Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Sermon: The Rest of the Story

Sermon Texts: 1 Corinthians 15 and Mark 16

Sermon Notes

Today’s Gospel reading reminds me of a Paul Harvey radio spot.  I’m sure everyone remembers Paul Harvey, the master storyteller who died this past Feb. who had been on the radio in Chicago for 50 years. 


He’d start a story, say about a 13 year old boy who received a cash prize from Franklin Roosevelt, and then after a commercial break we’d find out that “the rest of the story” was that the 13 year old boy was one Fidel Castro.  Little chance encounters and surprise endings were to be expected on Paul Harvey’s show. 


So today’s scripture reading sounds like the first half of a Paul Harvey radio spot.  It lacks that satisfying conclusion.  In fact, the original Greek is even more incomplete and dissatisfying, ending in the conjunction gar, which means “for.” 


A literal translation would be “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them…they were afraid for…”  Tom Long says “It is almost as if the author of Mark had suddenly been dragged from his writing desk in midsentence.”


So, no doubt some of the fourth and fifth generation of Christians saw the ending unfit for a Gospel of Jesus Christ—especially in comparison to some of the other Gospels available—with their inspiring stories of the appearances of Jesus.  Who wants to receive a Gospel which ends with the disciples of Jesus being afraid? 


So they tagged a few of them on there to the end of Mark.  But, we know how Mark’s gospel truly ends because we have the written testimony of some of our most trusted Church Fathers who speak about Mark’s ending without referring to these other endings.


Story about actor who memorized Mark, went with original ending….uncomfortable silence at end.  “AMEN!”  Decided that his conclusion had betrayed the original intention of the author. 


Second night, walked briskly off stage after saying “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”and the audience was stunned.  He said the electric buzz was palpable among the people as they left that night as the audience talked with each other about the non ending. 

This electric charge is what some Biblical Scholars believe was the intended result of ending the story in this way.  It is compelling.  It grips us and makes us want to enter the story and grab the women by the shoulders and shake them. 


Mark’s Gospel is known for something called the “Messianic Secret”  At every turn, when Jesus performs some miracle or healing, he orders the recipients or the witnesses to remain silent about the implications of such things.  It is as if Jesus is afraid of the consequences of the cat getting out of the bag.  It’s at the end of the first chapter, when he heals a leper and then “sternly” tells him not to mention it to anyone.  Mark 8: 27-30


And in every case, Jesus’ own instructions to keep silent are disobeyed.  The word gets out, and the movement grows.  Some say the reason Jesus wanted to keep his identity a secret was because he wanted to re-define the meaning of a Messiah.  The Hebrew people had certain expectations about what the Messiah would accomplish. 


Scriptures told them the Messiah would rise up and dispel the conquering forces.  He would free Israel and sit on the throne in glory and splendor.  He would be the return of King David, who many Jews spoke of with the same sense of romanticism that our own culture remembers the mythical King Arthur.


So, the secret in this instance is reversed—the women are charged to Go and tell, and instead they run and hide.  They are finally given the go ahead to spread the message far and wide, because now no-one will co-opt the movement of this Messiah and try to turn it into something it is not.  Now Jesus is not able to be grasped and manipulated.  He tells Mary in the Garden in John’s resurrection account, “Don’t grasp onto me.” 


“But go,” the young man said, “tell his disciples (and be sure and tell Peter too) that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee.”  (Galilee?  Plain old ordinary Galilee where it all began?)  That was the women’s “home turf,” Lamar Williamson said.  The sort of place where the “same old same old” (routine) happens.[i] 

“Yes! The messenger said—that’s exactly where you’ll see him just as he told you” (Did he tell us that?)


So, the Messiah returns to his disciples in exactly those kinds of moments.  He joins them in a locked room as they are hiding out in fear of the authorities.  He joins some as they are back to the old routine of fishing, and he cooks fish and bread with them on the lakeshore.  He joins two on a walk from one town to another, never revealing himself until right before he leaves.


Instead of the Messiah coming in glory and transforming the world in some strong armed display of God’s strength, this Messiah who was put to death on a criminal’s cross makes resurrection appearances in the midst of the mundane and transforms our lives so that we might transform the world into the one God envisions empowered by the Spirit of God. 


Did you notice the young man’s instruction included some specific instructions to be sure to include Peter too?  Why single him out?  Because Peter is the one who on this day is probably still bogged down and sulking in his guilt for denying his Master three times.  The resurrection includes this major revelation that can transform even the most shamed disreputable lives and actions: You are forgiven. 


This is the rest of the Story—as Paul writes to his friends in Corinth—Jesus invades the mundane and shameful lives we lead, and can transform them with forgiveness and grace.  This forgiveness and grace inspires confession.  Then, Christ can use that transformed life to accomplish amazing things.


   It is the kind of transformation that inspires, even compels us to spread the message.  We are loved and cherished by God!  Paul was able to spread the message of Jesus far and wide, and his letters are the first written records that we have of the movement to which we belong.


The meaning of the resurrection is that Christ enters our lives in the here and now—in the mundane or unexpected—in the Galilees of our own lives.  In the midst of our relationships with spouses, family, work-friends, and neighbors: Christ is Risen!  In the midst of daily tasks and chores, and work and play: Christ is Risen! 


The story is unfinished because it includes you and me and future generations.  It acknowledges the reality that our first instinct is to shrink from the truth that will change our lives and run the other way instead.  But the “rest of the story” is that our weakness, our fear and our frailty doesn’t impede the advance of Christ, who comes into this day and all days with a resurrected truth that we are forgiven!



This is the day the Lord has made and it’s going to be a ………..

Good Day!

[i] Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching—Mark, Louisville:  John Knox Press, 1983, Lamar Williamson, Jr. p. 285.

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