Sermon text: Mark 16: 1-8
I will begin this sermon with a little performance art. Today, I will sing for you the classic tune “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” beginning with the second word.
Me out to the ball game take
Me out with the crowd buy
Me some peanuts and Cracker Jack I
Don’t care if I never get back let me
Root, root, root for the home team if
They don’t win it’s a shame for
It’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at
The old ball game
There you have it, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” beginning with the second word. It’s just so wrong, isn’t it? It’s a wonderfully creative rendition, but it lacks a little something we like to call the ending. It’s a tad disappointing to get to the last note of the song only to have it empty, hanging in the air with no lyric to pair with it.
It sounds completely odd to the ear. Frankly, I find is discombobulating to have such an iconic tune turned on its head. It’s like a Looney Toons cartoon ending without Porky Pig appearing to tell us “That’s All Folks!” or a Marvel superhero movie ending without a huge fight sequence and the destruction of a major city or New Year’s Eve ending without the ball drop or a worship service ending without the words “Go in peace. Serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.”
Endings matter, especially when it comes to good story telling, which is why Mark’s Gospel is so intriguing, or, more accurately, why it is flabbergasting. The overwhelming majority of scholars believe Mark’s original ending of the Gospel was our last verse that we read today, verse eight of Chapter 16: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Mark wrote sixteen chapters about Jesus’ life and ministry and he ends it like this on Easter Day? Some scarred disciples of Jesus flee the empty tomb in terror and amazement after an encounter with an angel and they become anti-evangelists…they don’t share the story. They are silent. There are no shouts of “Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”
Early Christian monks were so distressed by this original ending that they filled in the gaps. Open your bibles to the end of Mark and you will find two endings that were tacked on later, a shorter version and a longer version, trying to tie a nice, neat bow on Mark’s writing.
According to Mark, this is what we know: The women disciples, after hearing the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, and after being commissioned by the angel to go and tell this story, are failures at their task. They leave the tomb in fear and they say nothing. Obviously, they eventually told someone, because we know the story today. But initially, they are mute.
Second, and equally disturbing, there isn’t a single scene in Mark’s original text with the resurrected Christ. Jesus doesn’t make an appearance to the disciples to confront their doubts and to bolster their faith like he does in Matthew, Luke, and John.
By all accounts it is a lousy ending for a story that’s so important in a book that is otherwise tightly-paced, riveting, and to the point. However, since Mark is my favorite Gospel writer I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that this wasn’t a case of writer’s block or a singular case of bad storytelling, but an intentional composition by a pastor writing for his congregation. I think Mark knew exactly what he was doing. I think he crafted an incomplete ending by design, that he left the story hanging on this moment of disappointment and failure for a reason.
Perhaps he knew that no story of Jesus’ death and resurrection could fully capture the mystery and provide a neat and tidy ending. Perhaps he knew that his audience would also be a little bewildered and uncomfortable at the idea that a convicted criminal came back to life. Perhaps, and I find this to be most likely, Mark knew that the story wasn’t over yet and his open-ended Gospel is an invitation for us to jump in and become an active participant in the unfolding adventure.
The women are too afraid to speak after the empty tomb and Mark wants us to pick up where these disciples left off so that we can share the message of the resurrection. We can tell people that life triumphs over death. We can testify that life has the last word. We can proclaim that Christ is risen.
You see, what God is doing through Jesus isn’t over at the empty tomb. It is only the beginning. The resurrection isn’t a conclusion, it is an invitation. While Jesus’ triumph over sin, death, and hate is important, Mark cares more about how we can live resurrected lives right now…that we can continue the holy work of redemption in this world.
After all, just as Mark wrote at the very start of this book, this is the “Beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
If this is only the beginning then we have a part to play. So when we look around and see pain and heartache around us, we know that God is not done yet and we have ministry to do. When we witness disappointments and injustice we know that God is not done yet and we have ministry to do. When we experience sickness and death, joys and triumphs, new life and tarnished hopes, we have faith that God is not done yet, and we have work to do.
The good news of Jesus Christ is unfolding before our very eyes. The resurrection is only the beginning. What words will you add to the gospel? How many chapters and verses can you author as the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God continues?
Happy Easter. AMEN