Sunday, April 8, 2012

Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Mark 16:1-8
Other options: Isaiah 25:6-9; John 20:1-18

I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of Jehovah.

Peter and Paul may have disagreed on certain aspects of the burgeoning new faith that begins and ends in Jesus Christ, but one thing is the same: both understand that Christ died that we might live to be witnesses to God’s great works.

The passage we have from Mark is hard to read because it ends so abruptly. The final sentence says, “And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.” The women were too afraid to say anything to the others. Now, obviously someone figured it out. Matthew and Luke tell us that they did report what they saw at the tomb to the disciples. John tells us the story from Mary’s perspective. But in Mark, we are left hanging.

There are eight more verses that neatly tie up the story, but there is some controversy over whether those verses were part of the original text. There is another verse that is found between verses 8 and 9 in some manuscripts, that says, “And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” Again, this verse helps to alleviate the abruptness of Mark’s story.

These verses are helpful, but ending at verse 8 serves a purpose, especially for those who heard Mark’s story in the beginning. See, Mark was a storyteller. The book was not written at first, but was told orally over and over again. It was a story that developed over time. Imagine that Mark was a youngster (there is some suggestion that Mark’s mother owned the upper room, so it is possible that he served as a water boy on the night of the Last Supper) at the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The disciples stayed in the room for some time after the crucifixion. Mark may have overheard their stories, learned them by heart, and then repeated them to others.

You know how it is… when someone we love dies, we sit around in the living room and we tell stories. “Do you remember that time when Jesus…?” “Jesus always liked to say…” They worked out their grief through those stories. They worked out their understanding through those stories. And the storytelling surely went on after Jesus appeared to them, and then long afterward. Mark could see in the conversations of Peter and the disciples that the experience of being with Jesus was something to be shared. You could not believe in Jesus and remain silent.

And so he took all those stories and told them to others. I can imagine a group of people sitting around a living room, anxiously awaiting to hear about this One that was raised from the dead: seekers in search of the truth. As Mark tells the story, we are held mesmerized by the immediacy of Jesus’ ministry. I have seen people hearing this story told as it was in Mark’s day sitting on the edge of their seat in hopeful expectation. We can sense the fear and amazement of the disciples. We can feel the anger of the leaders. We are aware of the confusion and doubt in the crowds.

And then, after about two hours of storytelling, Mark says, “And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.” How would react? I can see the crowd erupting with questions and opinions. I can see them wondering what happened next. I can see them accepting the story and promising to take it to others. I can see them praying, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of Jehovah.” There may be good purpose for adding the final verses we see in the book of Mark, because we are no longer hearing that story told directly from witnesses. Something had to happen after the women were afraid or we would not be Christian today.

But let us, for a moment, see that by ending the story so abruptly, Mark is inviting the hearers into the story. What happens next? You are like one of those women at the tomb. What do you do? Do you take the story to another or do you run and hide out of fear? Do you join with Mark, Peter and Paul by sharing what happened so that others might believe?

In Midweek Oasis I usually discuss all the scriptures for Sunday in more depth, but there’s something about Easter that does not really need my babbling. We all know the story. We all know what happens on Easter. It is particularly hard to write about it today, even before we’ve experienced the Last Supper and the Cross later this week. Should we say “Alleluia” already, even though we aren’t really finished with Lent and the Three Days? You can certainly go back into the archives and read what I wrote in 2009, 2006 and 2003. But for this day, I think we will end as abruptly as Mark ends the Gospel lesson: “And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.”

Where do we go from here? Do we let fear rule our hearts? Do we fall back into all the old habits we gave up for Lent, gorging on chocolate and expensive coffee and wasting time playing computer games? Or do we follow the example of those first witnesses, overcoming our fear to tell the stories of Jesus so that the world might believe? It is our story to write, and you are the next chapter. What will you do after this Easter Sunday? Christ has assured that you will not die, but live. Now, will you declare the works of Jehovah?

Back to Midweek Oasis Index Page