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April 16, 2017 Easter

Pastor Fowler’s Sermon for April 16

“Do Not Be Afraid! Go and Tell!  Mark 16:1-8

As a parent of two children, I have spent a lot of time watching Disney movies. Now that our children are older- Sam is 21 and Abby almost 16, I think we are officially done with the Disney movie phase. Now something I noticed through all of those movies churned out by the Disney machine- They have a formula, rarely if ever strayed from- Someone important dies or almost dies, and there’s ALWAYS a happy ending. And the Disney writers are very good at what they do- No matter how many times I have seen “Bambi”, I still get choked up when the father Buck says, “Mother isn’t coming home son.” Or in the more recent, “Princess and the Frog” when the lightning bug dies and forms a new star up in the heavens to be with his beloved Evangeline- MAN they know how to emotionally sock me in the gut! In every Disney film I have seen(And I’ve seen a LOT of them) the ending of the story is happy- The prince and princess have a big wedding and live happily ever after; the princess awakes from her bewitched slumber to the kiss of her prince; the toys in Andy’s room a)get along again b) get rescued and get played with again by a  new little toddler, Or c)are rescued from an evil stuffed bear and from the fires of hell to be played with again at a preschool, or d) find out in 2019!. You get the idea. I think that Disney does this because we like happy endings. We like our stories to be tied up in a nice neat little bow and to have everything resolved. Perhaps we like to have our stories end in such a way because in real life the stories we live out often end up not being so perfectly resolved. Today’s story from the Gospel of Mark is one such story.


Most scholars believe that Mark’s original ending to his book on the life and ministry of Jesus ended with verse 8. In fact you can see in today’s passage in your pew Bibles that very footnote at the bottom of the page. What most Biblical scholars believe, myself included is that as early as the second century Christian scribes attempted to "clean up" the second gospel by adding at least three different endings. They too wanted to have a happy ending, and so they added events which did occur after Jesus’ resurrection- but they weren’t meant to be part of Mark’s story about Jesus.




Instead, Mark ends his gospel with the remaining faithful disciples, Mary, Mary Magdalene and Salome leaving Jesus’ empty tomb in fear, and saying nothing to anyone- Hardly the ending any of us expect! I doubt Disney would pick up this story as it is written and make a feature film.


Why does Mark end this story on such a down note- that the few remaining faithful disciples leave Jesus’ empty tomb in fear and tell no one? Let’s take a closer look at this story to try to answer that question, and see what that answer means for us here and now.


We begin with a little explanation of the time line of the story in chapter 15 verses 33-39-Jesus has died on Friday afternoon, just before the beginning of the Sabbath, which means that burial preparations have had to be postponed until after sundown on Saturday. In verse 43, we read that Joseph of Arimathea asks for Jesus’ body and lays him in a tomb. Joseph is a wealthy man of high status in Jerusalem. He may have been part of the Sanhedrin council- which would mean he was involved in the conversation over whether or not to sentence Jesus to death.  By this time, however, Joseph has become a follower of Jesus.(See Matthew 27:57; John 19:38) Joseph himself buries Jesus’ body, something that should’ve been done by his disciples, just as John the Baptist’s own disciples took his body and buried it themselves.(6:29)


So, after Sabbath was over, at 6:00 p.m., three of Jesus’ followers purchase spices(no purchases were allowed during Sabbath) and come to his tomb to anoint his body for a proper burial. Although embalming was not practiced by the Jewish people in those days, spices were rubbed on a dead body as an act of devotion and love. We read in Mark 15:40 that these three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome have been with Jesus as faithful followers and caretakers of Jesus since he began his ministry in Galilee. While all the other disciples have fled or abandoned Jesus, these faithful three remain. And yet they are there to anoint his body. They assume he is dead.



Despite hearing him speak about his own death and being raised on the third day, and speaking of it three times to his followers, (8:31; 9:32; 10:33-34) these women have no expectations of anything miraculous. They are more concerned about the practicalities of their act of devotion- How would they get the stone rolled away from the tomb so that they could anoint his body? Setting a large stone in place for a tomb was a relatively easy task, but once it had slipped into the groove cut in bedrock in front of the entrance, it was very hard to move.


As the 3 women arrive, they see that the stone has already been moved. They cautiously enter the tomb and see a young man dressed in white, seated on the right hand side of the tomb. This man, sitting on the right, dressed in white tells us through his customary dress and position that he is a divine messenger, an angel. The women at first consider he is a grave robber and are alarmed. But here is the real climax of Mark’s gospel.  The divine messenger tells the women that their Lord who had been crucified has been raised. They could see for themselves that the tomb was empty. The messenger goes on to tell them that they must share this good news with Jesus’ disciples, and even with Peter, who had denied Jesus three times. Perhaps Peter had separated himself from the rest in shame. Yet here we see this wonderful extension of God’s grace. Even Peter is to know this wonderful news. The particular mention of Peter hints at the scene of reconciliation between Jesus and Peter otherwise unreported in Mark, but obviously well known to Mark's church, (Feed my sheep, tend my flock) which knows Peter as the most prominent Christian apostle. Then the angel tells them that Jesus has gone back to where it all began- to Galilee, and that the three women and the rest of the disciples will find him there.


Now comes that great scene of an emotional tear filled reunion in Galilee, when the Risen Jesus and his followers re unite, right? Cue the strings section and watch the happy ending! But the women do no better than their male predecessors.- in fear and trembling, they say nothing, for they are afraid. Jesus’ good news demands followers who are willing to have faith in more than the world we know and see. Followers of Jesus need to have their eyes focused on heavenly realities, not earthly ones. But the two Marys and Salome are just like his disciples- not of that ability to see in such a way...yet.


Why does this gospel end in such a way? If this were a Disney film, and we were in theaters, we’d be sputtering- “That’s no way to end a movie! Where’s the happy ending? I want my money back!” To end the gospel on a resounding note of failure is upsetting to those of us raised on happy endings.


Perhaps that’s the point. Ancient writing was intended to make people do something with the story they heard- to act or believe or change their behavior, not just to entertain them with a happy ending. Theologian Mary Anne Tolbert says, “The expectations raised and then crushed by the end of the Gospel are intended to move the hearers of the Gospel to action.” This Gospel, written to Mark’s church was meant to spur the listeners to action. If the women do not carry the message of Christ’s resurrection, if the male followers have all run away, who is left? Is there anyone else who knows the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Anyone else who has heard the announcement that he has been raised from the dead? Yes!


Just as it was true for those first hearers of this story, as perhaps Mark himself read to them, the gospel continues in you and in me- We ourselves are challenged to become faithful disciples, and carry this message of hope, of new life to the world,  to challenge the authorities of the day and get this world to live with Christ’s compassion, mercy and love-as opposed to the characters in Mark who do not follow through with that message, at least not at first- due to their expectations, their fears, their hope for power, status and fame, their dashed expectations, and ultimately their lack of faith.


Of course the existence of Mark's story—and of the church itself—is testimony to the fact that even human fear is unable to silence the good news that Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified has been raised. Eventually someone did tell the story. One of the three women, or perhaps all of them together went and told the disciples what they had witnessed. Mark’s gospel ends this way so that its hearers, you and I- will take up the good news of his resurrection, and spread it to the rest of the world- that ultimately death itself has been defeated, that we who believe have a place in heaven with a Risen Lord when all is said and done on this earth.





So, what will you do with this story of Christ having risen? Will you leave this place in silence, go home to an Easter brunch or dinner, munch on chocolate eggs and not share it with anyone else out of fear for what they may think of you? Or as Mark encourages us, will you believe in and tell the good news that Jesus has indeed risen from the grave, that death has been defeated, that heaven is real?  All of the flowers on the steps of the sanctuary were given in memory of someone who has died, including several from my own family. But they aren’t just given in memory- They proclaim in faith that the Risen Christ has overcome the powers of death and that we will see each other again one day.


The Risen Christ is also overcoming the powers of this world. This past week, we finished hosting the winter homeless shelter. Dedicated volunteers run the shelter in our Calvin Hall. They feed 50-70 guests, keep the peace, sleep on the floor all night, and clean up the next morning- Out in the narthex this morning, you will see a big thank you from the many homeless people who stayed with us throughout the year. There are a number of nice things written for this congregation, but three in particular stand out for me.

  1. “Last night, I was in this room…and now, everything is brand new. Thank you- much love.”
  2. “Thank you for making this winter livable” J.D.
  3. And finally-“Thank you for your time, patience, caring and understanding. Thank you for seeing us as humans.” Tristin

I am so thankful this church, along with many other faith communities, has opened its doors to shelter whom Jesus called the least of these. The shelter proclaims the love and hope of our Risen Lord, and provides a place where people are treated with dignity and care. It is a small example of the way in which faith in a Risen Savior can change this world in which we live.


Perhaps, however, you wonder how anyone can do anything in this world so full of violence, hatred prejudice, warfare and greed. How can one person of faith do anything to make a difference? Well, consider that this past Friday, one small squirrel brought the northern half of Ashland to a standstill, all by itself. If one cute and furry rodent can change how our day unfolds, how much more can a person of faith with the power of the Risen Christ do?


Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” Through the power of the Risen Christ, we can indeed be bearers of God’s justice, change the world in which we live, and share the Good news.


Don’t be afraid! The tomb is empty! Christ has risen! Love wins! New life and hope are ours for the taking, and ours to share.  And each time we share that good news, each time we proclaim God’s justice, the gospel story continues, and in time that leads this world to a happy ending indeed. Alleluia! Amen.

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