Mark 16:1-8
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 31, 2024
Easter (10:00 a.m.)

Mark’s Gospel starts by announcing the title for the whole of it: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ”.  The beginning?  Apparently, Mark sees that good news, not just as something that got done years ago at Easter, but as something that has just begun – and is ongoing to this day.  Actually, Mark sees the good news, not so much as something that happened once, but as Someone who’s still alive and around – Someone who’s raised up from the ground, on the move and mighty in uplifting individuals and communities.

If there’s no real end to the unfolding of this good news, it is fitting that, in the oldest and thus most-to-be-trusted ancient manuscripts of Mark, there’s no real end to the Gospel.  In the original Greek it stops mid-sentence in verse 16:8; it quits the story before telling us much of what the other three Gospels tell us about Easter Day.  Scholars debate whether this Gospel’s original ending just got lost or the Gospel was intentionally written with an abrupt conclusion that leaves a lot up in the air.  Who knows?  But I like to think that the quick cutting off of the story line was purposeful.  For, just as the crucifixion seemed to have ended Jesus’ story but did not, so the resurrection seemed to have ended His story, but did not.  Mark’s sudden end suggests the story of the resurrection is still being written.  Jesus is still living and loving people, and seeking to put His resurrection life into theirs.

Mark’s brief description of Easter Day is brutally honest and very real.  Though the women found the tomb empty and were told He’d risen, the Gospel describes them as “alarmed” more than gladdened, seized more by “terror and amazement” than by joy and celebration.  Also, though they were instructed at the tomb to “go, tell the disciples and Peter” that Jesus is “going ahead of” them to Galilee, the women “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid”.

How hard it must have been for them to believe their eyes and ears! What they saw and heard would’ve seemed too good to be true.  And they were not alone in the struggle to believe.  The supplement to Mark, later added to it, noted that a number of disciples “doubted” and that Jesus “upbraided them for their lack of faith”.

Many of us struggle to believe in the resurrection’s reality.  We might at times wonder whether cosmologist Stephen Hawking was right in calling the Christian faith “a fairy tale for those afraid of the dark”.  Of course, we might also wonder whether a dogmatic denial of the resurrection is a fairy tale for those afraid of being held accountable by a living God more powerful than death.  Likewise, we might doubt whether Jesus really is alive and around when we often seek Him and don’t find Him.  Of course, we might also doubt our doubts when we hear honest, sane people swear they’ve made personal contact with Him.  There are reasons to have faith, and reasons to have skepticism.  But maybe that’s just how Jesus wanted it; for, though He longs for a friendship with every last one of us, He’d never compromise our freedom of choice by allowing the weight of evidence to apply pressure on us in one direction.  With aching longing, He just waits upon our decision, hoping we’ll give Him a try, if only as a last desperate resort.

Joy Davidman was a poet.  She was also an atheist, not because she had thought it out, but because almost everyone she knew was one.  The closest thing she had to a religion was her political allegiance because it struck her as the best way to advance the cause of justice.

Joy had married a fellow writer who, she later found out, was battling depression and alcoholism.  One day Bill called Joy, told her he was having a breakdown, and then hung up abruptly.  She and others spent the day frantically looking for him.  By nightfall, there was nothing to do but to wait and see if he’d turn up alive or dead by his own hand.  She put the children to bed and sat in the living room in a dazed silence – only to be surprised by an unexpected visitor.  She described His arrival this way: “For the first time in my life, I felt helpless; for the first time, my pride was forced to admit that I was not…the master of my fate and the captain of my soul.  All my defenses…all the walls of arrogance and cockiness and self-love behind which I’d hid from God…went down…and God came in…There was a Person with me in that room, directly present to my consciousness—a Person so real that all my previous life was by comparison a mere shadow play, and I was more alive than I’d ever been.”

Many of us here have, we believe, met the Person whom Joy met that night.  It is Jesus – raised up, on the move and mighty in taking people as they are and making them better than they were, that they in turn might make this world better for all.  Many of us have experienced His doing more for us than any other person ever did and His expanding our capacity to help others and make a difference in the world.  We resonate, as I think Joy Davidman would have, with what N.T. Wright once said: “The resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project, not to snatch people away from earth up to heaven, but to colonize earth with the life of heaven.”  Jesus blesses us by putting His life into us and that enables us to bless others against all odds.

Many historians have scratched their heads over why such an incredibly high percentage of Africans brought to this continent as slaves adopted the faith of their oppressors, especially when their oppressors cherry-picked its holy book to justify the evil they were perpetrating and to pacify their victims.  Scholars Emerson Powery and Rodney Sadler Jr. deal with that question in their book The Genesis of Liberation.  In his review Dante Steward sees their findings as confirming the reality and power of Jesus’ resurrection.  The slaves encountered a living Jesus and fell in love with Him.  They found in Him, not just an otherworldly God who offers spiritual blessings, but a here-and-now God who cares passionately for the oppressed and acts to deliver them.  They found in Jesus a suffering Savior with whose life and struggles they could identify.  They experienced His companionship and His empowerment, and it enabled them to resist evil and eventually move the world to become more just, compassionate and righteous.  African-American followers of Jesus, with enslaved ancestors, led the Civil Rights movement and today are leaders in the fight for the equality of all.

Jesus puts into all who open their hearts to Him His resurrection life, that they, like those Easter morning women, might overcome their fear and end up strong and bold in telling His good news and in advancing His loving purposes wherever they can.

Won’t you this Easter open your heart to Jesus to see if He is indeed raised up, on the move and mighty in blessing people and the world?

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