We’re going to be at the end of Mark today.
We’ve been following Jesus around all summer through the gospel of Mark
(because that seems like a good thing for the church to do) and last week we saw Jesus executed.
The great action-hero of Mark did exactly what he had said he would do.
He went to Jerusalem and was killed.
The death of Jesus of Nazareth.
It was a death he was expecting.
It was a startling death— with darkness everywhere and Jesus dying with a shriek that tore open the partition—the curtain, the barrier—between heaven and earth.
One guy (an enemy combatant) saw Jesus’ death and even confessed some kind of goodness in the midst of the darkness.
“Surely this man was the Son of God.” (15.39)
But it was a death.
And now… now we’ve got a corpse.
The corpse of Jesus of Nazareth.
What happens now?
Let’s finish hear the rest of Mark’s story:
(15.40f) Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.
(16.1) When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
(v8) Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
What happens to the corpse of Jesus of Nazareth?
Well, (v42-46) after making sure that Jesus really is dead, the Governor of Judea (Pilate) allows Joseph of Arimathea to place Jesus’ corpse in a tomb.
They’ve got to hurry.
Jesus died at three in the afternoon, and if his body isn’t buried by sundown (by the start of the Sabbath) then his body is going to be sitting out for a day or two.
And bodies sitting out and around—that’s not good for anyone.
(Except maybe buzzards.)
But thankfully Joseph of Arimathea—an upstanding local leader (v43)
who was longing for the rule and reign of God to come to the world—
thankfully he got the job done.
And a handful of Jesus’ followers—Mary, Mary, and Salome—
saw where Joseph put the body.
So after the Sabbath—right as the sun is rising (v2)—
these women are headed to the tomb to tend to Jesus’ corpse.
To clean it up, to anoint it with spices, to make sure it’s wrapped nicely, (because, let’s be honest, a man did the wrapping the first time).
These women had cared for the needs of Jesus in life (v41)
and now they’re caring for his needs in death.
But as they’re approaching the tomb, confusion and fear begin to rise within them.
It looks like the tomb is open—just wide open.
Cemeteries and graveyards are eerie enough.
But imagine walking among the gravestones and finding a grave wide open.
Imagine finding the grave of your loved one wide open.
Of course they’re alarmed (v5).
Of course they’re freaked out.
“Don’t be freaked out,” says a young man—a youth (v6).
“Don’t be alarmed.”
“You’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene.
You’re looking in the wrong place.
“He is risen.
He is resurrected.”
“Now go (v7).
Go and tell.”
“Go and tell others. Go and tell the disciples. Go and tell Peter especially—he’s had a rough couple of days. He needs to know that he’s forgiven.”
This mysterious youth—
this heavenly sort of lad full of energy and vitality and freshness—
is telling these women that this is a new kind of sunrise—
something new is dawning in the universe.
“Breath in deeply.
Can you smell the crisp, cool hope?
“The world is full of energy and vitality and freshness.
“Because this is a world where the resurrection of the dead has begun.
“You’re going to see Jesus— he’s ahead of you, and you will see him.”
For now—go in the knowledge
that God has vetoed death
and that life wins.
Throughout Mark’s entire story, Jesus kept trying to get people to shut up.
But now it’s time for the followers of Jesus to speak up— to announce, to proclaim, to teach, to tell, to talk— but what does verse 8 say?
(16.8) Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
And that’s the end— the end of the gospel according to Mark.
This is where Mark cuts to black.
“They said nothing to anyone.”
Come on!—that’s no way to end a story.
We need to see Jesus,
we need to hear more,
we need something else.
If this were the movie,
we’ve gone to credits too soon.
Over the centuries, as manuscripts of Mark’s story were being copied, plenty of scribes read this ending and thought the same thing.
They thought, “Surely that can’t be it.”
We must be missing the ending.
The end of the scroll must have gotten torn off.
And so people tacked on a little more ending to the story.
There are at least a couple of endings that got added, and my Bible translation (the 2011 NIV) actually includes both of them.
One of them is in the footnotes down here and the other is included in italics (after a big, fat line and a note that says “the earliest manuscripts don’t have these verses”).
Academics and scholars almost never agree on anything, but there’s almost universal consensus that Mark didn’t write those endings.
Verse 8 is the end of Mark’s story—
as far as we know.
And we don’t like the way Mark ends his story.
We like closure.
We like things spelled out for us.
We like neat-and-tidy endings with bows on them.
But that’s not what we’ve been given with Mark.
What we’re given is an ending that fits hand-in-glove with the rest of Mark’s story.
Nobody ever gets it right in Mark.
It’s time to speak up— to announce and proclaim and teach and tell and talk— and these ladies say nothing to anyone.
They finish talking with this lad,
and they hurry away scared to death.
The camera doesn’t follow them.
It just lingers on the empty tomb as the sound of the women’s footsteps fade away.
There’s the tomb.
There’s no one in there.
Jesus has gone on ahead.
Fade to black.
Something like the ending of Matthew’s story is far more popular:
Jesus standing triumphant on a mountain telling us what to do—
to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the life of the Trinity.
Jesus is alive, and now we’ve got things to do—a vocation to live into:
we’re called to disciple, to teach, to baptize.
And that’s so true and so important and motivates us to do all kinds of work and encourages us to all kinds of tasks and challenges us to all kinds of things—
We like passages of Scripture that we can grab a hold of and say “This is what we do—this is what I’m about—this is how I contribute.”
We need the Great Commission—
that’s why Jesus (and Matthew) gave it to us.
But that’s not the way Mark ends.
Mark doesn’t end with the Great Commission.
Mark ends with a small commission (“go and tell”) and the people following Jesus—the people taking him seriously—can’t even do that.
Mark ends with a great omission— with just one more human failure.
We won’t shut up when Jesus wants us to be quiet, and we say “nothing to anyone” now that it’s time to talk.
And we need this ending of Mark just as much as the ending of Matthew.
We need to be reminded that we fail,
and we don’t do what we’re supposed to do—
that we’re often trembling and overwhelmed and bewildered— and yet God’s new world has still dawned.
In the words of Jesus from chapter four God’s rule and reign will continue to grow—secretly and mysteriously— like a seed in the soil.
Mark began by telling us that the good news is about Jesus, and that’s exactly the impression we’re left with as he closes.
We’re not the heroes of the story.
Jesus is the hero of this story—
the hero of all our stories, the Servant and the Savior of the world.
And he is alive.
That’s what we’re left with.
Jesus is alive, and he is ahead of us.
In the Hebrew Scriptures,
that’s the way the Israelites would often talk about the divine presence.
The presence of Yahweh would go ahead of them
to make the impossible possible.
that their enemies are defeated,
that their inheritance is secured,
that their struggle will end in victory.
And I think Mark is deliberately echoing that language here.
As Mark ends his story,
we discover that the good news of Jesus
is good news for human failure.
In spite of their failure that “they said nothing to anyone” the good news of Jesus still reaches our ears.
In spite of all our failures,
God is still making the world as it should be—
God is still shaping us into the people he made us to be.
Mark wants his readers to see this ending and hear the promise and say:
“Ok. I haven’t seen Jesus yet, but he’s ahead of me.
He’s the hero. He’s the one securing the future.
“Despite the enemies that surround me,
despite my own fear and disobedience
despite the struggle of the journey
the new world has dawning.
“The kingdom is growing.
“And I will see him.”
Every single one of us has been commissioned for various vocations, various tasks, various callings—
maybe you’re a teacher, maybe you’re student,
maybe you work with computers or spreadsheets all day,
maybe you work with large machines and equipment,
maybe you’re a parent full-time,
whatever our calling, whatever our task,
we’ve all been invited to trust that a fresh and never-ending world is dawning with the resurrection of Jesus
and we’re all invited to bear witness to that truth
by faithfully loving and serving and forgiving those around us.
Faithfully loving and serving and forgiving those around us… that may not feel like a grand or great commission but very often even that’s too much for us.
We often feel like we’re floundering—like we can never get “it” right (what “it” is—our lives, that relationship, that habit, those finances, that situation).
Much of our lives feel like failure.
That’s because they are.
No way around it.
But this table is the place we come each week to recognize and remember that Jesus is alive and ahead of us, and he gives good news to our failure:
[Because] the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
In just a few moments, you’ll be invited to come down the center aisle and receive from this table.
To receive some of the bread, to dip it in the cup,
and to realize that this is the good news that we celebrate.
The good news of Jesus risen from the dead, the good news of Jesus who does not fail.
This table is open to everyone—
to everyone willing to confess their failures (that we are not the heroes of our own stories) and to everyone who wants the sunrise of a new world.
As we come to the table this morning,
may we honestly confess our great omissions— that we are frequently fearful and floundering;
may we recognize the overwhelming love and grace of God
who grows his kingdom in spite of our failings,
and may we remember that Jesus is ahead of us, gently pulling us into a world that never dies— and we will see him.