Today is April 1st, so …April fool! The ending to the Easter story you were expecting wasn’t read this morning. After the women found the tomb empty and after the angel told them Jesus had risen from the dead, you were expecting the women to rush forth and tell everyone else about it … just like they did in Matthew’s gospel, or Luke’s, or John’s. But Mark doesn’t tell the story that way. In Mark’s gospel, after the angel explicitly tells the women to go and announce the resurrection, it says coldly that “they went out and fled from the tomb … and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. What a dud of an ending.
Once, when I was 10, I sent home a postcard from summer camp. My parents kept it because they thought it was funny. I was always embarrassed by it. It described a baseball game I played in. I told them I made it to third base and if I made it to home we would win the game. The last sentence of the postcard read, “But I didn’t.” But I didn’t. (April fool. It wasn’t the ending you expected, Mom and Dad!)
That postcard was like the ending to Mark’s gospel. Surprising disappointment. Oh, you will find a couple of other endings to Mark’s gospel in your Bibles, but these were added at later dates – likely by monastic scribes who just couldn’t bear to see the gospel story end this way. No, I’m afraid, in the earliest Bibles we have found, Mark’s gospel ended very much the same way my postcard from camp did. One big dud. But why? Why?
Well, if you think about it, Mark’s ending may not have been consistent with the other gospels, but it was very consistent with the rest of his story about what Jesus’ followers just didn’t “get” about him. Jesus had told them three times who he was and what would happen to him, but they still didn’t “get it” and ended up arguing about who was the greatest. Peter actually rebukes Jesus when he is brought into confidence. Time and again, those who are told, don’t “get it.” What’s even more scary is that those who do get it are the “bad guys.” One commentator has pointed out that several of the various demons that Jesus casts out of people instantly recognize Jesus and grasp the import of his ministry. Even the Roman Centurion who puts Jesus to death … he “gets it” and acknowledges him as the son of God.
But the disciples? Judas betrays him. Peter denies him. And, finally, the women fail to go and tell anybody else about the best news in the universe.
Why did Mark write it this way? Why did Mark give us an April Fool? Could it be that this ending is the core of our message here on this Easter morning? Could it be that Mark has given us a clue, not in the ending of his story, but at the very beginning of his gospel, where the very first verse says, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Could it be that Mark’s ending is actually an invitation for you and I to pick up the story where the women left off.
April Fool! The story doesn’t end here! April fool! The story isn’t tied up with a neat bow! April Fool! The conflict in the plot of this story doesn’t get resolved in the last chapter. It invites you and me to keep the story going … to “go, tell” of the empty tomb, to “go, tell” of God’s victory over sin, death, and all that is evil. We could actually tack on Mark’s introduction right here at the end: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
The story isn’t over yet. You and I are picking it up where it left off. If God has reigned victorious over sin, death, and all that is evil, then why is there still so much sin, death, and all that is evil? It is because the story isn’t over yet. You and I have roles to play. The gospel story is still unfolding through the lives you and I live out on a daily basis, the injustices we face down, the healing we bring, the good news we share. It doesn’t end on minor chord. It is a major chord and the song is still being sung!
One of the reasons I’m glad that today is April Fools day is that March is over. I’ll share with you that March is a tough month for me. My mother died in March. My father died in March. Our precious daughter, Kathie, passed away in March. But it isn’t just that. March has been tough for us here at CTS. We had the funeral for Emme Fallen’s husband, David, March 19. We buried Carol Solomon’s husband, Jack, in March. Erika Troske died in March. So did Dick Knisely. So did Ed Idzak. As a matter of fact, of th 15 funerals I have had here at CTS, 9 of them have been in March or in Lent., as was Lew Potter’s in 2014. The last two funerals Pastor Leah Schaffer (my predecessor) did were both in March.
Now Peter Bouuwma tells me that such things are within reasonable statistical laws of probability, but it seems remarkable nonetheless. During Lent we have all too often not only considered suffering and death Biblically and theologically, but we have all too often experienced it personally. It is as if, when our foreheads are marked on Ash Wednesday the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” become an all-too-real prophecy for us, for our loved ones, for the members of this congregation.
And so I am anxious to get March over with – not because I believe in some kind of hex or jinx or curse (God’s kingdom doesn’t work that way). I am anxious to get outside the tomb to the place where the angel has said, “He is not here. He is risen.” I am anxious to hear and proclaim that because he lives we too shall live and that somehow, someday, God will bring all things together in his heavenly kingdom and not only will we be reunited with those who have gone before us, but we will be reunited with all those we have been estranged from … people of other faiths, other lands, other races, other customs.
Easter has come! The Lord is Risen! And to sin, death, and the devil – and to March sadness -- God says, “April Fool!”
Text: Mark 16:1-8