Witnesses

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Mark’s account of the resurrection – Easter 2018 – Pastor Goede

And that’s the end of Mark’s gospel.  “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.”

Wait a minute, you might say, that’s not all there is. I remember the women go and tell the men and the men run to the tomb, and somewhere in there, Mary meets Jesus but she doesn’t recognize him and she thinks he’s the gardener. You’re not making that up, there are four gospel stories in the Bible, Matthew, Luke and John as well as Mark, and they all include different details about the women’s encounter with the empty tomb and an angel. The other three gospel writers added accounts of the women running to tell the disciples what they had seen, accounts of the men running to the tomb, encounters with the risen Christ on the road or on the beach. Luke wrote a whole other book about the time after the resurrection, the Book of Acts, from which we’ll read throughout the Easter season.

But Mark, this was his witness. His entire gospel is like this, matter-of-fact, to the point, brief, much shorter than the others. Most scholars believe that it was the first one written. Within a century, someone had added on an ending to his gospel, but nobody was fooled into thinking that it was written by Mark. No, Mark had his own style, his own witness that he gave in his own way. You can almost imagine other believers saying to him, but you can’t leave it like this, it makes it sound like nothing else happened, everyone will think he just died! But Mark didn’t give in, and his gospel ends here, at our gospel witness for the day.

It’s the perfect ending for our time, so fraught with disbelief and unbelief. Many in our time can’t or won’t believe what they can’t see or hear for themselves (unless it’s fake news on Facebook). Mark’s gospel is perfect for this moment when we’ve seen the empty tomb, and we’re ready to set out from here. We have a task, and that is to go in our own direction, on our own path, and witness to the truth and power of this gospel as we go, in our own way. You might remember that last week, I talked about all of us falling into step behind Jesus as we converged on the gates of Jerusalem. We came from different directions, and followed Jesus into the city and to the cross. Now, we’ve seen the empty tomb and heard the angel’s words, and it’s time to fan out again, all of us going out into the world in different directions, with our own witness.

You might be worried that you don’t have a witness. Don’t worry, you do, or you wouldn’t be here. This is the moment when all of us stop listening passively to the many accounts, the many strands of witness, and begin to claim our own story of this resurrection. We bring our own point of view to events. For instance, when we speak the Apostles’ Creed, I’m fascinated by the idea that Jesus descended to the dead during these Three Days. I love the idea that the resurrection not only frees us from the power of death, it also reaches back in time and in a thousand directions and rescues those of every time. To me, that speaks of God’s desire to redeem that whole creation. That’s one strand of tradition that I’ve woven into my account of Jesus’ death and resurrection and why it matters.

What grabs you about the sweep of the Easter story? If you’re afraid that you’ll get it wrong and pick the wrong things, be reassured by the fact that there are so many people of so many times and places who have given their witness to us, and they don’t mind one bit if we borrow their words and ideas. For instance, on Good Friday, while we sang, I noticed that one of the hymns was written by a believer in the fifth century. His powerful, beautiful words, his witness, have survived until our own time. Christian tradition is so big and deep and wide. As soon as the word spread of Jesus resurrected from the dead, interest and ideas about him exploded. That’s one of the best things about our Christian tradition, there are so many accounts and strands of belief that support us in our witness, or help us deal with our doubt or confusion about what to say.

There is a whole cloud of witnesses to walk with us through a world that is deep in denial about the reality of death and the possibility of redemption. As we set out from this point, all going off in our own directions, it’s such a strength that we carry different witnesses to so many places. This is an important part of resurrected life, that we are part of the living body of Christ in the world, helping to write the continuation of the story.