"An Easter Cliffhanger"

The Day of Resurrection.B.24
Mark 16:1-8
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

The Easter story is not easy to digest. If we’re honest, it is both appalling and astonishing. Just a few days ago, we witnessed the staggering betrayal of Jesus by Judas, one of his closest followers, the triple denial by his friend Peter, the gruesome crucifixion and the brutal end to the earthly life of our Savior.

This morning, there is a stunning development. In the early reaches of dawn, when the sabbath was over, three women, are carrying spices to anoint the dead. As they approach the tomb, they are faced with a problem. They ask one another “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” Their worry is that the tomb will be too secure to access. But upon arrival, they discover the opposite problem, the stone in question has already been rolled back.

Entering the tomb they see a young man, dressed in a white robe. Not surprisingly, the women are frightened. Ask yourself—wouldn’t you be as well—because there’s more than one reason for an empty tomb—the most likely explanation being that the body of their beloved has been snatched away and desecrated. But the man (or angel) says to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” We are then told that the women fled, for terror and amazement had seized them. Note that there are no shouts of “Alleluia! He is risen.” Just fear and the sound of running feet. The Gospel of Mark concludes: “And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”

That’s it. This is where most biblical scholars agree that the end of Mark’s Gospel is located. Right here. In Mark’s gospel we find no vision of the resurrected Christ, not even a few reassuring words from the Savior. Instead we’re given an angel who delivers the good tidings of the resurrection much like an administrative assistant explaining why you can’t have a quick word with the boss: “You’re looking for Jesus? Sorry, you just missed him.” It’s Easter morning and Jesus is no where to be found! Are you irritated? Frustrated? Mark, it seems, has left us with a classic cliffhanger.

Long ago, in the early reaches of time, before there was cable tv, streaming services, home computers or even MTV music videos and I was in ninth grade, there was Dallas—not the city, the television series. In March of 1980 the season ended with a bang—literally. One of the lead characters, JR Ewing, was shot. And the world was shook. Most everyone, it seems was consumed with the question: “Who shot JR?” From office workers to teenagers (really—we didn’t have a lot to choose from back then), to retirement-age folks. We all wanted to know, “Who shot JR?” It was the most-discussed topic in the developed world. All of us speculated—who was it? Could it be JR’s beleaguered wife Sue Ellen, his brother Bobby, or even his father Jock? For the record, my money was on Lucy Ewing, JR’s niece. Songs were written, t-shirts were made. The phenomenon spread to the UK, where it was reported that Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother were among the millions intrigued by the mystery. But even royalty, like the rest of us, had to wait until the fall, when the series began again, to discover who could have done the deed? It turns out, there is no better way to get folks talking than to end with a cliffhanger.

Which brings me back to Mark, the earliest of the four Gospels. Why would Mark end the gospel at such a frustrating point in the story? Perhaps he knew there was no better way to get folks talking, speculating and wondering about this messiah who had reputedly risen from the dead. Devout people, several years after Mark’s gospel was written began writing their own endings, based on experiences of people with the risen Savior—which is why, to this day, if you open your Bible and turn to the sixteenth chapter of Mark you will find what is referred to as “The shorter ending of Mark” and “The longer ending of Mark”.

Which raises the question as to why Mark chose this particular place for his ending. Take a moment and imagine that Mark knew exactly what he was doing when he crafted an incomplete ending to his Gospel—and that he did so by design. That he left the story hanging for a reason.

Why would he do that? Maybe because Mark knew that the Gospel—the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t a story that has a completion. He wrote an open ending to his gospel because this isn’t a story with a neatly wrapped up conclusion so much as it is an invitation—one written to you, to me, and all the world; to generations past and those to come in the future. Consider how he begins his Gospel—with these words: “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, ….” Bear in mind that Mark wasn’t one to mince words. So it is important that the first line of his Gospel does not say what we would expect, based on his direct style of writing: “The Good News of Jesus Christ, ….” It says “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” From the very first sentence of his Gospel, Mark never intended to end his account definitively. We, the readers and listeners, are invited to pick up where these three women left off, and share the good news announced by the messenger at the empty tomb. In the end—closure to this most remarkable event doesn’t arrive with a period at the end of a sentence—but with your response—with your life, and the lives of those around you. Think about it. There is no better way to infuse in your readers a sense of expectancy and urgency---than to end with a cliffhanger.

So, if you are finding that you do not like the end of this gospel and the non-appearance of Jesus, on this, the most festive day of the Christian year—well, do what others have done before you, (and what Mark, perhaps, intends for you to do), and write a better ending with your life. How do you respond to the news of an empty tomb? Will you return to your life—partake of Easter festivities, bite the ears off the head of a chocolate bunny and take a nap? Or will you be transformed by the Good News of Jesus, the Christ? Will you turn and run in fear, or will you proclaim the Good News in word and deed? What will you do? In the name of the risen Son of God. Alleluia! Amen.