Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | March 26, 2018

To be continued

There are three very different endings to the gospel of Mark. Check the footnotes in your Bible. But modern scholars agree that the original ending is the one below, and the others were added later, probably in the second century, because those early scribes found the original ending unsatisfying. You’re about to see why.

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ 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. [from Mark 16]

If you were to make a movie of Mark’s gospel it would not have a nice, rounded ending (as the other three gospels have), with Jesus and the others sitting around a campfire, or meeting in an upper room, or eating a meal together, with a happy conclusion and the words THE END scrolling up over the screen as we hear a soaring musical score.

Nope—the end of Mark’s movie is like the dread of every lover of a serial drama. The season finale comes around and one of your favorite characters has been in a terrible accident. All the other characters are in the hospital waiting area, the door to the operating room swings open, the surgeon comes out looking exhausted, prepared to let them know what’s going on, they look up at her expectantly and the screen goes dark. The scrolling words say, TO BE CONTINUED.

TO BE CONTINUED???

That is often God’s way, isn’t it?  We want the ending of the story to say what we want it to say. Here, let me write a better ending for that. That’s what those second century editors did. I get it—they wanted to turn that unsatisfying ending into something more complete. But God is always writing unexpected endings that can be frightening.

“He has gone ahead of you,” the young man says to the three women. They are seized with fear and amazement.

Once the tomb has been opened, there is no telling where the story might go from there. There is no stopping the places Jesus might show up. At your dinner table. In the middle of an argument. In the unemployment office. On the battlefield. In the hospital. At the workplace. In the funeral home.

We might be afraid for Jesus to enter our stories, to enter our homes, to hear how petty we can be, to see our relationships, to listen to our conversations, to see how we spend our money, to watch our ethics at work.

Still, fear isn’t the last word. Though “they were afraid” are the last words of Mark’s gospel story, this isn’t the end of God’s story, it isn’t the end of the women’s story, and it isn’t the end of our story.

Yes, Jesus becomes harder to recognize when he no longer walks among them in the flesh, but as they learn to look harder and to see differently, they can recognize him—sometimes in each other, sometimes in people outside the faith, sometimes in circumstances.

That first Easter morning, those early followers flee because they are afraid.

A hundred or so years later, some writers go back to tell the rest of the story, how the Jesus people had lived in courage, even though they couldn’t imagine it early on.

Two thousand years after that, on this Easter Day, Christians all over the world pause to remember. Even though hatred and narrow-mindedness and evil and fear took Jesus to the grave, we are inspired to remember how God’s light refused to be darkened, and God’s voice refused to be silenced. We remember that Love burst from its place of burial out into the world. Like the women, our nature is to resist it, even to be afraid of it. But we are also amazed, because we have sometimes seen how love can overcome hatred, inclusiveness can obscure narrow-mindedness, good can overshadow evil, and courage can take the place of fear.

When we see these things, when we live these things, we are writing the continuation of God’s story:  that God’s love is not entombed.

As the dim light of sunrise illuminates an empty tomb on Easter morning, we are sent out in both terror and amazement to face whatever is before us.

The story of resurrection is not to be told by standing and staring into the tomb. It is to be lived by turning and running headlong back into life. It is bearing in our very bodies and souls the promise of Easter—the promise of resurrection, the promise of new life—as we encounter new people and situations, or the same old people and situations. It is living in hope that the depth of the tomb is not God’s final message to us.

Every day you decide to live your life in faith and not in fear, you are writing the postscript of this gospel. Every day you share God’s love with a fellow human being, you are writing the epilogue of the Jesus story.

We face forward and run toward a new day, where the future remains shrouded in mystery, but bears the imprint of resurrection.

And the words scroll on the screen of God’s story and of yours:

TO BE CONTINUED

IMG_1969, copyright, low, blog 4-10-17

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

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Responses

  1. […] Melissa Bane Sevier writes, “Fear isn’t the last word. Though ‘they were afraid’ are the last words of Mark’s gospel story, this isn’t the end of God’s story, it isn’t the end of the women’s story, and it isn’t the end of our story.” […]


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