Tolpuddle and Puddletown
Easter Day 2018
Acts 10.34-43; Mark 16.1-8
Well, it doesn’t really tell us much, the end of Mark’s Gospel. There’s no stone, no Jesus, no joy, no passing the message on. None of it has happened by the time the Gospel ends.
This obviously perplexed people in earlier days so a variety of different endings for Mark have been found, though the earliest manuscripts don’t include these extra verses.
Many scholars, and I myself, believe that the ending we heard this morning is what Mark intended. A harder reading is more likely to be true than an easier one, since writers and editors aim to make things less perplexing and more straightforward rather than going the other way. It seems that both Matthew and Luke, whom it is believed knew Mark’s Gospel and worked with it, have themselves changed the story’s end to make more sense of it.
But I love it like it is.
Not because the women end up terrified and fail to do what they have been commanded to do, but because it leaves the end of the story open for endless possibilities.
Death is extremely powerful. We have a number of world leaders at the present time who want the world to know how powerful they are. I’m thinking of people like Donald Trump in the United States, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Kim Jong-Un in North Korea, China’s Xi Jinping who has recently managed to get the law in that country changed so that he can remain in post for the rest of his life.
Teresa May is flexing her muscles against Europe, Jeremy Corbyn is hoping to be the next Prime Minister, though I wouldn’t put either of them in the power leagues of the afore mentioned individuals.
But, however much power these men and women grab for themselves, there is one sure thing, they will all die. Death is so powerful that it’s the one thing human beings can’t cheat at.
When it comes to the end of our life, the same fate awaits President Putin, Donald and me and you. As Benjamin Franklin is purported to have said there are two certainties in life: death and taxes; and it seems nowadays that people find ways of getting out of the latter so that leaves only one sure thing.
Except that one power is greater and stronger than even that of death – the power of God. God in the form of Jesus gave himself up to death and managed to beat it. God shows us through the resurrection that ultimately even death is nothing in the face of the life Jesus brings.
That life, with which God overcomes the power of death, is not just about eternity, which we enter into through the blood of Jesus, but also about a quality of life, offering us an abundant life, a life of joy, a life of fullness.
Sometimes we find it hard to believe that the resurrection really happened, but it is the heart of our faith. Often we need to live as if something were true, in order for it to become part of us.
What the resurrection offers is healing, hope, forgiveness, joy, light, dignity, justice, mercy. Can there be anyone who doesn’t want to experience those things?
So, whatever you are thinking about the resurrection, whether you are utterly certain, or wobbling a bit, or really unsure, God is reaching out to you asking you to live as if it were true.
Those who live in the light of the resurrection are those who receive from God all those wonderful gifts he offers, and then go and share them with others.
What I love about the ending of Mark is that the story doesn’t finish. It reminds us that the story of Jesus is still yet unfinished, because we are all part of that story, a story which goes on until the end of time, because it is the story of God’s love.
The story of God’s love is there for us to be a part of, we’re writing it day by day.
When the women left the angel in the tomb, they were terrified. They’d been told Jesus was alive but did they believe it before they actually saw the risen Jesus? We’re not told. The story ends with them speaking to no one.
But we wouldn’t now know what had happened to Jesus, if they’d said nothing. So, although Mark doesn’t tell us that they listened to the angel and did what was requested of them, to go and tell Peter and the disciples, they must have done.
And we too need not to keep quiet about the resurrection. Many people in this world don’t have time for God. But death will come to us all and being prepared for that is surely the best way.
We can show the power of the resurrected life by being people of light and joy, mercy and justice, by being good forgivers.
We can offer the hope that, however dark life may currently seem, there is always an opportunity for new starts.
When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we can discover that Christ is with us, walking alongside us, leading us to a new future. Resurrection is not just an individual experience. The women went off terrified together but then they did meet up with those other disciples and the whole community for Jesus’s friends came together.
We live in a world where there is death and destruction, injustice and poverty, crime and suffering. But there is always the possibility of new hope because of the resurrection.
We are called to be Easter people, those who live in the knowledge of the resurrection, those who know that there is no power greater than that of God.
In her book Choose Joy Because Happiness Isn’t Enough Kay Warren says: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things." That is possible because the resurrection has shown the God’s life is stronger than anything that opposes or challenges it.
So let’s grab on to the new start God gives us this Easter. Let’s bury the pain and sin and hurts we hold onto in the tomb that he leaves behind, and let’s allow him to take us by the hand and lead us into new life, life eternal, life abundant, life of Christ.
There is power in that life. The story is told of the powerful orator Nikolai Bukharin who was sent from Moscow to speak at an anti-God rally for the atheist cause. For an hour he attempted to demolish the Christian faith with argument, abuse and ridicule. At the end there was silence.
Then a man rose and asked to speak. He was a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church. He went and stood next to Bukharin. Facing the people, he raised his arms and spoke just three triumphant words: ‘Christ is risen!’
At once the entire assembly rose to their feet and gave the joyful response, ‘He is risen indeed!’ It was a devastating moment for an atheist politician, who had no answer to give to this ancient Easter liturgy. He had not realised he was simply too late: how can you convince people who have already experienced God, that He does not exist?
Experience is the greatest teacher. The women’s experience initially left them amazed and terrified, but soon turned into something else as they realised the truth of the resurrection. The ending of Mark’s Gospel is still being written today by us. Will we, with them, go and proclaim the message: “He has been raised; he is not here. Go, tell.”
If we don’t, then who will?