Fill the pages of your Gospel Account
(I preached this sermon on Easter Sunday in response to Mark 16:1-8. You can find the full sermon and service at www.ststephenlc.org.)
I want you to think of a movie or a TV series that you have seen. One where the ending just kind of leaves you unsatisfied. A movie or series that doesn’t end with a happy ending and all the loose ends wrapped up in a nice bow. One that ends right after the climax, where the plot is unresolved, and you have an assortment of unanswered questions.
There’s been a few that I’ve seen that come to mind. The 1960’s TV series “The Prisoner” left more questions than gave answers in every single of its 16 episodes. In the mid to late 2000’s the TV series “Lost” was on – remember that? The conclusion of that series was so very unsatisfying to many of the people who watched it faithfully. So many unresolved questions and plot twists. The whole series was one mystery after another and for many people the ending of the show left people scratching their heads and wanting answers. We’d been so drawn into the show that we couldn’t wait to see how it all was resolved.
And maybe the best, and most humorous example of a movie that ends in an odd and anti-climactic way is the 1975 movie – Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It ends as King Arthur is taking his valiant knights to make an assault on a French Castle that supposedly holds the Holy Grail. And all of a sudden, the then present-day 1975 police break into the movie and arrest the cast for murder of the narrator and destruction of property and abruptly shut down the film. It ends with a hand of one of the officers covering the lens of the camera. That’s how it ends. Did King Arthur get the Grail? Did the French actually have it? We have no idea. It just ends.
Our Gospel reading for today, Easter Sunday, is what is known as the traditional ending of the Gospel of Mark. The ending that appeared in the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel.
It would only be later on that verses 9-20, what constitutes our current complete version of the Gospel if you look in your bible, would be added on.
I get it. I can see why people would want to add more to the end of this Gospel. The traditional ending of Mark is as anti-climactic as it gets. There’s an empty tomb for sure. And we have an angel – just like the other Gospel accounts. And the angel gives instructions to the women at the tomb.
And you’d think that what comes next is a Jesus sighting or appearance. But no. The traditional ending of the Gospel comes crashing to an end with one verse – Verse 8: “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.”
Roll the credits. That’s it. You can go home now.
To make sense of this, let us consider two things – the bookends of the Gospel of Mark. One, go back to the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. The very first verse is vitally important to grasping what this Gospel is all about. Mark writes this, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Right at the very beginning, Mark is telling us that this is just the beginning of the story – not the whole story. And it’s the story about the Son of God. The label says everything we need to know. This isn’t just some guy, or another teacher, or even a prophet. This is about the Son of God. And there’s no surprises – it’s all laid out in the very first verse of who Jesus is.
Or as The Interpreters’ Bible says about verse 1 – ”The gospel does not mean a book, or the message delivered by Jesus, but ‘the Christian proclamation of the divine message of salvation through Jesus Christ’; it is ‘the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’”
Jesus is the embodiment of Good News. Jesus is the Gospel.
Here’s the second thing for us to consider. The ending. There has been long debate about the ending of Mark’s Gospel because of how the traditional ending concludes. As the Interpreters Bible closes its commentary on Mark, it asks, “Was the final page of Mark’s Gospel lost? Was there an ending other than the two which have been supplied to make up the lack, the longer of which is printed at the end of Mark as verses 9-20? Perhaps he never finished the story. Perhaps the last page was lost.”
“There is a real fitness, however, in the fact that his is an “unfinished Gospel.” The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” is always unfinished. It is a continued story, to be carried on in individual lives. Paul added his page to it, “Last of all…he appeared also to me.” (1 Cor. 15:8 – as we heard this morning). There is an unwritten page left for each of us to write, our record of what Jesus has said and done in us.”
Mark has only begun to tell the story for us. And he hands it off to everyone else who follows to continue the story. It has been handed off all the generations who have come since Mark wrote his account of the Gospel. It has been handed off to so many who have come before us. And now it has been handed on to us – yes, us, literally gathered here this morning.
We are called to proclaim the Gospel about Jesus Christ, to continue the story about Jesus and how he still shows up in unexpected ways. How he continues to encounter us. How he continues to be present with people in the midst of pain and suffering and death, as well as in times of great joy and thanksgiving. How he frees people from bondage. How he upends injustice to restore just and right relationships. How he continues to feed us through the Eucharist.
How he ends oppressive systems. How he continues to unfold the kingdom of God right here, right now and invites all to participate in it. How he continues to gather us together in sacred community. How he calls on us into discipleship, the way of peace, mercy, and love. How he continues to send us out to serve – to see the image of God in the outcasts of society, in our neighbors, and in our enemies. How he transforms lives. How he continues to call on us to tell the story. To hand the unwritten pages of our Gospel account on to those we encounter and to future generations.
You each have a Gospel account within you. It’s not done. It’s unresolved, just like our Gospel reading for today. Because Jesus isn’t done yet. There are empty pages in your Gospel account. Let’s see what happens next.