04/01/18 – Mark’s Cliffhanger – Easter Sunday


(Image by Pearl @ Lightstock)

April 1, 2018
Easter Sunday
Mark 16: 1-8
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


“They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” What was Mark thinking? He knew what happened – why the cliffhanger? Perhaps like television scriptwriters, he was sure Jesus’ story would be picked up for the next season and he wanted to generate anticipation. The Resurrection would be a great season opener with lots of potential for future storylines. But, unlike Luke, Mark did not write a sequel to his gospel. Our first reading this morning, came from Luke’s gospel sequel, the book of Acts. Without an appearance of the risen Christ, Mark’s ending is not very satisfying. No wonder most preachers choose the alternate reading from John’s gospel.

Biblical scholars have discovered that scribes added three different endings, in which the risen Jesus does appear, later. You can just imagine some monk tediously copying Mark’s gospel saying to himself: “I can do better than this!” But there is little doubt, based on the age of the documents found that Mark’s original opus ended at verse 8. We are left to question. And that’s probably just what Mark wanted his readers to do. Sometimes silence speaks louder than words.

Tom and I have been watching a series from the BBC called, “A Place to Call Home.” This drama, described by critics as “the Australian Downton Abbey,” begins in the early 1950’s — after World War II. I think Tom’s favorite part of the show is the cars. We are now on season 3 out of 6. The network had decided to drop the show after season 2. There was a wonderful final show when most of the major storylines were wrapped up with a neat, satisfying episode. But then, after an outcry from fans, the show was picked up for season 3. Therefore, we saw two different episodes of the last show of season 2. Although I am glad there are more episodes to watch, the new end of season 2 opened all kinds of messy complications for the characters.

And so, it was for the disciples and for the early church. The book of Acts and the epistles tell us about those complications early Christians faced. Mark ends his gospel with the first challenge – What to do with an empty tomb?

It seems to me that Mark doesn’t want his audience to be comfortable, he wants them to be like Jesus who, released from the tomb, creates complications for those that would rather leave people in situations of poverty, disease, injustice and oppression than make changes — as long as they are not the ones suffering. And, then there are those that profit from the suffering of others who feel especially threatened by ‘lifting up the lowly.’

Jesus left his followers with the charge to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, release the prisoners, lift up the oppressed, and heal the sick. Ever since then, the disciples that have accepted that challenge have found themselves in challenging and complicated situations.

The popular preacher Barbara Brown Taylor describes a Christ that is “on the loose” in the world: How do we deal with this Christ who calls us to continue his story? Taylor suggests:

“The only thing we cannot do is hold on to him. He has asked us please not to do that because he knows that all in all we would rather keep him with us where we are than let him take us where he is going. Better we should let him hold onto us, perhaps. Better we should let him take us into the white-hot presence of God who is not behind us but ahead of us, every step of the way.”

Mark understood that silence would have been the easy way for the three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome, who went to Jesus’ tomb that first Easter morning. Mark was writing to an audience who, like us, had never seen Jesus. Even though Mark is the earliest of the four gospels, it was written about 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Some Christians were falling away from the faith, either to escape persecution or because their faith was flagging. Mark understood that believing that Jesus appeared in the flesh after his death wasn’t enough to make disciples. Mark’s gospel has no birth narrative; it starts with Jesus’ baptism and follows his ministry to the cross. Mark wanted his audience to focus on his ministry, The Way that we have been called to follow.  Mark wanted his audience to read the gospel and understand the truths that Jesus had been telling those first disciples from the beginning.

The reality of being a Christian in the Roman Empire was more challenging than they expected. Each day they faced hardships that made life feel as though they were pushing huge stones that sealed their captivity to some kind of tomb – something that made their lives feel like only death was surrounding them on all sides. Was their faith in vain? Could they really change the world? Could they even change their own lives? We ask ourselves the same questions.

Mark makes a point of telling his audience that even the most blind of his disciples, Peter, heeded instructions to go to Galilee. Peter, the one that had even denied knowing Jesus three timesThe messenger told the three women to “go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee.” The risen Christ was assuring the disciples he would always be with them when they followed his path in the world.

So, what would Mark’s original audience have thought of the seemingly unfinished ending? No one had seen Jesus; the women fled and told no one. But, Mark’s original audience knew someone had told. Paul wouldn’t have started all those churches if the women had remained silent. The clueless, inept, unfaithful Peter wouldn’t have been transformed into the leading disciple and bravely submitted to his own crucifixion. The community of faith for which Mark wrote his gospel would not have existed if someone had not told the story.

Mark left the future episodes for us to write. Mark didn’t just want us to believe in the Resurrection, he wanted us to read the gospel and live Resurrection lives. Mark never intended to question whether the Resurrection really happened; instead, he proclaimed that the Resurrection would continue to happen when we allow ourselves to experience new life in Christ.

Mark begins his gospel with these words: “This is the beginning of the good news,” He doesn’t just mean that first verse — he means all 16 chapters. The Resurrection is still the beginning of the Good News. Mark tells us we don’t need to fix the ending; we need to continue the story. Live it, speak it, and refuse to remain silent when our neighbors are neglected or treated unjustly. Just as God took Jesus’ broken body and raised him to new life, God will take us at our point of brokenness and do something truly amazing. If the risen Christ could transform Peter and Paul into exemplary disciples, he can do the same for you and me. All that stands in our way is our own fear. We have been assured that no matter where we find ourselves, Jesus has been there, has gone ahead of us, and will meet us on the other side.

Thanks be to God! Hallelujah!



© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois