April 1, Tell his disciples

Tell his disciples

Mark 16: 1-8

The story of what happens on the Easter Sunday is short and to the point in Mark’s gospel.

But backing up for a moment to the narrative of what happens immediately before that Easter morning, we are told that after Jesus is crucified, Joseph of Arimathea claims the body of Jesus, wraps it in a linen cloth and takes it to a tomb hewn out of rock, places the body there, and rolls a stone in front of the tomb. That’s Friday evening.

Sunday morning, Easter morning, the day after the sabbath when people are once again released to do the work that awaits them, the women who were friends and followers of Jesus, come to the tomb to ritually treat his dead body with burial spices. They get there, and discover that the stone is rolled away, and so they go inside where they encounter a young man dressed in a white robe.

They are alarmed (maybe that means that they are frightened, but certainly at the very least, startled) and the man (who we presume to be an angel) says to them that Jesus of Nazareth is not here, but has been raised from the dead. As if to make his point, he gestures to the spot where the body had been but is no longer.

Then he says to them, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

The women, according to Mark’s account, flee the tomb, both terrified and amazed, and (the scripture says) “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (16:8b)

Now, our scripture passage (the lectionary reading) for this morning ends there – with the women too afraid to say anything to anyone. And indeed, some of the most ancient authorities close the book of Mark right there. That’s the end of the story.

But of course, it isn’t the end of the story. It can’t be the end, or we wouldn’t be gathered here today, the inheritors of a story and a faith that has continued for two thousand years.

And so, there is an additional “ending” to Mark’s gospel – first, a shorter ending, and then an alternate longer ending.

The longer ending includes stories about Jesus’ immediate post-resurrection – Jesus making an appearance to Mary Magdalene, an appearance to two disciples, and an appearance before the whole group of eleven disciples – and then there is a commissioning to the disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation,” those couple of strange verses about casting out demons, speaking in tongues, snake handling and not being affected by deadly drink, and finally a brief story about Jesus’ ascension to heaven. 

If you read all of that additional narrative that comes after the women flee the tomb in silence, it’s seems almost as if someone knew that the story needed to be tied up with a more tidy conclusion, and so more was added. In fact, it seems almost less like a forward moving eyewitness account, and more like the story that turned out a certain way, and then someone tried to go back and backfill the narrative.

But if you stop at verse 8, where the lectionary selection for today stops, and you aren’t quite all the way to a more neat and tidy conclusion – if we stop at that the part of the story where the angel tells the women to not be afraid, that Jesus has risen, and that they are to go tell the disciples, but the women are afraid, and once they leave, they don’t tell – well that doesn’t feel “scripted after the fact” at all. That part feels very real, I think.

Don’t be afraid? Are you kidding? Jesus is crucified and yet the body isn’t in the tomb where it’s supposed to be and instead there’s this stranger – this man in a white robe – testifying that Jesus has risen from the dead? Don’t be alarmed? Of course they are alarmed! There’s nothing familiar about this. There’s nothing normal, rational, sensible, about this. An empty spot on the ground is supposed to be encouraging, comforting? Don’t be afraid? Don’t be alarmed?

And then, not only that, but go and tell his disciples? Go and tell what? That someone told you that Jesus was resurrected? That the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty, and if you just head on over to Galilee, you’ll see him there? Of course “terror and amazement” seized them. Of course they fled and “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

That’s seems quite real because that’s what we do when we are confronted with the impossible. That’s what we do when we are confronted with something that is inexplicable, inconceivable, unknown, difficult to imagine or understand. That’s what we do when it’s all too much – we hide, we hunker down, we run away. We keep our mouths shut.

But good news can’t be held back. It can’t be hidden. Whether the details of the rest of the story as it is told in the longer ending of Mark’s gospel feel to us like they’re “added on” to make it turn out right or not, the testimony does get out. 

The story somehow does get told. Now, whether it’s because the women gain their courage and go an tell other people or because Jesus makes a series of appearances to the disciples and their testimony spreads, or if it is because later on Jesus’ followers will live and die on their testimony of the risen Christ and such commitment and faith is hard to deny – whatever the reason, the story gets out; the disciples are told and they in turn do the telling.

How does that happen? Not literally “How does one person tell another?” but how does it happen in the sense that somehow fear is overcome and doubt is swept away and truth is finally told? Why does fear and silence eventually give way to testimony and truth?

I think it’s because there is a power in the resurrection event that cannot be contained. It’s not just the resurrected body that can’t be contained in the tomb, but it is the resurrected hope and joy that can’t be contained in their hearts; the good news has to be told. It has to be told. Good news can’t be kept entombed. Good news can’t be kept hidden under a blanket of fear.

Whenever there is a scandal of some sort, people will say that sooner or later the truth will come out. And what they usually mean when they say that is that sooner or later, the person who has been lying or trying to hide their bad behavior will be exposed; that you can’t hide the truth; that lies get exposed, because truth always finds the light of day, at least eventually.

 I think that way. I believe that – that truth overcomes lies. But there is another angle on that idea that sooner or later the truth will come out, and it is this: that sooner or later the ultimate truths will come out, because this is the will and the way of God.

Hope will prevail because God is a God of hope; good news will always come out from underneath that all too common blanket of fear and failure, because God is a God of Good News. The truth will come out? Yes, because God is a God of truth and the truth is that God’s way is the way of life, not the way of death; that although people will try to use fear to suppress hope and evil to suppress goodness, that that will not succeed; the truth that “perfect love casts out fear” and the truth that life goes on in new and glorious form.

Yes, when they walked into the tomb and saw that Jesus was gone and the angel-being told them to not be afraid and to tell the disciples, and instead Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome responded with fear and with silence, it might seem like that would be the end of the story, but it couldn’t be, because God’s story never ends with fear. God’s story never ends with silence. God’s story always pushes forward in a testimony of love and hope.

Shorter ending, longer ending, completely as yet-unwritten ending – it doesn’t matter.  The story is never going to end with people fleeing from the tomb in terror and amazement and saying nothing to anyone because they are afraid. The story is never going to end there. It can not end there. And I say that not just because the story has reached across 2000 years to us, but because it’s a story of faith and a story of God, and such stories do not end in fear and silence.

They do not end there. They do not end in fear and silence. They always turn the corner to new life. Good news has to be told. And we – we have to tell it. And who do we tell it to first? We tell it to “his disciples.” We tell the story to each other.

You don’t have to convince the whole world right away. You don’t have to somehow argue past the defenses of those who aggressively doubt God’s goodness. First you tell Jesus’ disciples. First you say it to each other: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Just do that much. You don’t have to prove anything, but neither do you have to fear anything. Just tell your sister, tell your brother: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

And then let the risen Christ take care of the rest. Let the Jesus who lives, now and forever, show himself to the world. Let your faith guide your living, let your compassion shape your actions, let your love grow ever larger, and the resurrected Christ will show himself. You just need courage enough to tell his disciples, and Jesus will show up and take care of the rest.

On Friday – this past Friday – I was in Cleveland. Konrad wanted to visit Case Western Reserve University – to get started on what will be a season of college visits, and this was our first, best opportunity.  

So, it was one of their spring open house days at the university and we spent the day picking and choosing from the various options available. We sat in on a session that provided an overview of the university as a whole, and another that provided an overview of the college of engineering. We went on a campus tour and did two department visits to different engineering departments – mechanical and aerospace and civil engineering, and Konrad sat in on a 200-level physics class.

But honestly, it wasn’t a great experience. The university admissions staff apparently didn’t cut off the number of persons attending, so they didn’t have enough room for everyone.

For example, for the first session, they realized they weren’t going to have enough room, so they sent a crowd of us five blocks away to another auditorium, where there weren’t enough seats either and where the sound system didn’t work.

Then, when it came time for the tour, they had too many people and not enough tour guides. We were among the  first to arrive at the designated area for the tour, but that only meant we were asked to move further down the hallway to make room for more arrivals. And that also meant then that we were among the last to leave for the tour, which started 15 minutes late on the very tight schedule they had set for getting from one session to the next and our campus tour had almost 60 people in it with one tour guide, and we couldn’t hear and the group moved too slowly.

Halfway through, Konrad and I ditched the tour so we could get to our next session on time, so we only saw part of the campus.

And that’s the way the day went.

Around two o’clock in the afternoon, we finally had a time free to go get lunch. We started looking for the cafeteria on the end of campus closest to where we were. Finally, we found it.

We went in – it was almost empty at that hour. Most people had long since eaten lunch. There was no one at the station where you pay or swipe your ID card. I thought to myself: Here we go again.

Then, an older African American man looked up from where he was at the salad bar wiping things down and he came over to us. He had a hair net on his head and a big smile on his face. He welcomed us and took our meal vouchers and asked us if we needed any help finding our way. I said, “Sure, you can tell us where to go.” “No, no,” he said, “I won’t tell you where to go, I’ll just tell you what I know.”

Then he patiently explained to us what was what and where everything was – from the food stations all the way to the place where you leave your dirty dishes. In the meantime, a student came in, and he managed to swipe her card, greet her, and still talk with us all at the same time.

As we turned to go and get our lunch, he looked at me and said, “Now you have a good Friday!” And by the smile on his face, I knew what he meant. It was more than a throw-away line. “Yes,” I said, “this is a Good Friday,” and then I paused just a moment, unsure whether to say the rest of what I was thinking, but then I said it, “because Sunday is coming.”

His smile got wider then. “Yes,” he said, “yes, it is.”

And in that moment, I don’t know – I did something really small, I’m sure – but it felt really big. Tell his disciples.

I mean it wasn’t a big deal, in all honesty. I didn’t have to convince him of anything and he didn’t have to convince me of anything. We just recognized each other. In his spirit, in his kindness, I recognized him and somehow he recognized me. And we each gave a sort of testimony to each other: After Good Friday comes Easter Sunday. Tell his disciples.

For me, it was the best moment in the day. It didn’t fix everything else, but it put everything else back into perspective. And sometimes that’s all I need to resurrect my spirit and to restore my faith.

Tell his disciples: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

 

Amen.

 

Kurt Borgmann

Manchester Church of the Brethren

April 1, 2017