April 4

The Story Doesn’t End Here: Easter Sermon on Mark 16:1-8

By Marsh Chapel

An audio recording of this service is not available.

Mark 16:1-8

Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

How good it is to be here, in person, worshipping together with all of you for the first time in over a year! Easter has arrived! We gather together in community, new and familiar faces, early this Easter morning to share in the joy of the Holy Spirit at the news of the impossible becoming possible and the glory of our salvation through Jesus Christ, our Lord. We’ve donned our Sunday best, are surrounded by the beauty of the creation, have the sounds of beautiful music from the Marsh Chapel Choir, and feel the exuberant energy of this festival day. We are glad to be together, although distanced and outdoors, to share in worship together. For some of us, including me, it has been a very long time since we have been able to worship in person! We joyfully hear the words of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” and shout our “Alleluias,” listening for the good news of grace freely given through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

However, our Gospel reading for today does not seem to match the positive feelings we might have about our service this morning. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it’s somewhat off-putting given the celebratory nature we expect from our Easter service. In Mark’s telling of the resurrection, the oldest of the gospel accounts, we are greeted only with an empty tomb, a man dressed in white, and women who deeply loved Jesus left in stunned silence, too scared to go and share what they have witnessed. Most scholars agree that the original ending of Mark is verse 8, where our gospel reading ends today. There is no triumphant celebration of victory over death in this ending, just stunned silence.

Imagine yourself following along with these three women – Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome – as they approach the tomb where Jesus had been laid days earlier. These three women had seen the traumatic death of Jesus from afar, having been Jesus’ followers with other women from Jerusalem during Jesus’ ministry (Mk. 15:40-41). They saw him crucified, give up his final cry, and die. They now approach his tomb with trepidation – they could not anoint his body before this point because it was the Sabbath. The violent death Jesus faced at the hands of the authorities does not dissuade them from their task to make sure his body is properly prepared for burial. Instead of fear of being discovered, their biggest concern is that they will not be able to access his tomb because of the large, heavy rock that had been used to seal it. The task seems almost impossible, but they are moved forward by their love, care, and devotion to Jesus in these last moments with his body.

It is no surprise then that the women are shocked when the rock had already been moved away! No one else would have any reason to visit Jesus’ tomb. Who else could have possibly moved away this stone? Not only that, but where is Jesus’ body?! This is not at all what the women expected when they set out to the tomb that early morning. Their worry shifts to alarm as they encounter the young man in white. This young man in white, perhaps an angelic figure, is not identifiable by any of these women, but he knows exactly whom they seek (Jesus of Nazareth), where he has gone (He is not here…he is going to Galilee), and what the women and the disciples (who are not there) are to do now (Go, Tell!). He tries to calm the women: “Do not be alarmed,” he states. But it’s too late. The women, those same women who had been devoted followers of Jesus throughout his ministry are alarmed. Even more than that, their alarm turns to fear and doubt.

Doubt is the antithesis of faith. Faith requires trust. Fear prevents the women from fully putting their trust in the words of the young man in white. He instructs the women, “But go, tell” the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection and plans to meet them in Galilee. The women don’t “go” or “tell.” In placing trust in their own perception of the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection they falter in their faith in trusting God and Jesus, even though Jesus has expressed previously that he will return to them. Many of us would have the same reaction if placed in a similar situation. The mixture of emotions with the traumatic events which have taken place may have well left us too afraid to say anything to anyone else. In today’s political and social climate, some may relate with feeling too uneasy with our own religious tradition to be bold proclaimers of our faith to others.            We fear judgment of our beliefs or that our experiences of the Divine will not be understood by others who have not shared in them.

Mark’s gospel does not shout the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, but quietly retreats into stunned silence. What a strange way to end the gospel that is supposed to declare the Good News of Jesus Christ. What are we supposed to take away from such an abrupt ending? It would be easy to assume that Mark was mistaken in writing the ending this way – that perhaps the rest of Mark’s gospel was lost and there was a more satisfying ending in which the resurrected Jesus actually appeared to the women and the disciples and told them what to do next. In fact, early Christians were so certain that the ending of Mark must’ve been a mistake that they added in their own set of verses around the 2nd century C.E. to make the story feel more “complete.”

However, most New Testament scholars now recognize that the choice to leave the gospel on a cliffhanger may have been intentional by its writer. The silence of the women opens up the possibility for those reading the text to proclaim the good news.[1] Even though the written word of the gospel ends at verse 8, the story does not end here. You see, Jesus is not just a dead historical figure and the resurrection is not a one-time event. We’ve been saying so all morning – Alleluia, Christ is Risen! IS RISEN! Jesus continues to live and act in the resurrection.

We are a part of this Easter story. The man in white at the tomb speaks to us, just as the Holy Spirit continues to guide us in our faith. As New Testament scholar, Ira Brent Diggers, points out, “Christian discipleship is always Easter ministry.”[2] We continue to experience this Easter story throughout the rest of the year. An empty tomb gives us the opportunity to see how Jesus is and can be present to us in our lives. The good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins is not just that it happened, but that it continues to happen for you (LC V, BoC 469.21-22). We are justified by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and receive the free gift of the grace of God through our faith. We might have our own moments of doubt or trepidation in claiming or proclaiming our faith, but the Holy Spirit through the Word and sacraments reminds us that we do not have to be afraid, we need only trust in God and God’s promises (LC V, BoC 473.61-63). We may feel lost in knowing what to do next in the face of adversity, but God continues to remain steadfast with us no matter the circumstances, even if the tomb is empty.

Our faith in the promises set forth by God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit bring us together to form the church and to be God’s witness to the world (Ap VII & VIII, BoC 175.13). Faith is a gift to us from God. We do nothing to manufacture it, but instead receive it through the means of grace. God meets us where we are through hearing the scriptures and participating in the sacraments. We grow in faith each time we hear the Word proclaimed, sharing in that moment with others and allowing its messages to touch us personally (Ap IV, BoC 131.67). We encounter Jesus each time we hear the words of institution – “This is my body, given for you…This is my blood, shed for youDo this in remembrance of me…” (LC V, BoC 473.65). When we partake in the Lord’s Supper, it physically binds us to the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice through eating the bread and drinking the wine (AP XXIV, BoC 271.73). We witness God’s choice of us and others each time a new member is brought into our community through Holy Baptism. We feel the Holy Spirit move and inspire us as we join together in Word, sacrament, and song as the church, whether we are physically together or sharing in the Word virtually through radio waves and internet streams. In all of these acts we continue to strengthen our faith in God and the relationships we form with one another in the Body of Christ here and beyond the walls of this church. Faith has the power to be transformative in our lives, opening our hearts and enabling us to be in service to others. The voice of the Holy Spirit invites us to “go, tell” others about the amazing things Christ does for us. An empty tomb is a sign of possibility. The story doesn’t end here. It’s only just beginning. Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

[1] Tucker S. Ferda, “The Ending of Mark and the Faithfulness of God: An Apocalyptic Resolution to Mark 16:8,” Journal of Theological Interpretation, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2019.

[2] Ira Brent Diggers, “April 4, 2021: Commentary on Mark 16:1-8,” Working Preacher, , accessed April 4, 2021.

-Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

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