Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
“THE REST OF THE STORY . . . IN GALILEE”
The Resurrection of Our Lord
April 1, 2018
Christ Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
There is nothing more disappointing than a bad ending to a good movie. The movie is about to come to its dramatic climax. The bad guys and the good guys are about to have it out. Guns are drawn. The show-down is about to begin and then suddenly “The End” flashes on the screen and the credits start rolling. The movie is over! The crowd starts booing. You storm out of the theater in disgust. You want a refund. It is not supposed to end like this! You demand to know the rest of the story!
The Gospel of Mark seems to end in the same way. It is a great story, the life and adventures of Jesus of Nazareth. He performs great miracles, defends the little guys and confronts the corrupt authorities. The bad guys kill him on a cross. However, just when you thought the story was over, the tomb is empty! At the last minute, Jesus gets away. But where is he? There is no Jesus!
What is this? Some sort of April Fool’s joke? Yes, today is April Fool’s Day. This is the first time since 1945 that April Fool’s Day has fallen on Easter. I think there is an inherent connection between the two. When that young man told the women at the empty tomb that Jesus had been raised from the dead, they must have felt as if someone was playing a prank on them, and a cruel prank at that. They did not commemorate April Fool’s day back then but they might as well have.
Mark leaves us hanging. This is no way to end a story. There must be more. In the other New Testament Gospels Jesus appears to his disciples and shows that He is risen from the dead. But in Mark we are simply left hanging, . . . literally in the middle of a sentence.
Some well-meaning Christians believed that it should not end this way. They tried to “fix it” by giving it a second, better ending where Jesus does appear and his followers are able handle poisonous snakes and swig arsenic cocktails. However, most scholars today believe that the second ending was not the original ending or what Mark intended.
Mark was probably tempted to provide a more conventional ending, one more like that in the other Gospels, where there are no loose ends, the audience is comforted, the hero rides off into the sunset, all is well on the frontier and life has a happy-ending.
However, Mark chose not to tie up all the lose ends in a conventional happy-ending. Mark did not live in a world filled with “happy endings.” Mark wrote to Christians who were suffering under the vicious 1st century persecutions of the Roman Empire. Mark could not talk of a world where all is well, where everything works out for the best and the hero rides off into the sunset. Life was not like this for most early Christians. Many suffered much for their faith, lived troubled lives and found faith difficult. Many struggled with death and despair. Many died for the faith. Such a “happy ending” story would simply not be believable. The people for whom he wrote this Gospel simply did not live in a world where everything was “just fine.”
Neither do we.
Therefore, Mark leaves us hanging. There is no appearance of the risen Jesus. There are no glorious “angels,” no heavenly chorus singing hallelujahs, only a young man dressed in a white robe. The women do not rejoice. They do not immediately believe that Jesus has risen from the dead. They do not run off and tell the world. On the contrary, they are stunned, shocked and flee from the empty tomb, amazed and afraid. They do not say anything to anyone. The art on the cover of your worship bulletin brillitantly portrays the shock and fear in their faces when they discover the empty tomb.
Perhaps those who read or hear this story are supposed to fill the blank. Perhaps we, the 21st century readers of the story, are supposed to do what the terrified women failed to do: bear witness in our words and in our deeds to the risen Lord. In other words, Mark deliberately leaves his story unfinished and incomplete because we are supposed to write the rest of the story.
But isn’t that what is exactly wrong with our lives and this world? We don’t live our lives trusting the power of Jesus’ resurrection. In our hands the story always seems to end miserably, even more confused and mangled than it does in Mark. The tomb is empty. Jesus has disarmed the power of Death. Yet, we live our lives as if it never happened. The end we write to this story with our lives is still lived in fear of death. The tomb may be empty but we are still afraid of losing our control, our power, and our status. Our lives remain the story of a struggle to make a name for ourselves and achieve the fame and recognition that will enable us to endure the final onslaught of the grave. Even though we all will return to the earth as dust and ashes, we will do anything (almost anything!) to be remembered. The sin littered pages of history are testimonies to humanity’s failed attempts at immortality.
Perhaps that is why the women fled in fear. They had grown comfortable with a world limited by death. They had come to the tomb to finish burying the body of Jesus and to do their grieving. They had come to accept the inevitable. It was back to business as usual, back to a world where you have always got to cover your bases.
Then this April Fools joke gets played on them. What if Jesus had actually risen and was truly alive? Then the world had changed. The limits with which they had grown comfortable were gone. They did not know what to do. So they ran, afraid of what this might mean, afraid for their lives, afraid of God.
Mark doesn’t tell us where they went. But I think I know! The young man dressed in white, probably an angel, told them, “He (Jesus) has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But 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.” They went to Galilee afraid that they would never be able to write the rest of the story. However, there in Galilee they discovered the young man was telling the truth. There they met Jesus alive. By rising from the dead, Jesus had already written the end of the story for them. Jesus had kept his promise, just as He had said.
Why do I believe that this happened? Because the Gospel of Mark would never have been written, if they had not seen him in Galilee.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark Jesus always kept His promises. It would have been unprecedented for Jesus NOT to keep a promise and finish the story. Jesus promised his disciples that they would find a colt for him to ride into Jerusalem in his Palm Sunday parade. They found one. Jesus had cursed a fig tree. And sure enough, after a few days, it died. Jesus had promised his disciples that they would find a man with a water jar who would lead them to an Upper Room for the Last Supper. It happened. Jesus had promised that the disciples would desert him, that one of them would betray him, that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowed twice, that He would be arrested and crucified. It all happened, just as he had said. He also had promised that He would be raised from the dead. The final proof was this empty tomb and the word of this young man dressed in a white robe: “He has been raised. He is not here. . . . He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
Why Galilee? Galilee was about as close to no-where as you could get. Why not call a news conference in Jerusalem or in Rome?
But that is exactly the point! The rest of Mark’s story, the story of Jesus and his resurrection, will get played out not before blazing lights and the ever present TV cameras but in the obscure and ordinary places of life, . . . in Galilee. Galilee is in the dirty dishes, the dirty diapers and the piles of dirty laundry. Galilee is where long hours of work go un-rewarded and unappreciated. Galilee is when you are “down sized,” when you see your children suffer for the bad choices they have made, when you receive a Voice Mail from your doctor that you are to call back as soon as you can. Galilee is the empty chair at the kitchen table where your spouse sat for so many years carrying on those wonderful conversations with you late into the night, . . . never to be filled again.
The promise uttered by that young man dressed in white in the empty tomb assures us that it is precisely in such Galilees where we will meet the risen Jesus. At the Table, in the Font, as a nervous and self-conscious volunteer teaches her Sunday School class, as a prayer is spoken at the bedside of the dying, as workers seek to do their best, as forgiveness is exchanged by husbands and wives in the quiet darkness of the night, where the tears of the grieving are wiped away . . . there is Jesus, alive, assuring us that we will always be loved, that we will always matter and that have nothing to fear.
This is no April Fool’s joke. This is . . . THE REST OF THE STORY!