Psalm 118:14-24, Mark 16:1-8
Easter Sunday, 2006
I was glad to read the Easter Story today from the Gospel of Mark. That was one of the lectionary suggestions, along with the account from John. I hope you’ll take time to read John later. As I’ve said for the past couple of weeks, John “fills in” a lot of these stories. He gives us more of the dialogue, the emotions, and the drama. (I think I’ll make that your assignment for next week. And yes, there will be a test!)
Mark’s Gospel has some interesting qualities as well. His was probably the earliest account of the story of Jesus. It was most likely written prior to the fall of Jerusalem in the year A.D. 70. The Jews’ longing for political freedom led them to further rebellion against Rome. And eventually the Romans said “enough” and in the year 70, Titus brought in the Roman legions and leveled Jerusalem. Not one stone was left upon another in the Temple – just as Jesus had said! (That was the time of the siege of Masada, if you remember that story.) So if Mark’s Gospel was written prior to that time, that places it within a couple of decades of Jesus’ resurrection.
It was also said that this Gospel was written in Rome by John Mark, who was a companion of Peter. And it was said to be a compilation of Peter’s preaching. Each Gospel writer had a particular reason for writing and each had a different emphasis. Mark’s Gospel, being the earliest, was written as an “eye-witness” account. That makes sense if he were writing it from Peter’s perspective, since Peter was an actual witness to the life and ministry of Jesus.
So Mark’s Gospel was thought to be the pure, straight-forward story of Jesus as the Son of God on earth. That made it different than Matthew, for example, whose reason for writing was to prove to the Jewish people that Jesus was their Messiah as predicted in the Old Testament. Matthew’s Gospel is full of Old Testament references. There are very few in Mark.
Mark’s Gospel is not just a series of facts and stories, though. In it we do find some interesting drama and some very powerful irony. For example, Mark sets the story of Peter’s denial simultaneously with the trial of Jesus before the high priest. That means when the priests and elders are mocking Jesus, covering his face and striking him and saying, “Prophecy! Tell us who hit you that time,” at the same time in the courtyard below, one of Jesus’ prophecies was actually coming true, as Peter was denying before a servant girl that he even knew who Jesus was! How dramatic is that! And who but a companion of Peter himself would know that story so well?
Today I want us to concentrate on another dramatic part of Mark’s Gospel. And it has to do with the way it ends. You see, the other writers take us beyond Easter morning. They tell us what happens in the days after that. Mark ends right where we ended today. The women go to the tomb of Jesus early in the morning. They see a vision of angels. And they flee from the tomb with trembling and astonishment, and tell no one about it.
That’s where Mark’s gospel ends. Now, it you look in your Bible, you will find several different “additional endings.” In your pew Bibles, it says, “The Shorter ending to Mark” and then “The Longer ending to Mark.” And some versions just include it all, and make no notations about it. In wanting to give the readers a sense of the continuing story of Easter, some of the teachers and scribes of the time added the stories that followed our passage – perhaps even from the personal writings of Peter or Mark. But they were not part of the original Gospel. Mark ended his account of the life of Jesus with the words, “But they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
I want you to think about those words. Because there is another interesting thing in Mark’s Gospel. I know this is getting to be a lecture on Mark’s Gospel. But bear with me. There’s a reason for all this. The interesting thing is this. In Mark we find again and again that Jesus kept secret his identity as the Messiah, the Son of God until the time was right. People who were touched by Jesus in various ways were told not to tell anyone. The timing of all this was very important to him. And I think we have to agree. If he came on the scene saying right off the bat, “Hey everyone! I’m the Son of God,” how well would that have gone over?
So there is this sense of timing. There is this secret about his identity. There is this constant injunction not to tell anyone who recognized who he really was. But, what happened when he said that? What did the people he told not to tell do? They went and told! That’s what they did!
Then, when did he finally acknowledge publicly that he was who he was? When did he finally say it straight out? It was at his (what?) his trial! And ironically, that is the very thing that got him (what?) condemned! You know this story!
So throughout this Gospel we have Jesus telling people not to tell, and they went and told. Then, on Easter morning, the opposite happens. For the first time people are told to go and tell, and they did what? They told (?) no one! And as the question was asked once in a lecture I heard on Mark’s Gospel, “Who does that leave to do the telling?” The readers!! That’s us!!! We are the ones to tell. A good case has been made that that’s exactly what Mark intended! Isn’t that great?
Now, there’s a further twist here. Mark has the women telling no one, but it was not because they didn’t believe! That was the case in the other Gospels. And the initial unbelief was on the part of the disciples, not the women! (All the women here are going “Yes!”) Remember in Luke’s account, the disciples thought the women’s story to be “an idle tale” – a “fairy tale” – “And they did not believe them.”
Instead, Mark sets in the story of these women on Easter morning not in the context of unbelief, but in the context of courage. They told no one, not because they didn’t believe it, but because they were afraid. That’s very important to see! So when we the readers – the ones who are left to tell the story – go and do so, we have to have the courage to tell. Do we?
That is the question for today. That is the challenge of this wonderful celebration of Easter. Do we have the courage to tell the story? We might be quick to say ‘Yes.’ But I wonder. And if we are afraid, why is that? Is it that people won’t believe us? Is it that there is an aversion in our world to the message of Jesus? And we are afraid of offending someone? Are we simply afraid of what someone else will think of us? Are we afraid of ridicule? Or are we afraid of being labeled a certain way?
Let me tell you that such fears are real. We can’t dismiss them. In fact, we need to acknowledge that there are real fears to overcome. Then we need to ask God for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that we may have the boldness to tell the story. Because you have to know that the women in this story didn’t have a “corner on the market” of being afraid. Look at the disciples. They were hiding on that Easter morning for fear that they were next after Jesus had been done away with. Even after they had come to believe, still they were not sure of themselves. They weren’t sure where all this was going. And it wasn’t until the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost that they were given the boldness and courage to tell the story. I want to talk more about that on Pentecost Sunday, but for now, know that the courage to tell the story comes from that same Spirit inside of us. That’s what we need to seek.
It was through the power of God’s Spirit that these people long ago overcame the fear and had the courage to tell the story. And they went out and literally changed the world. So I ask you today, is your life changed by this story? And then, do you feel the Spirit inside of you, giving you the courage to tell the story and to change your world? The Lord is risen. May we have that courage, that strength, and that boldness we need to tell that good news!
Eternal God we are amazed at this story. It is amazing that you became one of us, and you became the atonement for us. The news of our risen and living Lord is incredibly wonderful. Help us to know the touch and the indwelling of your Holy Spirit. Through your power, give us courage to tell the story. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.