April 8, 2018: Seeing Jesus wk 1
Mark 16: 1-8
What Comes Next?
So today we begin our series looking at how we can see Jesus in our midst. We’re going to look at the stories of the Resurrection in the Gospels; the stories of Jesus interacting with the disciples. We will look at how they recognized that they were talking to Jesus, and what lessons we might learn from that. But we’re going to start off by looking at the Gospel of Mark. And I want you to recognize that in the Gospel of Mark‘s Easter story it is not the disciples who see Jesus but rather that you as the reader are the one who is experiencing the risen Christ in the text. I want you to see how the reader supposed to see Jesus in the study of Scripture, and in the things around us.
Mark 16: 1-8, which is the understood real ending to the Gospel of Mark (some scribe added some things later on, but this is where most scholars believe that the author of the Gospel of Mark wanted to end his gospel). And it is strange. In this version of the Easter story there is no Jesus sighting. And the women were told to go and tell the disciples, but we’re told they say nothing to no one for they were afraid. That’s not really right. The Gospel of Mark, the actual literal translation, is closer to “they were afraid for…” And that’s it. It ends on the preposition. It is almost like it’s not supposed to end. Yet, most scholars agree it does. It ends on an anti-climax; which is a literary term that basically means that the story gets to where the climax should start and then goes off a cliff. So it gets to the point where the knight is going to rescue the princess in the big tower, and he gets to the tower, and he sees the dragon, and decides that’s too hard and returns home. There’s an anti-climax to it; a story that abruptly ends when it should be ratcheting up.
And it begs the question of why. Actually, it begs two questions of why. The first is why write this at all? Why not just end with the crucifixion? If this is the way you’re going to write the Easter story; with no Jesus, with no telling of anyone; then why even tell it at all? Why not end with the crucifixion like Jesus Christ Superstar does? Some of you watched that on Easter. That play doesn’t get into the resurrection story. It’s a perfectly fine ending. There’s a lot of our theology built around the crucifixion. There’s a lot of our theology on the actual death of Jesus. Paul even stated he was preaching the Christ only, and Him crucified. If you’re going to treat Easter like this, why write it at all?
I think one of the main reasons that Mark writes this ending is because it teaches that Jesus overrides failures. You see, the story is present from the male author of the Gospel of Mark only because the women do finally tell someone. Otherwise it would’ve gone to the grave with the women. Secondly, Mark is a part of a church, and Mark is writing to a church that is going to read it; which indicates that the church exists. Which indicates that at some point the disciples must have actually moved, actually gone out, actually began to believe this to be true, actually gone and spread this news. That in spite of the failures recorded in the Gospel of Mark, the church moved forward.
You actually can see this point being made ever so slightly. In the last line of the passage, when the angels are talking to the women, they say “go and tell my disciples, especially Peter.” Now some translations translate that “ge tell my disciples and Peter.” That is a massive difference in translation, because if you say “and Peter,” then Peter maybe has lost his disciple status. Remember, he denied that he knew Jesus three times. Of course, that’s not really that much larger a crime than deserting Jesus in the garden was, which all the rest of the disciples did. But if you say “go and tell my disciples, especially Peter” is a mark of forgiveness. The Gospel shows God saying, “I am still going to work, even with the person who would deny me. I am still going to build my church on that rock.”
You see, the Holy Spirit works with these failures to do miracles. You have to see that as the reader. But you have to remember that there is a reader. The fact that you are reading this as part of a church indicates that the Holy Spirit worked with in these failures of the women, of the disciples, and the failure of Peter, to work miracles the failures. The failures point to Jesus working in the world today, not just the world two thousand years ago. It is the failures that point to Jesus, and it is through Jesus’ work in spite of us that we are able to see Jesus around us today. If you look you can see Jesus in the person sitting next to you in the pew, you can see Jesus in the way that churches interact with the community around us; both officially and unofficially. You can see Jesus in the ministry of all those were part of this church; both today and all those have been a part of the church for the last 160 years. If you look closely you can see Jesus in the lives of the names on the stained-glass windows. You can see that Jesus worked through these imperfect human beings to keep the church alive; the very church that was around to teach the kids who were here on Easter, and teach you today. That wasn’t their doing; that was Jesus working through them. And you can see the evidence of Jesus in their success.
Second why, is why end it like this? If you are going to write an Easter story, then write an Easter story. Where is Jesus in this? Where is the great commission? Where is the trip to Galilee? Where is the ascension? Where is all of Easter? And while all those scholars agree that this is where Mark wanted to end, they don’t really agree on a why he wanted to end here. Some think that maybe he got distracted. Some think that maybe he was killed before he could finish it. Some think that maybe the scroll was destroyed. Some think that maybe Mark just isn’t good with endings (get back that one in a bit). I am with the group of people who believe this to be on purpose. And that purpose is to leave you with a sense of an unfinished story, and a desire perhaps to finish it.
You see, that’s the point. The resurrection is not the end of the story, but rather just the end of the beginning. Mark shows throughout the gospel that he’s headed in this direction. Throughout the Gospel, the people who you might trust to spread the gospel; the disciples, the Gentile followers, the women, the apostles; don’t get it. We see that at the transfiguration, were Peter wants to build a tent for them. We see that it at Philippi, when Peter says you are the messiah but then tells the messiah he doesn’t understand what being the messiah means. We see here with the women who should be weeping with joy, but rather do not understand because they’re headed to find a body. Yet in the Gospel of Mark we also see that those who maybe you can’t trust to spread the gospel; demons, Romans, etc.; they do get it. When Jesus goes up to a person with a demon, the demon screams out “son of God, why are you here?” The Roman centurion, at the foot of the cross, says “surely this man was the son of God.”
Those who understand it cannot be trusted; those that can be trusted don’t understand it. Which leaves no one to spread the gospel except you. You the reader remain. You the reader have been explained the story. You the reader understand it. And you the reader are not a Roman, you are not a demon (we trust). You, the reader, can tell the story. It’s ultimately up to you to go forth and do what these women were supposed to do, but failed to do. This story is not over yet, Mark says 2000 years ago, and I tell you the story is not over yet even 2000 years later.
Some scholars have suggested that Mark was just bad at endings. But if that’s true, then he’s pretty bad at beginnings as well. You see the beginning of the Gospel of Mark doesn’t have a beautiful Christmas story; there’s no angels, there’s no wise men, there is no beautiful poem about being the word and the word becoming flesh, there’s nothing like that. Rather, the beginning of the Gospel of Mark is just simply the words “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God,” and then directly into John the Baptist. And I wonder if maybe that isn’t actually the first words of the gospel, but rather what we might call the title now. That the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist was not the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the son of God, but rather the entire gospel was the beginning. And the beginning ends with the resurrection story. Mark ends there and now asks each one of us to continue writing the story. With God’s help, with Jesus help, that’s what we do. That’s what the people in the stained-glass windows did. That’s what each one of us does. That’s with his children, who we teach, will do we continue to do. We must continue to write the story of the Gospel of Mark. So I encourage you this week, write on. Amen.