2018 APRIL 1 Easter Sunday Message

Scripture:  Mark 16:1-8(9-20)        THE ORIGINAL ENDING

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 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.

THE SHORTER ENDING OF MARK  – 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.

THE LONGER ENDING OF MARK – Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.  She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.  After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

Easter Proclamation “Where to Find Him” Rev. James R. Renfrew,

This is the day!  This is the day upon which our faith depends.  Christ is risen!

As a child I only knew the bare outlines of this story.  I knew Jesus was alive, we sang joyful “Alleluia” songs in church, my Mom and my sisters wore their Easter hats and white gloves.  My sisters and I  searched for hidden Easter baskets, and loved all of the candy, but I didn’t know a lot about death back then.  Nobody I had known had ever died, and even when my grandfather died in 1965 I wasn’t brought to the funeral.  I didn’t know a whole lot about cancer, about heart attacks, about violence and war, about torture and the death penalty.  Nobody ever died in the TV cartoons I watched on Saturday mornings.

As I have grown older the story of Jesus’ resurrection has grown with me.  I know more about the details of the story of the Cross and the resurrection because I have read all four gospels many times over.  But maybe the biggest change is that I know a lot more about death now.

I have seen people die in the hospital, sometimes peacefully, sometimes not.  I have done several hundred funerals as a pastor.  I have watched the news along with all of you about violence, starvation, bombings, the Holocaust, ethnic cleansing, school massacres and war.  With television it comes right into our living rooms.

Now I know too much about death, but because of that the Gospel story of Jesus’ resurrection is more powerful than ever.  Though surrounded by death, we tell the world today that life is stronger.  He’s alive!  And because he’s alive we’re alive, too.

I like the Easter story in Mark’s Easter story most of all.  The women look into the tomb and Jesus is gone.  The figure dressed in white explains it clearly:  “He is not here!”  But the figure also explains nothing it all by saying “if you want to know more you’ll have to find him for yourself.”

I like how Mark’s version of the story ends in verse 8, because what is clear to me is that if you want to know what happened to Jesus, and why he is not in the tomb you’ll have to find him on your own.  It might be possible to find him anywhere, but I think I’ve been most successful finding him where there is great human need.  I find Mark’s ending to the story beautiful and challenging, beautiful because it is so unexpected, but challenging because it gives me a lot to do, many things to do, not only to celebrate life, but to do as much as I can to help the living, defending the powerless, befriend the incarcerated, the migrants, the refugees, the victims, sharing food, giving money, donating blood, working to reduce violence.

But in the early days of Christianity some were not comfortable with Mark’s ending.  They wanted to be so much clearer about where to find him, and they even included stories about where the risen Jesus was found, what he was  like and what he said.  Matthew, Luke and John give lots of the details that Mark does not.

Matthew tells about how the disciples found him on a mountain and how he told them to bring story into all the world, teaching and baptizing everywhere.   Luke tells the story of the road to Emmaus, when a stranger joins two of the disciples walking along the road, and they only recognize the stranger as Jesus when he breaks the bread.  John tells the story about Mary finding Jesus in the garden, about Thomas who would not believe Jesus risen until he could actually touch his wounds, and a final story where they find Jesus on the beach watching them fishing in the Sea of Galilee.  But Mark ends abruptly – he is not here, go find him for yourself.

Over the centuries it appears that some people were not happy with Mark’s ending of the story.  It seemed too imprecise, and too lacking in details.  And so you see two additional endings to Mark’s story, the “Shorter Ending” and the “Longer Ending”.  These may seem helpful to the modern reader, but they are not part of Mark’s original story that ends at verse 8.  We know this because the oldest scrolls that have been found with Mark’s story do not include the shorter and longer versions at all.  They were added.  In different Bibles, the shorter and longer versions are identified as later additions by many footnotes. Sometimes the endings themselves are not in the main text at all, but are in small print footnotes.  Each Bible shows the Shorter and Longer endings differently.

But I will say again that I like Mark’s original version, that ends with verse 8, most of all, not because it is simpler or easier, but because it is more challenging.  Easter should never be simple, it should be challenging, because resurrection stretches our boundaries and understandings to the breaking point.  We thought we knew everything about life and death, but it turns out that we don’t!

Ultimately, the stories that others have told, are never enough.  We need to find him for ourselves.  Look for him in the garden, look for him in Galilee, look for him on the beach, look for him on the mountain, look for him in your backyard, look for him in the hospital, look for him in a soup kitchen, look for him on the front lines of a vicious war.

Haven’t found him yet?  Sometimes it takes time to realize or understand that we have found him.  As we process something that happened in the past, maybe decades in the past, we finally come to realize that Jesus was right there, even at a moment when we felt most alone and powerless.  That’s resurrection!

But also consider this:  you may struggle hard and long to find the risen Christ, looking in gardens, on mountains, or on beaches, but here’s the best of the Good News:  he’s looking for you!  I hope that today he has found you!  Alleluia.  Amen!

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