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Easter B April 8, 2012.

`The End is where we start from’i        
Mark 16:1-8

by Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Well, in the blunt words (not mine)
of one of the commentators on  the Gospel of Mark, ii
that looks like a ‘botched ending’!

What did Mark mean
“they fled from the tomb, terrified, and told no-one.”??
Is that any way to end “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God?” (Mark 1:1)
And, is this the Gospel we should be reading today, of all days?
God bless the lectionary compilers,
they did give us an alternative:
read John’s Gospel,
it’s much more ‘scenic,’ complete,
mysterious yet jubilant, epic even.
But, this is Mark’s lectionary year.
He mapped out the journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem.
He told us  about Jesus’ palm parade into the city.
He told us the horror story of Jesus’ arrest,
of the kangaroo court trial,
and execution on Black, Long, Holy, Good Friday.

Surely he can be trusted to tell us the Easter story too?
-that Jesus rose, that the world exploded in daffodils and butterflies, and brilliant sunrise,
-that Love and life have the victory over evil and death,
-that there were encounters of the holiest kind with a risen lord,
-whose resurrection was proclaimed to the ends of the earth by faithful followers?

Mais, Elles s’enfuirent, bouleversées, et ne dirent rien à personne, à cause de leur effroi.
Qu’est-ce-que c’est-ca?  C’est tout? Vraiment?
That’s it? That’s all?

Well it does depend on your Bible.
When Mark wrote it, that’s where he stopped.
Three women, holding spices, struck dumb with terror
at the sight of a rolled stone, a man in white, and an empty tomb.
Other ‘helpful’ souls, sometime, soon or centuries later,
added more ‘happy,’  more complete endings to Mark,
and there they sit in our bibles,
like badly fitting prosthetic limbs,
full of good intention,
but incapable of bearing the weight of this
strange Gospel of Jesus Christ
that draws us here, today,
especially today.

But, it’s all there, if we look,
it’s not quite what we’ve come to expect,
not at all the majestic, triumphalist version
of the Easter spectacular
that we make for ourselves to ‘pep’ rally ourselves
into  resurrection.

But it’s all there.

And it’s all there in a lean package
that holds more truth than we normally
allow ourselves on this Easter Day.
Mark’s version is stark and startling,
but if truth be told, it’s more like ‘our version’
of resurrection.

Many of us have trouble with Easter,
even though we wish we didn’t.
Resurrection.
Dead bodies coming back to life.
Death’s defeat in the dazzling darkness
of a stone tomb.

Many of us, if we look into our hearts,
find a closer affinity with the absent ones
in Mark’s tale than with anyone else:
those disciples who haven’t been seen or heard of since
the arrest of Jesus, four days earlier.
Those followers, who having watched, heard, walked with
the charismatic, healer, teacher, disturber of empire,
slip fearfully back into the shadows
when the cost of being seen with him,
of following him becomes too high.

Many of us with longer teeth,
and more decades behind us than ahead of us
know too well how ashen
many of the world’s, our governments’, our gurus’
promises of justice, of wholeness, of wellness can be.

Many of us find ourselves among the women
holding spice jars, linens, and ointment.
Like them, we know too well in our bones,
our too-human experience,
that death is final.
There is no coming back in flesh and bone.
If we allow ourselves,
we applaud their gentle, grieving, tending to the past.
We wish we had their courage,
to make the journey inside the tomb
where hope and future,
and dreams of a world more just
are supposedly laying, dead,
decaying naturally in the Spring softness behind an immovable stone.

Oh, Mark’s Gospel  has us written in it, all over it,
and nowhere more completely
than in this odd, empty, resurrection
filled with silence and fear.

Mark has our number perfectly:
We don’t get why this horrible death
has to be part of the story,
because for the life of us, we, like the fearful and the absent ones
have no clue how to deal with something as alien to our experience as
resurrection.

But, does resurrection have to be only
about certainty, song and dance?
Daffodils and lilies, butterflies and eggshells?

Not according to Mark.
Resurrection, according to Mark,
is silencing, at least at first.
It’s frightening, at least at first.
It’s…. unknowable, non-categorical,
it’s an emptiness and an absence
before it becomes anything else.

“Look at the place where his body lay,” said the young man,
“He is not here.”
We don’t get to see a resurrected Jesus in this Gospel,
there are no hands and feet with nail marks,
no touching encounters in a garden, or an upper room,
or beside a lake with a meal of barbecued fish.

Just a promise.
“He has gone ahead of you to Galilee,
just as he said he would.”

If you want a clue that this is no ‘botched’ ending; this is it.
Galilee, for Mark, is where it all began.
Mark’s ending takes us back to “where we started,
knowing the place for the first time.” (T.S.Eliot. Little Gidding)

Jesus burst onto the world stage in Galilee,
preaching a dream of a kinship with God
that crashes barriers to the ground,
that has no prerequisites other than the compulsion
within the heart of God
to enact with us a reconciling relationship.

And now?
The immovable stone is moved.
The tomb of death is empty.
Mark is doing what he did at the beginning of his Gospel.
Gate-crashing the world with the in-breaking, remaking,
world-restoring action of God.
Only this time, God has crashed the barrier of death.
The dream will not die with Jesus on a Roman cross.
It will not decay in a stone tomb,
no spices are needed to mask the stench of failure.
For it is not over.

“Go back to Galilee.
There you will see him,
just as he promised.”
Not in a Jerusalem tomb,
but in your own lives,
your own Galilee,
your own home.

Resurrection.
The action of God to bring forth life from death.
It bursts out of the tombs of our own failures,
our own terrors, our own fears,
our own questions,
our own deaths.
It begins, silent at first,
tight budded against the cold,
until it bursts open,
golden, in the light of the sun/Son,
and hurls the wild seed of futures
yet to be imagined,
yet to be lived.

“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.”          
T.S.Eliot.  Little Gidding.  The Four Quartets. (1944).


iT.S. Eliot. “Little Gidding” Four Quartets ( 1944). The fifth stanza of Little Gidding, written in World War II Britian undergirds this sermon, and is quoted at the end.


iiDavid Lose, “Just the beginning” www.workingpreacher.org

 

 

©  Elisabeth R. Jones               April 2012

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