How to Be a Disciple: Choose good news
This morning’s story is from the final chapter of Mark, the first eight verses. And I bet you know it. At least, I bet you think you know it. But you might be surprised. As I’ve reminded you several times, each gospel author tells the Jesus story a little differently, and that’s true even of the resurrection accounts. So as you listen this morning, notice what’s missing from this story, and especially notice how it ends. “So let us listen now in the reading of scripture for the word and the wisdom of God.” – Iona Community Worship Book
Scripture Readings: Mark 16:1-8
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
This the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
“Trembling and bewildered the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” The end. Wait. What?! That doesn’t sound like the resurrection story! What is going on here?
Well, I’ll tell you: we don’t know. There are 12 more verses in Mark after this that sound a little more like what we’re used to hearing in the Easter Story. But it’s clear that they were added after the first draft of the book was already done. They don’t show up in the earliest copies of the gospel, they don’t flow with where the story leaves off at verse 8, and they reference things that happen a lot later. Bible scholars wonder if Mark’s original ending got torn off and lost somehow. We don’t know. But I think it’s wonderfully appropriate this this is the version of the resurrection that we are reading this year.
Because this gospel ends with uncertainty. Who is this man in white? Is he telling the truth? Is this a hoax or is Jesus really alive? What is going on? The women don’t know and so they flee. They run away from this uncertainty and the story ends with, “they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” They said nothing. To anyone. Because they were afraid.
The resurrection has happened (or has it?) but no one is going to hear about it because the followers of Jesus are afraid. Resurrection is too good to be true and these gals know it. They’re not going to be tricked. They’re not going to look like fools. Given a choice between good news and bad news, they pick the bad news and they run away.
And you know what? I don’t blame them. I understand this impulse. I too feel the need to be “prepared” for the worst. I am skeptical, sometimes even cynical, of news that seems too good to be true. I want to be realistic. I don’t want to look like a fool. And I don’t want to be disappointed. So I build up walls around my heart that block out joy. I refuse to be too happy. I find it hard to fully revel in my love for my husband and baby without also worrying that something might happen to them. Trusting good news and being joyful makes you vulnerable to disappointment. I protect myself from disappointment by shutting out the joy.
On Easter Sunday morning, when there’s plenty of bad news to be found, let me remind you that it takes great courage to trust good news. It takes great courage to trust in the resurrection. When we trust something or someone, when we love someone, we become vulnerable to them. It’s very fashionable in our culture to be skeptical, to be cynical, to be sarcastic and snide and too cool. It feels stronger and safer to expect the worst. But resurrection invites us to expect the best. Resurrection is the promise that something good is always possible. It is the invitation to keep hoping, to trust again when we’ve already been disappointed. THAT takes true strength, true courage.
This ending to the gospel of Mark is consistent with the rest of the book. Throughout this whole story, Jesus’ disciples have been screwing up. They miss the point of his stories and lessons. They don’t understand his teaching and they’re afraid to ask him to clarify it. They squabble with each other for power and influence. They push away the people that Jesus wants to welcome. And finally, when Jesus needs them most, they abandon him. So of course Mark is going to finish this story with the statement that the women didn’t tell anyone because they were afraid. These disciples are going to screw up. And yet, and yet, Jesus keeps choosing these disciples. He keeps calling them. He keeps trusting them, even when they’ve disappointed him over and over.
The resurrection is not only an invitation for us to trust Jesus. It is also a declaration that Jesus trusts us. He trusts us to carry his message, to eventually share his good news, even if takes us a minute to get over our fear. Jesus wasn’t resurrected in a public blaze of glory. It happened in the middle of the night while nobody was looking. He didn’t leave a long chain of irrefutable evidence, just a proclamation to some ordinary women. Rabbi Abraham Heschel says, “There is no proof of God. There are only witnesses.” We are the evidence of the resurrection. The testimony of our changed lives is the proof of the good news. If Jesus really wanted to make sure that everyone in the world was fully convinced that he was the resurrected Son of God, he could have arranged that. Instead, he decided to work slowly and small-ly, through ordinary people who had to choose to trust what they had seen and heard and experienced, and then proclaim it others.
Ultimately, we write the end to this very ambiguous gospel of Mark. What happens now is up to us. Will we trust resurrection, or will we hunker down in fear? Will we proclaim the good news that Jesus has entrusted to us, or will we keep it to ourselves? This year, this uncertain spring, this unusual Easter, we get to choose the end of the story. Jesus has already demonstrated his trust in us. Will we choose to trust him? Will we trust that something good, something amazing, is indeed possible? Perhaps even right around the corner. This year, will we choose hope, and just as importantly, will we choose to share that hope with others?
Because that’s the invitation of resurrection. Hope. Trust. Vulnerability. And testimony. In the midst of an uncertain world, we proclaim that something good is always possible. And we know it because something good has happened in us.
Something good has happened not only in us as individuals, but in us as a community. In us as the body of Christ, as God’s partners for good in the world, as the gathered people of God. This morning we want to affirm our unity by celebrating communion together. If you are uncomfortable with celebrating communion this way, by all means follow you own conscience. But I’ll tell you why I’m still willing to celebrate it even online.
First because the church has always adapted to a changing world. For thousands of years our ancestors in the faith have changed their methods of proclamation to speak to the culture they were in. This morning we are simply adapting to a new environment.
Next, I will celebrate this way because we are still gathered with the wider church as much as we have ever been. Each time we celebrate Communion, we do it with the whole church, all around the world, past, present and future. That is still true today. In this season of isolation, I have often found myself feeling more aware of the communion of all the saints. We have to reach out further with our spirits when we don’t have so many people immediately around us.
Finally, I’m willing to celebrate an online communion because Jesus is not tied to this table. I recognize that we come from various traditions and so we may think differently about this, but for me, the presence of Jesus isn’t only in this bread and this cup. Christ’s presence is in the story, in our prayers, and in our connection to one another.
So this morning, although we are scattered, we are still gathered. We are still one in the Christ whose resurrection we celebrate this morning. This meal is the most ancient of Christian traditions and this morning we do this not only in remembrance, in looking back, but also in hope, in looking forward to something good that we know is coming.
Because, my beloved gathered scattered friends, as our ancestors in the faith have insisted for hundreds of years, THIS is the joyful feast of the people of God, where people of all genders, all ages, and all races—people in every type of body—people from the east and the west, from the north and the south, gather wherever they are and affirm that Christ is the host at all our tables.