We like good endings. We enjoy it when a movie or the book ends and everything is wrapped up in a nice little bow. The boy gets the girl, or the girl gets revenge, or the family is reunited, or the lost are found, or the kids make it through okay. We leave the theater or turn off the TV or close the book and we think, that was nice. It was a full story with a beginning, a middle and an end. There are some stories out there that don’t really end well. If you remember the TV series ALF, about a lovable alien that lives with the Tanner family. In last frame of the series finale ALF is finally captured by the Alien Task Force. Kids cried for days after watching the lovable puppet being caught by the evil authorities, which have been wanting to catch him and torture him for years. Then you had the weird ending for Little House on the Prairie when they decide to blow up the whole town after a railroad tycoon buys the land out from under everyone. It didn’t seem to fit the feel of the nice, wholesome show, as the audience watched each family take turns blowing their houses up to only splinters. It is hard to wrap things up nicely.
But we should know by now that the Bible isn’t interested in wrapping things up nicely. The classic story of Jonah ends with God’s open ended question about the Ninevites and Jonah mad as a wet hornet sitting under a withered bush. In Jesus’ parables we don’t know what happened to the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son. There is no Disney ending in those stories. Even in other events we never really learn what happens like in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. All we know is he came in the dark of night and they had a conversation. How this encounter ends is Jesus talking and then that is it.
The author of Mark’s gospel had the same problem. Depending on your Bible there is usually some type of headings in between the 8th and 9th verses of Mark’s 16th chapter. The headings usually say something like, “The Shorter Ending of Mark” and “The Longer Ending of Mark.” It looks like in the original manuscript the Gospel simply ends with the verse, “Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” People speculate that readers didn’t like that ending so they later added a shorter one and a longer one which ties everything up in a nice neater bow.
But to stop with the Marys leaving the empty tomb scared, that doesn’t make much sense. Do we really want to end the story of Jesus life on earth with words like terror, dread, and afraid? There isn’t a marketing firm out there that would think that is a good idea. It would be like a shoe company changing its slogan to “$100 shoes made for $.12 an hour.” The fact that sweatshops have been used to create what we wear on our feet is not what we want to think of when we purchase something. We want a rosier picture, something warm and fuzzy to hold on to. We don’t want a picture of two women leaving the empty tomb in terror and dread who then go away and say nothing. We like John’s story better when Jesus appears to Mary in the garden and gives her comfort and peace. That is a better ending to the story.
There is this gut wrenching feeling that all people get when it comes to death. After a long struggle with watching a loved one die; after the days of waiting by their side wondering if that breath will be there last; after the countless nights of no sleep and the inability to eat; death finally comes. There are the feelings of loss and mourning but there is also this nagging feeling of relief. We don’t like to think about it but it is always there. There is relief in death. Yes they are not in pain anymore and their struggle is over but for those who stay behind there is relief that our care is done. That chapter in our lives is over and now we can start the long journey of moving on.
Mary and Mary went to Jesus’ tomb to move on. They were providing the last bit of devotion to the man they followed and loved. As a last act of locality they were finding closure by doing what women did back then and taking care of the dead. But instead of finding the body of Jesus they found a man in a white robe who says that the person they knew and believed was God’s son has been resurrected. That feeling of relief and wanting to seek closure was gone. Instead they are now filled with fear and dread.
In 2003 one of the hottest books was one called The Da Vinci Codeby Dan Brown. There was a huge uproar because it states that Jesus was actually married to Mary Magdalene. A secret order of the Catholic Church was in charge of keeping it a secret because Christianity would be turned on its head if the real truth came out. All around the US churches had sermon series on the book, held Bible studies and book clubs to discuss if what Dan Brown wrote had any shred of truth in it. I was in charge of a study on this book and as we gathered in a living room we discussed the relevance of this book with actual history and faith. We discussed the other non-canonized gospels that were out there and how the Bible was actual created. We then discussed other times in history when similar debates arose. Then someone asked why people, like Dan Brown, find excitement in trying to prove the Bible and the Christian faith wrong. The only answer I could muster up was exactly what the two Marys were feeling when they saw that stone rolled away, fear and dread.
What people fear and dread is the truth. If the stone is rolled away and the man in the white robe is correct that Jesus as been raised….now what! This means all those predictions Jesus talked about are true. This means that Jesus IS God’s son. This means he did raise up a new temple in three days after it was destroyed. This means the resurrection is TRUE and that is a scary, terrify, and the dreadful reality some people don’t want to believe. Sometimes it is better to think of any other option out there then to realize the truth in the resurrection.
While Mary and Mary stood at the entrance to the tomb and listened to the man in white explain what had happened what they thought was the end turned into the beginning. That three year journey they took with the carpenter’s son from Nazareth was only the prelude to the story that was unfolding. The stone that was rolled away was now placed on the shoulders of those who followed him as the responsibility to profess what had happened. The weight of that responsibility was setting in to the women’s hearts as they left the tomb and the fear of that reality disabled their ability to profess the glory of the resurrection.
I think Alycia and I will never forget the day when we left the hospital with Dean and went home for the first time as a family of three. It is a surreal feeling to go through the birth of your first child. All that waiting is now over. All the planning and prepping is behind you as you buckle up your little one in the car seat for the first time. The hospital where Dean was born had a policy that when a new baby was leaving the hospital a person had to check the car seat to make sure they were strapped in correctly. In a moment of fatherly pride, finally able to do SOMETHING, I strapped Dean in for the first time and showed the lady my work. She glanced down, checked to see it was tight enough but not too tight, and then looked at us and said congratulations and went back into the hospital. That was it.
We put Dean in the car and took a slow drive back home. I had to do more to get my driver’s license then I did to take my first born home from the hospital. There was no proof needed that I lived where I lived and could manage the raising of another human being. There was no background check or guidelines to follow or proof of insurance needed. After nine months of waiting, all those doctor visits, birthing classes, books, and nursery building, it all ended with a quick check of a seat belt and the kid was all ours. The weight of that responsibility fell heavy on our shoulders. The ride home was slow not only because of the precious cargo but because the weight was falling heavy on our shoulders and fear and dread filled our souls.
The truth is when the stone was rolled away it was our turn to pick up the mantel and the responsibility of doing God’s work was passed on. The new covenant was made and pressure was on. That is a lot to take in when it is not what you are expecting. The fact is after forty days of waiting, after forty days of self-denial and preparation we come to worship today not to say that it is over but to profess it has begun, once again.
The youth watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ a couple of weeks ago and that is a very sobering movie to put into perspective what Christ went through Friday. After Christ’s death in the final scene we see him get up, with the nail prints in his hands, and the movie fades to black. It is a nice ending to a bloody movie and that is where most people would like to stop. Yet the truth, the reality of the resurrection is that is the only the beginning of our responsibility and duty as followers of the Risen Christ.
If we truly believe that Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed); If we feel that truth in our hearts and are willing to be transformed by the reality that Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed); If we are willing to turn our lives over in dedication, in our commitment to follow his will for our lives then brothers and sisters in Christ it is only beginning.
May you come this Easter morning to an empty tomb and leave feelings of fear and dread. Because to do so means that you have accepted the truth that Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed). Feel the weight of that responsibility on your soul this morning because that means you understand and you believe. There is no shame in fear. There is no betrayal in letting reality soak in before you act. The Marys left the tomb and did just that. If they never told anyone then we wouldn’t be here. Their inability to speak changed and the disciples learned of the resurrection soon enough. They met him in Galilee and we meet him here in this place today.
So how to I wrap up an Easter sermon? How do I make it nice and neat with a pretty bow around everything? How do we go from this place today? Changed? Affected? Bored? Transformed? Fearful? Ready? Here is the truth…Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed); Christ is Risen (He has Risen Indeed); CHRIST IS RISEN! (He has Risen Indeed)….