How will you continue the story?

Mark 16:1-8
April 19 & 20, 2003
Pastor Wesley White
Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church
323 Fifth Avenue, West Bend, WI
262.334.2059 -

Eye witness reports are notoriously contradictory. Everyone sees an event from a different perspective, a different experiential base, a different emotional state, and with a different agenda. The four gospel stories about Jesus' resurrection bring four different accounts. Matthew has Jesus passing on his authority to the disciples to go and make more disciples. Luke has Jesus blessing the disciples and then ascending. The disciples return to Jerusalem and Luke has us set up for his next part of the story,The Acts of the Apostles. John has that beautiful story of Mary Magdalene in the garden and redeems the betrayal of Peter through forgiveness and giving Peter the task to care for others.

Those are three different pictures of the end of the story. Mark's ending stands apart from these others in that we never see the resurrected Christ. Oh, if you look in the pew Bible or your Bible at home you will find several endings with stories about Jesus sending the disciples, like Matthew did, and ascending, like Luke did, and a caring for people, like John did. But these are all later additions by the church.

The oldest manuscripts we have in our possession simply end with the women having been given a task, to tell the other disciples to go to Galilee, and their being to scared to tell anyone what they had be an eye witness to.

On this Easter, when we read the appointed text from Mark have to face up to an Easter celebration coming later than scheduled.

The weather these past couple of days has not been very Eastery. Though the war in Iraq is formally done, there is a long way to go before we find better Easter way of caring for others. We are in a non-job related phase of economic recovery and for many out of work or fearful for their jobs this is not a time of Easter. For some there have been deaths in the family and other difficulties. Others are still caught up with having been betrayed and can't shake that experience. Lots of people can relate to the response of the women as Mark describes their terror and how they ran away and curled up and wouldn't relate to anyone.

There was a CBS poll this last week that asked about various holidays. It turns out, according to this poll that Easter is the boringest holiday.It is only for kids with Easter egg hunts.There aren't any sporting events. School holidays no longer revolve around it with some coming a couple of weeks before or after Easter. There aren't presents associated with it or a public expectation that you'll go home for turkey. Even the Church can't agree about Easter. Today is Easter for the Western Church but the Orthodox in the East won't celebrate until next Sunday and some years our Easters are more than a week apart. Pretty confusing, pretty boring. And, besides, we are more interested in immortality than we are in resurrection.

One sign of our not knowing what to do with resurrection comes with our giving patterns. We tend to not think about death and to think we will live forever and so we can always be in charge of our resources. As a result we put off making wills and we refuse to look at giving the work of Christ's Church a tithe or 10% of our resources as a minimum goal.

Given a choice between Easter being scary because it changes our relationship to our usual routines or Easter being boring and only for kids with bunnies and eggs - I would choose a scary Easter.

Do you remember how the women were going along with their regular routine? Somebody dies, we go take care of the body. As they were doing that their worries were on their task and how they were going to move the stone. Finally they look up and find the stone moved away. Uh-oh. Then they go in to do what they had come to do. As their eyes adjust to the dim light they sense another person there. Uh-oh. Then the shock, the announcement, that their usual task is no longer needed, their life is to go in an entirely different direction. They are no longer to worry about the routine of life, but to tell about new life. Uh-oh. In fact, more than "uh-oh" it becomes "A-a-a-a-a-a!

Obviously we are remembering this story. At some point the women told how they had been set from the usual worries of life and found new meaning in resurrection. They were no longer trying to figure out how to get by or how to live one extra day. Now they were finding eternal meaning in everyday encounters and care for people. They were willing to live vibrantly right now rather than worry about what was to come.

Mark begin his gospel with these words, "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ." Mark's surprise ending that is no ending that resolves everything into a moral or a point leaves us with the unspoken words, "The beginning of the rest of the story of the good new of Jesus Christ." Mark pushes us to make the same kind of changes in our life that the women finally made in their life-to tell what resurrection means to us.

You may remember the old TV series, MASH.  There was an episode about how boring things could get in between the frenzied moments in surgery.  In one such episode, BJ receives a care package with a mystery novel in it - "The Rooster Crowed at Midnight" - which everyone wanted to read.  As BJ finishes each chapter, he tears it out of the book and passes it on through the line of people who want to read the book.  The problem is that when he gets to the end, the last page is missing!  Seems like the book breaks off with "the murderer is..."  Everyone goes crazy trying to sort out how the book should end.  They finally try calling the author, but she is an older woman who has written so many mystery novels, that she doesn't remember how this one ended and gives them the wrong answer. 

The point that interested me was how missing the end of the story totally energized the MASH unit and kept them engaged with the mystery book for a long time after.

Sometimes we want the Easter story to be all wrapped up nice and pretty. Then we can be done with it and move on with our lives with barely another thought.  I think there is a method in Mark's madness of not writing an ending to the story.  It leaves things hanging and reminds us that the story is still being lived out and that we need to be part of the ending. It keeps us engaged.

So what has been worrying your recently? It is good to remember that just like the stone was rolled away for the women going to care for Jesus' body, GOD is up to taking care of whatever you are worrying about. What your are worrying about, simply will become a non-issue. Thanks be to GOD for rolling stones away, caring for our worries.

At the same time, when we cast away our cares and worries we are left uncertain. At least before we always had something we could talk about or use as an excuse. Now life needs to be purposeful beyond worry. This is scary. In fact we may not be up to dealing with radical thoughts beyond worry. We may be so addicted to our usual ways of living that to do anything different is very scary, even terrifying.

And just as we know the women finally were able to tell folks about going to Galilee, we are encouraged that being scared to try something new is not the end of the story. It may be where Mark left us, but obviously there is more or we wouldn't remember the scary part.

One way of thinking about going to Galilee is to think about going home. Jesus' ministry began in Galilee. Many of the disciples came from Galilee. Jesus is going ahead of us to our homes and will be asking us to change from living in worry to helping him continue the story of life in all its fullness.

When we consider continuing Jesus' life through our life, Easter certainly stops being boring. Imagine that you are going to be the spokesperson for the GOD who loving created everything and called it "good" and who has steadfastly loved us ever since, even when we do such silly things as killing those we disagree with. Imagine singing to everyone you meet, "Jesus loves you, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." Imagine living at home, with the people who know you best, a life that didn't worry but did the planning that was necessary and didn't postpone what was necessary and was joyful because the worry stone in your life was shown to be no trouble at all and you have been given a renewed purpose to make a difference in the world around you.

Instead of coming to hear a completed story about Jesus, Mark's non-ending has helped us know that we have a part in the rest of the story. The only question is how long it is going to take us to join in the immense fun of resurrection and intentionally investing our lives in a better future.

May GOD bless you to live beyond your worries. May GOD bless you to live beyond your scared. May GOD bless you to an enthusiastic joy of resurrection instead of the static control of immortality. No matter how long it takes, may GOD bless you into being a blessing for others.