Sermon, Mark 16:1-8, Sunday, April 8th, 2012

“But Someone Had to Have Said Something”

         No surprise that Christ’s Resurrection is reported in all four gospels. It had to have been pretty big news at least to those who followed Jesus. But, once again, Mark throws us a curve. Just when you expect the biggest moment to happen in the lives of those who followed Jesus and who witnessed to his ministry, just when we who read this gospel today think we know how it all should come out, just when this should be the most climatic and dramatic moment of all, Mark fades his story out with a barely a whimper. Where is the victory, the shouts of joy, the proclaiming of Resurrection to believers and non-believers? Mark ends his telling of the event with a dull thud rather than a triumphant cry. Christ is risen…just as he said he would rise…and just as the young man in the story confirms. All the women in Mark’s version can do is to slink away and keep silent. Given one more assignment, which was certainly more apropos under the circumstances, which was to go and tell the disciples, the Marys in the story disobey. Instead, they flee in amazement and terror and don’t tell anybody.

It’s like watching a good movie, anticipating a satisfying conclusion and then seeing the credits flash across the screen, the strains of the final piece of music sound and we’re left shaking our heads and saying, “What just happened? The movie is over and I didn’t get it.”

Well, we’re in good company. A lot of people didn’t get it and more than a few tried to find a way to “fix” Mark or at the very least to explain the problem away. Here were a couple of the explanations:

  • Maybe Mark didn’t get a chance to finish his tale. Maybe he had more to say.  Or…
  • Could be that some of the manuscript, specifically the ending, was lost over time and it never made it into the early versions of the New Testament? Could be.      Then, of course, there were those that thought it would be a kindness to “fix” Mark. As a result, additional endings are often found in most Bibles, attempts to clean up the “too-short” version with a more satisfying ending. This, also, has been questioned.Now, I tend to side with the biblical scholars who feel strongly that Mark ended his gospel exactly as he intended. He ended it in the same way it began, quick and to the point. Mark starts his gospel with the words, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” and there is that dramatic moment, after Christ’s baptism, when a voice from heaven affirms Christ as the beloved Son of God…God speaks and there is no room for confusion as to who Jesus is. Mark ends his gospel with the affirmation. “He has been raised. He is not here” completing the story with another strong word from God.This is a reminder to us that it is only through God’s action, not ours that the story lives on. Christ is raised from the dead and lives whether the women speak or not or for that matter, whether we speak or not. Kind of like a version of “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The sound of a tree falling is no more dependent on human ears hearing it than Christ’s resurrection is dependent on the women who ran off in fear and trembling and who, we are told did not speak of what they had witnessed…silence.But, let’s face it. Somehow the word did get. If it hadn’t we wouldn’t be here today worshiping together. We wouldn’t be living as Christians. There would be no Christians. The word did get out. The tomb couldn’t hold Jesus in death and neither could the actions of Judas, who betrayed Jesus, or Peter who denied Jesus, or Thomas who doubted Jesus or the women in Mark’s gospel who fled in fear and trembling and in silence.Maybe silence is exactly what is called for here. Maybe as one writer put it, “silence is not a failed or inadequate response.”[1] In the silence of human awe, God can be heard. Continuing, this commentator made this supposition. “What adequate words can the women speak in those first few moments as they leave the tomb that would not trivial -ize the moment, that would not make the empty tomb into a story about what they have seen instead of being a moment about what God has done?”[2]

    Then there is this thought by Princeton Professor of New Testament, Beverly Roberts Gaventa who suggests, in the end, “only God’s faithfulness will complete this story, and the God who has split open the heavens at Jesus’ baptism and torn the curtain of the temple at Jesus’ death, ‘will be put off neither by our failures, nor [by our] infidelity,…[3]

           And there in lies God’s grace. Thankfully, it is not about us…not about what we do or don’t…not about what we say or fail to say…not about our willingness to share or not to share. The power of God upholds us, sustains us and redeems us with or without our cooperation, our words, in our moments of fear and trembling or in those moments of exquisite joy. God alone has the power to give us life. Through Christ triumph over death, we live too.

       So, do we not have any responsibility in this relationship between God, Christ and ourselves?   Perhaps there is one important action we do take and that is to be willing to let God surprise us. In Christ and through Christ’s resurrection, God has done just that! Amen.

[1] Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2, Gail R. O’Day, 357.

[2] Ibid. 357.

[3] Feasting on the Word, Beverly Roberts Gaventa, 357.