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Worship and Sermons
April 4, 2021

“How Does It End?” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, April 4, 2021, Year B / Easter –  Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24  •  Acts 10:34-43  •  Mark 16:1-8

The big idea:  Mark’s gospel account was left unfinished so that his disciples would pick up the story and take up Jesus’ mission to bring wholeness and new life to all people.

Application:  Take up Jesus’ mission and supply the next chapter in the story.

        When it comes to entertainment, do you enjoy a good cliffhanger?  The kind that leaves you wondering what happens next?

        There have been some dramatic cliffhangers, especially on TV.  If you are of a certain age, you may remember the original Doctor Who series in the 1960s.  Each season would end with a cliff hanger.

Cliff hangers really caught on in the late 70s and early 1980’s.  If you were a fan of the TV show Dallas, I’m sure you remember the famous season three finale, “Who Shot JR?”  They even made T-shirts out of that. 

In the ‘90s, the Simpsons did a classic take-off on that episode.  It was called “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”  Then, Friends came on the air.  Some of its most famous episodes finished on a cliffhanger.  Remember Ross’ wedding? 

In the 2000s, the counter-terrorism drama “24” took cliffhangers to a whole new level.  Almost every episode ended with a cliffhanger.  By then, everybody had gotten into the act:  Breaking Bad, Twin Peaks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek Next Generation.  Cliffhangers were everywhere.

We think of them as a modern innovation, don’t we?  but we forget that, as a literary technique, the cliff hanger goes way back.  In the 1870s, a young English writer named Thomas Hardy, wrote what most believe to be the first literary cliff hanger.

Magazine publishers had figured out they could sell more magazines if they included serialized novels.  With each new edition of the magazine, there would be a new chapter in the story.

Thomas Hardy’s genius was to end each chapter with – you guessed it - a cliff hanger.  That kept readers coming back to buy the next edition to find out what happened. 

The purpose of a cliff hanger then was the same as it is now.  To make people wonder, “What happens next?”  The best cliffhanger endings of all are the ones where the reader would be compelled to ask themselves, “What would I do next?”

That is exactly what the author of Mark’s gospel was doing 2,000 years ago.

If you have your Bible handy, this is a good time to turn to the gospel of Mark.  If you’ll go to the last chapter, Chapter 16, you’ll notice something odd.  At the end of verse 8 there is something called “The Shorter Ending of Mark”.  After that comes another 10 verses called “The longer Ending of Mark”. 

You may be asking yourself, why are there different endings to the gospel?  Those additional endings were added later on.  Mark’s gospel ended on verse 8, where it says,

“(The women) went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Talk about a cliff hanger!  How does it end?

Up to this point, Mark’s gospel looks a lot like the others.  It’s Sunday morning, the day after the Jewish Sabbath.  The women go to the tomb to do what any good Jew would do for the body of a deceased loved one.  They’ve gone to wash Jesus’ body and anoint it in preparation for burial.

But when they get there, nothing is as they expect.  For one thing, the stone is already rolled away.  Didn’t see that one coming.

When they stick their heads into the tomb, not only is Jesus’ body gone, but there is a man there who is most surely an angel.  Now their surprise turns to fear. 

Not only does this angel know why they’ve come and who they’re looking for, he also knows why Jesus’ body is not there.  He’s been raised from the dead! 

Can you just picture these three women?  How would you feel?  Can you see them trembling, mouths gaping wide, unable to speak and not comprehending or believing what their eyes and ears tell them?

 The final straw is what the angel tells them to do next.  Go back to Peter and the disciples and tell them what you’ve seen.  And the angel even knows what Jesus told them all earlier:  he will meet them in Galilee.   

 It’s all too much.  Fear and amazement turn into terror.  Off they go, running furiously, just like the men did after Jesus was arrested.  And the women don’t tell a soul. 

Wait a minute.  If they didn’t tell anyone, then how do we explain all that happens after Jesus’ resurrection?  Jesus appearing to the disciples, his ascension to Heaven, Pentecost and the birth of the church.  The spread of the gospel, first to the Jews in Jerusalem and then to Gentiles and Jews throughout the Mediterranean world.

Most of the Christians in Mark’s day already knew about these things.  Generation after generation, they wondered why Mark didn’t mention them?  So, through the years, scribes who copied the gospel added, not one, but two different endings to the story.

And that is exactly what Mark intends.  Mark wants believers to realize that the Easter story does not end with Jesus’ resurrection.  It’s up to his disciples to continue it, and not just with words, but with actions.

That’s why Mark begins his gospel as he does.  If you still have your Bible open, flip back to the very first chapter of Mark.  When you get there, look at the very first sentence.  I’ll read it to you.  It says, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” 

That’s how we know what Mark has in mind.  His gospel is the beginning of the good news.  By ending it with a cliff hanger, it forces us to wonder what happens next?  How does it end?

Mark’s answer is:  it doesn’t.  What Mark wants is for you and me to ask ourselves the same question the disciples asked:

Now that Jesus is risen, what should I do next?

We don’t have to look very far for guidance.  Faithful discipleship is a theme that runs through the gospel of Mark, the way a catchy melody runs through a song.  The mark of true discipleship is wherever we extend Jesus’ mission of healing and wholeness into the world. 

Friends, Jesus has given us more than a reason to shout with Easter joy.  Jesus has given us an Easter ministry. 

We are here this morning to do more than just shout “He is risen, Hallelujah!”  Jesus wants us to get busy.  He wants us to dig in and do what he did: help make others whole, heal their wounds, and restore their lives so that they can rise up to new life, and they can shout “Hallelujah!”

There are three pieces of advice Mark wants to give us.  First, Easter ministry begins at home.  For the disciples, that meant Galilee.  Galilee is where everything started - for Jesus and for them.  It’s home base.  For us, Galilee is wherever our home is.

Our ministry starts with those closest to us, the folks we see everyday.  They say you hurt the ones you love.  We all know just how true that is. 

If 20 years of ministry has taught me one thing, it’s this:  Even in the most functional family, there is a real and pressing need for love and healing.  Never has that been more apparent than now, in the midst of this seemingly endless pandemic.

Easter ministry does not stop when we’re at home.  There is another old saying:  charity begins at home.  That’s true.  But charity – or maybe we should say love – doesn’t end there.  It demands to reach further.

It’s a safe bet there are people you and I work or volunteer with who need wholeness and healing.  In these day-in / day-out relationships we have a spectacular opportunity to heal wounds and reconcile old hurts in powerful, life-changing ways. 

Afterall, more often than we might like to admit, we may have caused some of those wounds.  No better time than now to begin healing them.

And there are other relationships that need tending, relationships we may not realize we have.  These folks don’t necessarily live like us, love like us or look like us, but they too are children of God the same way we are.  All too often and for far too long, these folks have gotten the short end of life’s stick.  Jesus is calling you and me to make them whole, too.

The second piece of guidance Mark wants to give us is to trust that Jesus will meet us in Galilee.  Because he’s already there ahead of us.

In fact, Jesus will meet us wherever our Easter ministry takes us.  That’s the thing about Jesus.  He has the most remarkable way of showing up wherever we go to do his work. 

The third piece of guidance Mark want to give us is simply this:  our Easter ministry is urgent. 

The three women go to the tomb concerned that they won’t be able to get in to reach Jesus.  Instead, they can’t reach him because he’s already gotten out.  He’s gone on ahead to where he wants them to go, to Galilee.

It’s as if Mark is saying Jesus doesn’t have time to wait around at a tomb.  He’s got better things to do!

That’s why the angel is so abrupt and to the point.  He delivers the good news of Easter morning like a receptionist explaining why you can’t have a quick chat with the boss: “Oh, you’re looking for Jesus?  Sorry, you just missed him.”

His urgency is our urgency.

Yes, indeed – Jesus is risen.  It’s reason to celebrate, to shout with joy. 

But Mark wants us to remember the Easter story is not over.  He wants us to add onto it. 

Jesus has work for us to do.

Are you busy doing it?

Last Published: April 6, 2021 2:51 PM
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