WORDS OF WORSHIP from Psalm 33:20-22
We put our hope in the Lord.
He is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
for our hope is in you alone.
We come before you, O God, in uncertain times,
just as the women approached the tomb with some uncertainty.
We are apprehensive
just as the disciples were after Jesus’ death on the cross.
We are living into new times,
just as Jesus’ followers did even with the good news of his resurrection.
Teach us in these times
to continue to trust in your unfailing love which still surrounds us.
Remind us to put our hope in you. Amen.
CONFESSION AND PARDON
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We come to you wanting to be your faithful people,
but confessing that some days our faith is really put to the test.
We want to be faithful in caring for others,
but we admit that some days it is all we can do to take care of ourselves.
We come knowing that you are our life and our salvation,
but confess that as we listen to the news
and the numbers related to deaths and unemployment,
our fears and frustrations may overwhelm us.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers,
know our hearts, forgive us our weakness.
The whole message of Easter is that Christ died,
and with him our sin was put to death.
We are forgiven.
Christ rose on Easter offering us new life to be a new person in him.
Thanks be to God!
*PASSING THE PEACE
May the peace of Christ be with you. And also with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
Lord, open not only our hears and our eyes, but our hearts, our minds, and our spirits to receive your Word for us this day. Amen.
I invite you to get your Bibles or open a Bible app on your phone, and read along with me.
SCRIPTURE LESSONS Mark 16:1-8, GW
16 When the day of rest—a holy day, was over, Mary from Magdala, Mary (the mother of James), and Salome bought spices to go and anoint Jesus.
2 On Sunday they were going to the tomb very early when the sun had just come up. 3 They said to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. It was a very large stone. 5 As they went into the tomb, they saw a young man. He was dressed in a white robe and sat on the right side. They were panic-stricken.
6 The young man said to them, “Don’t panic! You’re looking for Jesus from Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been brought back to life. He’s not here. Look at the place where they laid him. 7 Go and tell his disciples and Peter that he’s going ahead of them to Galilee. There they will see him, just as he told them.”
8 They went out of the tomb and ran away. Shock and trembling had overwhelmed them. They didn’t say a thing to anyone, because they were afraid.
SERMON The Resurrection According to Mark
That’s not the ending you expected, is it? If you did open a Bible in front of you to Mark 16, you probably wondered why I didn’t keep reading. Why did I stop where I did? That’s not the end of the story! Ah, but in the earliest documents of Mark’s gospel found so far, that is exactly where it ends. It’s a shock to us that it doesn’t go the way we expect to hear the story.
We know that the four gospels don’t tell it exactly the same way, but we don’t often hear or read this version. The lectionary allows for John or Matthew in year A, John or Mark in year B, John or Luke in year C. I suspect most lectionary preachers choose John most years. We seem to be the most familiar with Mary’s conversation with Jesus outside the tomb. That’s what I expect to hear on Easter, and perhaps so do you. Our lack of familiarity with the other gospel versions is one of the reasons I was pleased with the book I found for Easter season this year. We are going to hear all four! But for now, back to Mark 16.
When it ends so abruptly with “They didn’t say a thing to anyone, because they were afraid.” We might react with, “What? No way!” Some Bible translations show us a shorter ending and a longer ending to Mark, but you have to know that the church added these much later. Scholars are convinced they weren’t part of the original document.
I don’t know about you, but when I watch a drama or read a novel, my overall opinion is affected by whether or not it does a nice job of tying up the loose ends in the last episode or last chapter. I want each character, not just the main characters to have a happy ending. If there isn’t going to be a happy ending, then I at least want to understand why it ends with a tragedy. Bare minimum I want to have a realistic sense of closure; I want a pretty good idea of what happened to everyone in the story. I notice if the writer left someone out of that closure. I want an idea of what happened in the immediate future, whether or not there is an epilogue. If it was a good story, I like recognizing a window of opportunity for a sequel. Perhaps some of you know that if you are watching a Marvel movie in the theater, you want to sit through the credits, because after that you will get one more scene that suggests whose story will be told in the next movie. I like that!
Mark doesn’t do any of this. It doesn’t tie up the loose ends. It doesn’t give me a satisfying understanding of the crucifixion or fully express the resurrection. We don’t get to see Jesus for ourselves; we have to take some young man’s word for it that Jesus is risen from the dead. Mark doesn’t even identify the young man as an angel. We guess that because of the white robe. I can imagine some readers not believing this person was even real. Mark doesn’t give us any hint of a sequel, of a next chapter, yet for many of us that is the whole point, that there is more to come. Hold that thought….
Let’s go back to Mark’s gospel. Actually, in Paula Gooder’s devotional, This Risen Existence, she takes a look at the previous episode or chapter. So, turn back a page and look at Mark 15:37-39, NLT
“Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
39 When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”
The scenes of the trials and crucifixion have been heavy and dark. But with these verses, Gooder says, “a glimmer of light appears.” She continues, “Imagine a beam of sunshine breaking through heavy, black clouds on a stormy day.” (p. 20) The torn curtain is a hint that something has indeed broken through, broken through our traditions and restraints, broken through the separation we experience from God; something new is happening. The proclamation of the centurion echoes what God spoke at Jesus’ baptism and at the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son.” This Roman soldier who was not a Jew, not a friend to the Jews, a man whose job it was to oversee Jesus’ death, gets a glimmer of what the religious leaders couldn’t see, that this man was indeed the Son of God. Here is where the foreshadowing takes place, in the rending of the curtain that has hidden God’s presence and in the Words of a foreign enemy. I can only wonder who caught that hint.
Gooder writes, “We travel with Jesus down to the very pits of despair, but then, when all seems lost, a beam of sunshine gleams, temporarily, through the gloom, suggesting that this is, perhaps, not all there is to see: the despair is no less acute, the hopelessness still hangs in the air but perhaps, just perhaps, there is more. It is this sense of something beyond the hopelessness that is, for me, a vital part of our faith. It doesn’t necessarily make the despair any less bleak, but it does give us a reason for trudging on.” (pp. 21-22) We really need those words in our world today.
I think what Gooder writes applies not only to the foreshadowing glimmer in Mark 15, but also the rest of the story in Mark 16. Even without a satisfying ending, I find that hope in the empty tomb and the young man’s words. In the same way, there is a bleakness to our empty sanctuary this Easter season, but there is a glimmer of hope in the fact we are still able to share worship through this technology or by mail. I can’t hold my usual Bible studies, but so many other people are reading the one I post on Facebook. The couple whose wedding would have been next Saturday have replanned for April 2021. I’m realizing I may not have much time back in the pulpit or the office before my retirement. But on the other hand, I have been interested in online ministry for about 20 years, and I’m enjoying the creative challenge. I wondered more than 20 years ago what church would look like in the 21st century and honestly didn’t think I would get to be part of the changes I knew would have to come. I’m genuinely excited that I get to participate in exploring new forms of doing ministry and being church for this brief bit before I retire. I see that glimmer of hope for my own future participation in something new.
Besides my personal glimpses of light and hope for the future, we all need that as the world continues to deal with COVID-19. We are only beginning to admit that this is going to last longer than any of us would like. We are only beginning to adjust to the necessary changes. We are only beginning to realize that our futures will look different; we won’t be able to go back to the way things were nor in some cases should we. We are only beginning to consider that we have to think globally not nationally or regionally if we are going to survive. To be honest we have a long way to go on that train of thought. Many of you have lived through other turning points: The Great Depression, WW2, Space travel, 9/11. These also changed our world and our world view. This is also what happened with Jesus’ resurrection. For his followers the world changed and would never be the same. They could not go back to the way things were, nor would they want to once they were convinced he was alive. The Spirit would lead them to new challenges and a new way of life that has had a ripple effect even down to our own day.
When Jesus was buried, it was hurriedly, because the Sabbath would soon begin, a time of rest. The women came when it ended to complete the task. The one obstacle they had anticipated, the heavy stone, was not there. The tomb that should have been sealed was open. Imagine coming home and finding the door you had locked when you left was open. That would make you very nervous and afraid. I think that’s how the women must have felt. Gooder says, “The Greek word has the resonance of being so utterly amazed that you actually feel disturbed or alarmed.” (p. 22) But the young man tells them, “Don’t be alarmed.” “Don’t be afraid.” I like the God’s Word version, “Don’t panic!” (verse 6) Many times those are also the words we need to hear.
Gooder writes, “If the women spent too long in a state of amazement and alarm, the all-important message would remain unproclaimed, unannounced to those who needed to hear it most.” (p. 23) Once they have experienced the empty tomb, they are given an assignment. “Go and tell…” Go and tell the others what you have seen and heard. Earlier in Mark the disciples were told to keep quiet about Jesus’ identity or what they had seen. In Mark 9:9, the transfiguration story ends like this, “9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone about what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Well, now is the time. The empty tomb and proclamation that Jesus is alive, these are the signals that now is the time to tell the world about Jesus. The disciples need to be silent no longer.
But Mark 16:8 ends the Easter story with the women’s fear. “They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” What if we say nothing to anyone about our faith because we are too afraid? We might be afraid of what others will think or that we don’t have the right words or that it isn’t politically correct, etc. But those women must have eventually said something or else how did Mark’s story get this far to include their experience of the first Easter?
The Christian faith depends entirely on that story. How are others going to be encouraged if we don’t share our faith? How will anyone be curious enough to consider Jesus or God for themselves if no one shares their own trust or belief? The story can’t be passed on if no one shares it. Gooder refers us to Romans 10:14 which asks, “14 So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher?” Someone has to tell the story, so others can hear and find that faith to call on the Lord in their time of need. The world today offers plenty of reminders that we need something to believe in, someone to call upon in our need. Therefore, it is a time to keep sharing the story, and keep sharing our faith.
The way Mark 16:8 ends the story leaves us asking, but what happened next? We can see 2,000 years later that the story did survive. It occurs to me that it’s okay that Mark doesn’t tie up all the loose ends, because Easter was not the end of the story. It was actually just the beginning. It was the opening scene of the sequel. History has written more chapters, more episodes. We are still adding more to the collection. Gooder writes, “the good news of Mark has not yet ended. Mark’s gospel is simply the prologue to the ‘good news of Jesus Christ, son of God’ [as the gospel introduced itself in Mark 1:1], the story rolls on, borne out in the lives of each of us.”
Our story is part of that ongoing story of Easter. The choices you make, the ways you reach out to others, the encouragement you receive as well as give, your faith and your hope for the future in spite of what you may hear today in the news, all of this is how you are continuing to write not only your own story but that of your family, your circle of friends, your community, your church, your world. This is how the Easter story continues to unfold in the lives of those who believe and the lives of those who will dare to believe because of you.
AFFIRMATION Apostle’s Creed, Ecumenical Version
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
God, in faith we pray for the needs of our world.
We pray for those who are sick and for those who grieve.
We pray for those who are still going to work, sometimes with long hours,
And we pray for those whose jobs are on hold.
We pray for those fighting this virus and those dealing with other disasters.
We pray for those who are feeling stuck at home
And for those who wish they could get home
And those who have no home to go to.
We pray for those who are afraid and those who are anxious.
We pray for a better understanding of the needs and creative solutions to meet them.
We pray for more compassion with one another
And a recognition that we are all in this together
Not just in one nation but as a global family.
May we learn to work together for everyone’s well being
And not just be in competition for our own welfare.
May we have faith and hope to survive
And to work toward a better future for all of us.
PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
We give you thanks for food and shelter.
For doctors and nurses and support staff.
For means of communicating with each other at a distance.
For signs of Spring in spite of this week’s snow.
We give you thanks for being with us even when we feel alone.
We thank you for caring for our families when we cannot be there ourselves.
We give you thanks creative solutions to unprecedented challenges.
The thank you for life and health as long as we can enjoy it.
We give you thanks for the hope you give us in the life yet to come,
And for the witness of faith in generations and stories of the past.
Remembering those traditions of faith, we offer the prayer you taught your disciples…
THE LORD'S PRAYER
My thanks to those of you who have sent your offerings by mail. They are safe in the vault until we are able to make a deposit. Please continue to make your offerings in this way.
CHARGE & BLESSING
God of grace be with us: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer,
abide with us and grant us your peace. Amen.
Messages this season are based on This Risen Existence b
For the Easter Season video will be available of Kolleen leading worship, reading scripture, and sharing a message based on the resurrection passages throughout the New Testament, based on the devotional book This Risen Existence by Paula Gooder. Thanks to our tech, Mike, for setting up recording and editing to video