WHEN THE SUN HAD RISEN
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You get to be a certain age and you remember when things first happened. The introduction of things. I remember when Skittles were first introduced for example – exciting times in the mid-80’s. I remember about 10 years before that when “Choose Your Own Adventure” books came out. I was always a fan of that Scholastic book magazine/book fair thing and this is where I bought my first one. It was a book in which a scene would come to an end – You find a secret door in the side of the castle. The next question is what do you do? Go through the door – go to page 23. Continue on your way – go to page 35. I remember that I used to keep my finger in the page I was leaving in case my choice resulted in my character dying. They were always written in the 2nd person and some of them had pretty bleak endings for little kids now that I think about it.
When is an ending not an ending? When is an ending more like choosing your own adventure? Throughout the weeks of Lent, we looked at “What kind of Messiah is this?” And “What does it mean to follow such a Messiah?” The question we might be asking this morning is “What kind of Gospel is Mark?” What kind of way is this to end a gospel? We see various endings in our NRSV Bibles. Someone has called these commentaries which supplement what is thought to be the original ending – verse 8. The Shorter Ending, the Longer Ending and another gloss that’s found in our footnotes. These are good and useful. We won’t be looking at them this morning, however. I want us to look at what the original ending means to us today.
So let’s begin at the ending. So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement has seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. This is how the earliest versions of Mark finished. What kind of Messiah is Jesus? What kind of Gospel ends like this? Throughout the story, we have seen Jesus turning expectations upside down. Here the whole Gospel becomes a parable of the Kingdom of God, where things are turned upside down. It’s like a song that doesn’t resolve.
I love those songs. From the beginning, this Gospel was open-ended. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God. The beginning. The story is ongoing. To follow Christ is to have your story wrapped up in his story. This is the invitation to faith in Christ that the Gospel of Mark offers. If you’ve lived long enough you’ll know that life doesn’t offer easy or simple resolutions. Things are often left unresolved like a chord at the end of a song.
You may be thinking “Well I know of one way the life is always resolved – 100% of the time.” Of course, there’s always death. The great resolver. The great leveller. Life is tough and then you die right? This is the situation that we all find ourselves in. What do we look for in the face of this fact? To whom or what do we look for meaning? I don’t know where all of us are on the whole Jesus thing this morning. I know that we’re all here this morning looking for something. Otherwise, we could all be sleeping in or having brunch right now or participating in any one of the numbers of activities that are available to us.
No matter what our motivation is for being here – we’ve come to the place where Jesus may be found.
The women in our story are looking for Jesus. When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. These are the same three women who Mark describes as looking on as Jesus dies. They followed him and provided for him when he was in Galilee, and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. Thank God for such women who care for and provide. They never left him. They were there when Joseph (not that Joseph mind you, Joseph from Arimathea) wrapped Jesus’ broken body in a linen cloth and laid Jesus in a tomb.
They’re looking for Jesus in the place of death. The place of separation from God, of separation from each other. We heard some weeks ago about a man with an unclean spirit – a man caught in the grips of something from which he was unable to extricate himself – who lived among tombs. Lived in the place of death. This is where they’re going. Heavy hearted. Ready I’m sure to lament. Well, they should be ready to lament because it’s a terrible thing to be in a situation from which we are unable to extricate ourselves. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” They realized that even providing this last act of service to their rabbi was beyond them. It didn’t deter them though. Maybe they remembered him saying something once that all things are possible with God. I’m sure they did.
They’d been wondering what they were going to do about the stone. It’s important that we don’t reduce this story to allegory. Say something like God will remove the stones in your life. This is true sure, but there’s something more foundational at work here. Mark hints at it in verse 2.
The sun had risen.
The Son had risen.
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.
The Son had risen.
The stone had been very large. Impossible for anyone to do anything about. Like the chasm between humanity and God. The chasm brought about by the desire to go our own way. The desire for autonomy, the belief that freedom lies in being able to do what we want. This is what we refer to as sin and death – separation from God. This chasm has been bridged by God’s son. The stone has been rolled away. The Son had risen. The women looked up. They looked up. It’s the same word that was used when Jesus made a blind man see. “Son of David have mercy on me!” was the cry. People told him to be quiet. How unseemly to be calling out for mercy. Stop making a spectacle of yourself. Don’t you know there are things like sorrow and grief that we just don’t talk about in polite company? He cried it out ever more loudly. Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” The reply came – “My teacher, let me see again.”
Let us see again. Just like these faithful women of so long ago. They looked up. The stone had been rolled away. They saw things in the new light of the risen sun. Nothing would ever be the same again. They see a young man, sitting, clothed. They are alarmed. Who has ever seen something like this?
No one had ever seen anything like this. We’re talking about the defeat of death here. New life. Is it any wonder we celebrate the way we do? How has the risen Jesus brought new life to you?
It can be rather alarming! They are alarmed. Do not be alarmed, comes the command. We’re talking about new life. We’re talking about what’s going on. You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth. You’re looking for life among the dead. He has been raised. He is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.
Where should we be looking then? Because this word is applicable to the church today as it was to those three women. It’s as applicable as it was to the people of faith who first read this good news. Look for him in his promises. Flee from the things that bring death – the desire for self-autonomy, our mistaken belief in our own self-sufficiency - and let us run towards….
Towards what exactly? We don’t know. Mark doesn’t tell us. The story just stops in the middle of a sentence.
But we have the promises. These were the promises. But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee. I will be going before you. He is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him, just as he told you. Because of this whole Kingdom of God project. This grand salvation plan. This grand redemption plan by which God purposed to bring all things back to himself, was never dependent on us.
It was always dependent on God. Jesus going ahead of us. Jesus coming alongside us. Jesus behind us, pushing us along. We’ve spent the last 40 days intentionally turning toward God, acknowledging our need for forgiveness, acknowledging our need for grace. Crying out with Bartimeus “Have mercy on me!” The disciples have failed, they’ve fled. The women have failed, they’re silent.
Or have they?
You may say “We don’t know because the story doesn’t end.” You may be looking for proof. We like stories to be wrapped up in 40 minutes, or a couple of hours if we’re watching a movie. We like resolution. These women saw things with a new resolution. These women didn’t stay quiet, any more than we’re staying quiet today. These women went and told what they had seen. He is risen! New life. The defeat of sin and death. Humanity, all of creation, brought back to God in the person of God’s risen son. How do we know?
Because Mark is writing this to a community of faith. Mark is writing this to a community of faith that is the direct result of what happened that day. All who follow Christ are the evidence of what happened that day. Have you known new life in Christ? Then you are living proof of new life. We all are called to proclaim that truth in our worship together, in our lives together. We fail in this just as the disciples did. We stay silent and are afraid. God continues to work out his saving purposes in and through us. Jesus continues to go ahead of us.
The open-ended ending of this story leaves an open-ended question for us. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ is how this whole thing started. It hasn’t ended. The question for us is – what are we going to do with this good news? The call from the start of the story has been “Follow me.” The command was Do not be afraid. The invitation was Listen. This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to him. Listen to the promises. Live in the promises.
We have a choice to make in this adventure we call life. We may fail just as Jesus’ followers did in Mark’s story. Jesus continues to go ahead of us, continues to issue the call to follow. This is our invitation this morning friends. We have a chance to make a tangible sign of our desire to follow as we gather around the family table. May it be the desire of all our hearts to take up this invitation. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is how we started. The good news is ongoing as God’s spirit lives and moves in us. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!