Summary: The good news of Christ’s resurrection according to Mark’s short and peculiar ending.
Sermon for Easter Sunday Yr B 20/04/2003
Based on Mk 16:1-8
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, AB
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
A very zealous soul-winning young preacher recently came upon a farmer working in his field. Being concerned about the farmer’s soul the preacher asked the man, “Are you labouring in the vineyard of the Lord my good man?”
Not even looking at the preacher and continuing his work the farmer replied, “Naw, these are soybeans.”
“You don’t understand,” said the preacher. “Are you a Christian?”
With the same amount of interest as his previous answer the farmer said, “Nope my name is Jones. You must be looking for Jim Christian. He lives a mile south of here.”
The young determined preacher tried again asking the farmer, “Are you lost?”
“Naw! I’ve lived here all my life,” answered the farmer.
“Are you prepared for the resurrection?” the frustrated preacher asked.
This caught the farmer’s attention and he asked, “When’s it gonna be?”
Thinking he had accomplished something the young preacher replied, “It could be today, tomorrow, or the next day.”
Taking a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiping his brow, the farmer remarked, “Well, don’t mention it to my wife. She don’t get out much and she’ll wanna go all three days.” 1
As we see from this joke as well as from today’s gospel, communication can and often does involve, among other things, misunderstandings, surprises, and yes, even failures. Today we learn that three women, Mary Magdalene, and Mary mother of James, and Salome go to the tomb where Jesus was laid as soon as they can after observing the Sabbath. They went, Mark tells us, to anoint Jesus’ dead body. One last final act of love and faithfulness to give their Lord the final burial rite. They were, of course, expecting a closed tomb and a dead body in it. They were also caught up in their concern over how they might roll away the heavy, very large stone covering the tomb’s entrance. No doubt their hearts were still deeply sorrowful over the death of Jesus. They would miss him terribly; they would feel as if their world had come to an end without him; what future did they have now without Jesus?
But lo and behold they were wrong! Surprise! Surprise! The stone was already rolled away when they arrived at the tomb. What could this mean? Did someone steal their Lord’s dead body? What were they to do now? Who would do such a thing anyways?
Summoning up as much courage as they could, they entered the tomb. Most likely they were expecting to find nothing in it except darkness and perhaps the lingering odour of a dead body. Surprise! Surprise! Instead, they saw a young man dressed in white sitting there, as if he were waiting for them and expecting them. When they saw him, Mark tells us “they were alarmed.” To be alarmed in such a circumstance is not unusual, is it? Likely most of us would be too. After all, throughout the Bible whenever an unexpected messenger from God appears to someone they usually have to reassure them with words of comfort like: “Don’t be afraid, fear not.”
The same is true here, the messenger of God in white begins his revelation to the women by speaking words of comfort: “Do not be alarmed.” Then he tells them who they’re looking for as well as how he died—“Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.” But the story does not end there. The women however are likely not prepared to hear what the messenger in white is about to tell them next. Surprise! Surprise! “He has been raised; he is not here.” Then, to drive his point home further, he invites the women to look around at the empty tomb so they could see for themselves exactly where his dead body had been laid.
However, the young man in white concludes his revelation by now giving the women the instruction to “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.”
Then comes the finale. Surprise! Surprise! The earliest, most reliable manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel end with verse eight! Mark tells us: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That’s all. The end. What a way to end a gospel! Most, if not all of us, want a happy ending, do we not? This ending here at verse eight is full of ambiguity. We’re left with the nagging question of: Why did Mark end his gospel like this? Why does Mark not give us an account of the risen Jesus appearing to the women? Where is the message of good news and triumph to be found in such an ending?