When Is An Ending Not An Ending?
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When is an ending not an ending? When is a major chord not a chord? When it’s a suspended 4th chord. You know music is huge for me and I hope you won’t mind me indulging in a little chord theory. Notes in a scale are assigned numbers and so when you play a Gsus4 chord, it contains the 4th note of the scale which is C. It sounds like this. The way our ears are trained, it cries out for resolution to the regular G major. In a similar way, a song usually resolves to the chord which is the key the song is in. Using the example of a chord progression like G – D – E – C, our ears and brains want to hear G at the end of it. If we stop at the C, the ending is known as unresolved.
And I have to tell you I love that kind of ending. People talk about the problem of Mark’s ending. We said at the beginning of Lent that the original ending of Mark is largely thought to be 16:1-8. The other endings that we have in our Bibles are thought by many to be additions (including the one about handling snakes which has given rise to some snake handling as you may know). How could Mark have ended his good news with these women being afraid and silent? We are going to see that this is not a problem. There are many problems in the world and you and I have problems (well I do anyway) but the shorter ending of Mark is not one of them.
When is an ending not an ending? On the day that Christ is raised. It’s never been about closure you see. It’s never about closure. If we wanted it to be about closure, death would be the end. You can’t get much more closed than that. You can’t get much more closed than a corpse in a sealed tomb, at which point we may ask along with King Lear, “Is this the promis’d end?” and wonder where in the world we’re going to get closure.
Someone has said that the truth of the resurrection means that for the follower of Christ, nothing is ever the end. To follow Christ means that it’s never been about and is never about closure. It’s always about expectancy. This is the good news that Mark leaves us within 16:1-8. This is where the story ended on Friday, and one would be forgiven for thinking it was the end. Dead is dead after all. (15:44-47)
These faithful women have never left Jesus. We hadn’t heard very much about them until Friday. Mark was focussed on the 12 disciples and in the end their failure. We found this out though on Friday. (15:40-41) Thank God for faithful women.
16:1-2 A new day dawns. Expect the day. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Remember that song? (Ps. 30:5) The words echo down through the years, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from a stall (what a wonderful image for spring). I know you know that song because we sing it pretty much every Christmas. Expect the sun. Expect the Son to put paid to what we plan. The women thought they would need to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. This was something that was done to bodies to cover the smell of decomposition. It was done for the benefit of others who would be using/visiting the tomb. Even now the women are serving. They had heard Jesus say “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (9:35) They had been with him the whole time. We hadn’t heard about them from Mark as his focus was more on the 12. The 12 aren’t in the picture at this point, but Mark tells us of these women who are still in the picture in 15:40-41.
They’re making plans which will never have to come to fruition. We know a thing or two about that having lived through the last two years. They are asking a question, wondering about how something is going to happen – “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” They had no need to worry and no need to wonder how. They hear and see good news. 16:4-6.
This is a story of death that does not end with death. This is a story of human failure that need not end with failure. We can assume that this young man is an angel, a messenger. When we read about a young man, we remember another young man from the story of Jesus’ arrest. (14:51-52) I don’t believe that Mark is saying this is the same young man (who might have been Mark himself), but that the echoes of failure and desertion are ringing out here in this young man who is being given the task to show and tell that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised.
Someone has described the young man’s message of Jesus like this, “We must read his message carefully! He does not say that Jesus of Nazareth is no more; he has been replaced by the Christ of faith. He does not say that the crucified one is no more; he has been replaced by the resurrected one… For Mark, Jesus of Nazareth . . . has been raised. Jesus of Nazareth is going ahead . . . to Galilee. Jesus of Nazareth is the risen one. There is no Christ of faith who is not Jesus of Nazareth. Nor is there a risen one who is not the crucified one. The crucified one, now raised, has left the tomb and precedes the disciples into Galilee.” In the person of this man who is God, who faithfully follows his call even to death to make the way for all things to be reconciled with God (brought back to God); in the person of this man who shows that the way to reconciliation is self-sacrificing other-serving love; in the person of this risen Jesus who has defeated death and the powers that would separate us from God; in this Jesus, God has stepped radically and decisively into time and history in such a way that human existence has been always and forever transformed.
Death does not have the final say. Failure need not have the final say. He has been raised. Look at the place where they laid him. We’ve heard. We’ve seen. Now go and tell. “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (16:7) The women fail at this point. “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The women finally fail. Terror and amazement seized them. I read recently that in the Irish language, one doesn’t say “I am said.” One says rather “Sadness is on me.” It means that you’re not identified with the emotion, but that the emotion is on you at least for a while. I think that’s good. These women are not characterized by or to be identified by terror and amazement, but it has seized them. They said nothing to anyone. All disciples fail. All disciples fail to speak or fail to act. All disciples may be restored and renewed. Even Peter. Even me. Even you.
So we come to the so-called problem of Mark’s ending. The women are silent. It’s ironic really. Jesus had spent a lot of time telling people not to speak of him earlier. “See that you say nothing to anyone” after a leper is cleansed. “He strictly ordered them that no one should know this” after a dead girl is brought to life (a prelude to a resurrection). Now’s the time to speak! Tell! Tell! Go! Tell! People aren’t speaking! There’s no problem here. The women did not remain silent. While it had fallen on them, terror was not their identity. We don’t need a long ending to know that they did not keep silent. We don’t need to look at Matthew, Luke and John to know that they did not keep silent. Everything has happened just as Jesus told them. The colt last week. The betrayal. The handing over. The death. The resurrection. You’ve heard me say that I know the validity of Jesus’ promises personally because I have known them in my life. Promises of presence. Promises of peace. Promises of transformation, of new life. Do you know what else he told them? He said, “You will all become deserters.” You will all fail me. He doesn’t leave it there though or say “Bunch of jerks.” He says, “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Our failure is not the end. The promise of restoration. The promise of renewal. Jesus told his followers of a time to come when they would be handed over to councils and beaten and brought to governors and kings because of him. He told them of a time when they were not to worry about what to say but to say whatever is given to them to say because it will be the Holy Spirit speaking. The women did not remain silent. The disciples did not remain silent.
But we end with the suspension. I’m ok with that. Resolution can be overrated I think. The thing about suspension is, that it leaves you expecting something.
As followers of Christ, we are called to live in a permanent state of expectancy. We hear of closure and talk of closure. Perhaps it’s the way we’ve learned, the way our minds have been trained. They lived happily ever after, the end kind of thing. Closure. When we come to 16:8, we recognize that Mark has left us with a question/challenge/invitation. Only the reader/hearer can bring closure. Which isn’t really closure. We can’t contain or control this risen Jesus with an ending any more than the tomb could contain him. Even the ending to this whole story is not really an ending. Not when we consider that when the “end” comes we hear a voice saying “Look I am making all things new.” He always goes before us. He always issues the call “Follow me.”
It’s never been about closure. It’s always been about expectancy. “The basic life stance of a Christian.” The basic life stance of a follower of Christ is expectancy. Expecting to see God in our day-to-day. Expecting to know God’s promises of being made new, of peace, of joy, of “God with us”, in our day-to-day. Expecting the day. Expecting the Son.
Accepting the invitation each day to go to Galilee and meet him there. It’s for all disciples. Those who have failed and are unsure of the way back. Those who have faithfully followed but on whom fear has fallen and made us silent. Each of us has failed Jesus. I have failed Jesus. I am failing Jesus. That need not be the end/non-end of our story. Let us not wallow or withdraw into our failures. Let us go back to Galilee. Let us go back to where we started. It’s where we started our Lenten journey back at the beginning of March. We said we’re going back to Galilee. We finish in the same place. Let us go to Galilee, for he is going before us and will meet us there.
This invitation is enough to make me want to weep for joy. Let us go back to the place where we first met him. Let us go back to the place where he first called us and we dropped everything to follow. Let us go back to the place where we saw him heal and make whole and bring new life. Let us go back to the place where Jesus healed us and freed us from our demons. He’s going before us and will meet us there in the everydayness of our lives and we can all go along together. Don’t you want to go?
The story doesn’t end and the question is always before us. Whether we first answered Jesus’ call years ago or we’re answering it for the first time today, may the good news story of grace and life continue to be told by each and every one of us, and may this be true for us all. He is risen, beloved sisters and brothers.