Still being written today
A sermon preached by Pastor Ken Carrothers on April 19, 2020
So this past week I had my first experience of what some are calling “couch church.” It is defined as what you are doing right now. Worshipping, by use of technology, with a widely gathered community. Often done in one’s pajamas. Now I didn’t do the pajama part. I showered and changed before each worship service. And I while I appreciated the opportunity to worship with you and my family— if that is what we call my daughters jumping up and down on the couch as we participated — I have to be honest, I felt like the preacher went on for a bit too long Easter morning.
And so I need to say thank you. I am grateful for all of you. I’m not sure I would stick with it as long as you have. I appreciate your willingness to come back and hear the Good News proclaimed by this longwinded preacher. But let me tell you as I sat and heard the tomb was empty I made a pact with myself. If Jesus can rise from the dead and allow us to say, Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! then I can find the ending of a sermon a little quicker than I did last Sunday.
Of course the irony of this is that our Easter scripture passage was from Mark. People have spilled plenty of ink on Mark’s telling, but one thing no says about it, is that Mark went on for too long. In fact we have real proof that someone thought it was too short, because they added on an additional ending.
Now we brushed upon this last week, but again, our scripture for today is often believed to been written by someone other than Mark’s writer and was added to the Gospel much later. The two simplest reasons for this train of thought are one, verses 9-20 are not found in two of the oldest — like old as dirt — manuscripts. And two, there is a change in the writing style. The words used, the phrases, the vocabulary, the grammatical tendencies, the strange explanations in these 12 verses — they don’t fit the rest of Mark’s writing.
So what likely happened was a scribe was left absolutely baffled by the ending. The scribe, likely trained in the same school as those at creative-writing-now-dot-com, knew that an effective ending shows the result of the story’s conflict. An effective story ending comes from the main character’s actions. A satisfying story ending uses elements from the story’s beginning and middle and leaves the reader feeling something.[i]
And so ending the best news in human history — Jesus’ resurrection — with terrified women keeping their mouth shut and never encountering the Risen Christ — that doesn’t cut it. In Matthew, we have the Great Commission. Luke has Jesus instructing his disciples before ascending to heaven. John ends with Peter’s restoration and call to ministry confirmed. These are wonderful endings. Powerful conclusions that inspire. And at least for one scribe — silence does not.
And so the scribe added the result of the main conflict to the end of the end of the story — Jesus didn’t stay dead. Jesus shows up. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! The scribe brings back the main character of Jesus and focused the ending on Jesus action. The scribe ended the story by holding the disciples lack of belief, which was present in the beginning and middle of the story and worked to leave the reader with a feeling of something more than — silence.
Now I read plenty of blog posts and commentaries this week that would suggest a preacher should stay as far away from these 12 verses as possible and they may be right. But today, regardless of who wrote it, the story rings true. Jesus showing up. Jesus surprising people. Jesus finding people in their everyday lives. That is just the resurrected Jesus doing what Jesus has been doing his whole life long.
And perhaps even more to the point — it feels like something we need to hear right now. Living into this stay-home order can leave a person feeling isolated. We can feel trapped walking the same neighborhood path over and over again. We can feel stuck as our days and nights are spent under the same roof. Yet in many ways those are the descriptions of the places Jesus shows up in this longer ending of Mark.
Jesus shows up to Mary Magdalene when she is by herself. Jesus finds two disciples walking on a country road I imagine they had walked a hundred times before. Jesus surprises the disciples as they were sitting around a table. The risen Jesus enters into the everyday places of people’s lives.
Which is important to remember. Far too often as a people of faith it feels like we get caught into the words Jesus shares with the disciples, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”[ii] We hear these words as a summons — as a call. And that is what they are, but the issue seems to arise when we hear these words and infer that the sign we are living this out is seen in the number of stamps we acquire in our passport.
Now please do not misunderstand me. There are ministry opportunities all around the world. There are orphanages in Africa desperately needing volunteers to hold and rock babies. There is great poverty, hunger and need in Asia to which we can offer assistance. There are people needing to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ in South America and a bundle of other places around the world. All the world — the whole creation — has great needs and we are reminded of this every day as we look at world maps that highlight the devastating impact COVID-19 is having. That is all true. There is no shortage of places to go and get passport stamps, where we can live out God’s call to the whole world and all of creation.
However, what is also true is that all the world — the whole creation — is also encompassed in our homes, our neighborhoods and the places which we need no passport to get too. The Good News can be proclaimed from our kitchen tables. The Good News can be lived in our backyards. The Good News can be shared from our driveways. In the midst of staying home, we can join God in God’s mission for the world right now through all our words and deeds.
And that is perhaps the real key. We can join God in what God is already up to. For in these stories, the scribe felt compelled to share as the ending, we are reminded that Jesus is the one appearing to the disciples. Jesus is appearing to them. The story has no suggestion that they went out looking for Jesus. No, Jesus is looking for them. And not only looking — Jesus is finding them. And Jesus is finding us.
The true ending of Mark’s gospel is still being written today. The wonder worker, Jesus, is continuing to work through God’s people in this post-resurrection world. But rather than tell you about it, I’m going to end early, so we can prepare ourselves to be surprised as the risen Jesus encounters us on this day. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
[i] Found at https://www.creative-writing-now.com/story-endings.html on April 16, 2020.
[ii] Mark 16:15 (nrsv)