actual ending of Mark.  This can be confusing because if you read ahead in your pew Bible, you saw that there were two other endings listed – the shorter and the longer.  It’s believed by scholars that these two endings were added by later scribes or editors.  And it’s no wonder that some well-meaning scribe wanted to “fix” this original ending in Mark.  It’s not much of an ending. 
Stopping at verse 8, leaves us with a picture of some pretty sorry disciples.  They leave the tomb afraid.  They run away.  They were too terrified and too amazed to speak at all, much less shout that Christ is risen. 
            If you like a story where the ending wraps everything up into a nice little package, one that ties up all the loose strings,  then you can probably understand why a later writer wanted to create more of an ending to Mark’s ending. 
Because this one, with the disciples taking off and keeping their silence in spite of being told to speak, isn’t exactly a happy ending, is it?  It doesn’t even seem like an ending at all.  At best it’s a cliffhanger, but we want another book in the saga to find out what happens next.
            But this is Mark’s ending, so this is what we must wrestle with.  The Sabbath is finally over.  Three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, make their way to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices.  While they are walking they’re worrying about how they’re going to move the stone that blocks the tomb.  But what a surprise when they finally reach the tomb to see that the stone has been rolled away for them!  So they go inside and the tomb is empty save for a young man, dressed all in white.  This alarms them.  But the young man greets them with the words, “Do not be alarmed.”  In other words, fear not.
            The young man knows why they are there.  They are looking for Jesus of Nazareth but he is not there.  He has been raised.  He even points out the spot where Jesus was laid to prove that Jesus was there and now it is empty.  He tells them to go and tell the disciples, tell Peter that Jesus is going on before them to Galilee, and there they will see him.  It is everything that Jesus told them. 
            Fear not.  This is the standard greeting in our scriptures when a divine being is about to import dramatic, amazing, life-changing news to a human who was not expecting it in the least.  Fear not. 
            But the women didn’t listen.  They were terrified.  They were amazed.  They could not bring the words, “He is risen,” to their lips.  They run away.  Fear takes hold of them in every single way and they flee without saying anything to anyone.  The End.
            It’s not exactly a happy ending, is it? 
            It’s not really an ending at all.  Which is what, I suspect, Mark wanted. 
On the first Sunday of Advent last November, when we dove into Mark’s gospel for this liturgical year, I stated that in order to understand the beginning of Mark’s gospel, we also had to give our attention to the ending of his gospel.  Now that we’ve reached Easter, it seems that’s true for the ending as well.  If we want to understand the ending, we have to go back to the beginning.
One of the contributors to wrote that at first glance it seems that as a writer Mark is terrible at both beginnings and endings.  Because the beginning of Mark’s gospel doesn’t exactly leap off the page either. 
            “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” 
            In my journalism classes in college we learned about and discussed in great length the importance of the lead.  You have to catch the reader’s attention in the first sentence or else you lose them completely.  Mark must not have taken the same courses I did.  At first glance, it doesn’t seem to be a gripping way to start off such an important story as this one.  But Mark isn’t about engaging in long discourse.  He does not mince words.  From the very first moment, we, the readers, know exactly who Jesus is and what we’re reading in the first place.  Jesus is the Son of God and this is the beginning of his gospel, his good news. 
            We know that right up front.  The problem is that the disciples, the people around Jesus, the people who were part of this story don’t.  They don’t know.  Jesus tells them.  He teaches them.  He tells them stories, trying to explain the kingdom of God in ideas they can understand.  He takes on any trick question that comes his way.  He teaches with authority.  Jesus asks them, the disciples, their opinion about his identity, and does not deny the truth Peter uttered.  “You are the Messiah.”
            Jesus taught them of his suffering, his pain, his dying and rising again.  He spoke plainly.  But they don’t get it.  They don’t get it most of the time.  The whole way through Mark’s gospel, we struggle with the reality that the disciples and others around Jesus don’t seem to have a clue.  In the other gospels, such as Matthew’s, the disciples sort of get what Jesus is trying to convey to them, but in Mark’s gospel they remain clueless.  Mark cuts them no slack.  They remain unable to understand the full reality of the man they called their teacher.  Knowing this makes Mark’s ending to the gospel a little more understandable perhaps. 
            But who has known the truth of Jesus from the beginning of Mark’s gospel until the moment we have reached today?  Mark, obviously.  He states it right up front.  “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” 
            Mark knows.  God knows.  Jesus knows. 
            And we know.  The readers know who Jesus is.  We know his true identity.  We are privy to the words God spoke to Jesus at his baptism.  We hear quite clearly Mark’s declaration at the beginning of the gospel.  We have had front row seats from the very beginning until the bitter end.  We know.
            And because we know, I suspect that Mark saw this moment in the gospel not as an ending, but as a new beginning.  It is our new beginning.  Even though the disciples don’t get it, even though the women flee in terror after the young man in white tells them to fear not, we know.  We know! 
            Because we know, I don’t think Mark just got tired of writing by verse 8, threw his pen down and walked away.  I think he put it on us, the reader.  We have been told from the very beginning exactly who Jesus was, is and will be.  We know.  The disciples could not overcome their fear, but we can.  The women ran from the tomb, unable to spread the message that the angel gave them, but we don’t have to.  Because we know!  The ending of Mark is not an ending at all.  It is a beginning, a new beginning, for us!  It seems to me that the reality of Easter is not so much in looking back at what the inside circle around Jesus did or didn’t do thousands of years ago.  It is about what we can and should do now. 
Christos Anesthi!  Aliethos Anesthi!    Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!
This is our new beginning to live each day as Easter people.  We know that death did not win.  We know that love is stronger than every other force that comes up against it.  We know that everything has changed, that fear flies in the face of God’s good news.  We know! 
This new beginning is ours.  I spent the first ten or so years of my ordained ministry agonizing every Easter about how to explain or tell or persuade when it came to the resurrection.  I finally realized that I don’t have to do that.  It’s not about fully understanding what happened in that tomb.  That’s just not possible.  But I do think that we become more fully Easter people when we acknowledge and proclaim that the empty tomb makes a difference.  Everything has changed.  We know!  And that is our calling this day and everyday – to proclaim that we know, we believe, we trust, we know.  In this new beginning we can do what the first disciples couldn’t, we can tell the world, Christos Anesthi!  Aliethos Anesthi!
Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!
            Let all God’s children say, “Amen!”

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