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The Never-Ending Story

with Rev. Laura Sherwood

March 31, 2024

What are we supposed to take away from an ending like this where the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were so scared that they didn’t tell anyone?

The Scripture

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Let Israel say:
    “His love endures forever.”

14 The Lord is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.

15 Shouts of joy and victory
    resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
16     The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;
    the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”
17 I will not die but live,
    and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
18 The Lord has chastened me severely,
    but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of the righteous;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.

22 The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
    let us rejoice today and be glad.

Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Read the Full Text

Last week on Palm Sunday, I talked about my love for the Oscars when I was a teenager. So, you probably won’t be surprised to know that I also have always loved movies. I love everything about them – from the opening titles to the ending credits. Just like with the Oscars when I always made sure I watched until the very last award was given often around 1am on a school night – I also need to see a movie completely from beginning to end.

I can’t jump in part way through and I absolutely refuse to watch the end or have anyone tell me about it before I have had a chance to see the whole thing. This applies to shows and series and in this era of streaming and auto-play – if I’m watching a series and the autoplay of the next episode skips the opening sequence with title and theme music, I have to re-start it from the very beginning or I don’t feel like I’ve really seen it. This is a trait that is not shared by most of my friends or family, and my Dad was the exact opposite.

Finish reading

Sadly, for me, you’ll never get a chance to meet my Dad, Tom Sherwood, who died a few years ago. Dad always came to sing at every church I served. He was a wonderful bass baritone and he and my stepmom, Anne,

loved to come see where I was and I’m sure he would get a real kick out of me sharing this story with you today.

My Dad was a great person, a super father, he was charming and intelligent, and I loved him very much. BUT – he had what I considered to be a tragic character flaw that I only discovered as a young adult and it had to do with his approach to watching movies. I learned about this by chance in a conversation with him one day. This was back in the days when seeing a movie only meant going to a movie theater. Dad told me that when he and Anne went to a movie, after their chosen film was finished, they would wander in the hallways of the theater and duck into 1 or more other movies. Now, they didn’t do this to save money, they would have paid to see another movie – they did it purposefully just to see the end.

I can’t tell you what learning about this did to my brain. Dad explained that his goal was to figure out if he wanted to bother with the whole movie by first seeing how good the ending was. Of course, my argument was that you can’t really know how good the ending is if you don’t fully understand it and you can’t fully understand it unless you’ve watched the entire movie and know the story. The fact that Dad did this drove me crazy – and he knew it. Sometimes he’d call just to tell me about the last ending he saw!

Despite my concern with Dad’s methods – I did agree with him about one thing – the importance of a good ending. I think most of us like a story with a good, strong ending. A good ending will tie-up loose ends, explain previous mysteries and leave us with a greater sense of understanding of

the whole story and hopefully convey meaning that can be applied to our own lives. You cannot underestimate the importance of a good ending.

There is an old controversy surrounding the ending of Mark’s gospel – your former Pastor, Alex Lang, preached about this last year in connection with Mozart’s Requiem. A few moments ago, we heard the gospel reading for today from Mark chapter 16 verses 1-8.

If you look at the pew Bibles, or a bible you have at home or on your phone, you’ll see that many of them have additional verses for chapter 16. Most scholars agree that the original ending of Mark was verse 8 and any verses after that were added later by one or more people. There is a great deal of manuscript and literary evidence to support this. In fact in many Bibles, verses 9-20 are put in parentheses or even left out altogether.

The verses we read today are the considered the original last verses of Marks’ gospel. They describe the first Easter morning with 3 women who were integral to Jesus’ life and ministry, Mary Magdalene, Mary his Mother, and Salome, going to his burial place to complete the important rituals of their faith when someone died. Despite Jesus’ predictions about his resurrection, they felt they had seen the ending of his story 2 days previously when they witnessed his crucifixion and death. This was not the ending they wanted, but it was one they accepted – it was an ending that was logical – when someone dies, they do not come back.

As they walk that morning, their main concern is how they will get to the body because of a large stone that had been placed at the tomb entrance. They arrive to find that the stone has been moved but they also discover

the body is missing. The ending they thought they knew was beginning to change.

Then a young man dressed in white tells them not to be afraid – that Jesus has gone ahead of them to Galilee and that he will see them, all of them, again. Now, the ending they thought they knew had been flipped completely upside down.

We might expect they would have been ecstatic at this news – that this would have been the first utterance of “Alleluia!” in the Easter story – but instead, these words are how Mark ends this story in verse 8:

This is the kind of ending that leaves us with more questions than answers; it leaves us feeling agitated rather than satisfied. What are we supposed to take away from an ending like this where the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were so scared that they didn’t tell anyone? Why would Mark or any author end a story this way?

It’s no wonder that people in the faith community felt the need to create a different ending. The verses that were added later, while not from Mark, do fit in with the testimony of the other three gospels and with the accounts in other New Testament books. They may even be reconstructions of a part of Mark’s gospel that was damaged or lost. Regardless, we can deduce on our own that those first witnesses eventually had to have told others or the Church would never have grown and we wouldn’t be here today. But even

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.[a]

knowing all that, it is still intriguing to wonder why Mark would have ended his gospel where we think he did. Maybe there is a greater message for us than it first seems.

This ending makes us focus on the fear the women felt when they saw that Jesus’ body was gone. After all they had just witnessed his horrible and undeniable death; he was executed like a criminal and his closest followers were so scared that they had denied even knowing him to avoid a similar fate.

Maybe on this first Easter morning they feared that his resurrection would cause them more trouble and danger because it meant that everything he did and taught about God’s love, justice and mercy was true. Now that his greatest prediction – his resurrection from the dead – had come to pass, they realized that they were the ones that would have to keep teaching his message to others – the same message that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. How could they not be afraid?

As they left the site of the empty tomb filled with fear, I imagine that, slowly, another truth began to dawn on them. The very same truth about God in Jesus that might get them into trouble would also be the truth to set them free from the powers of the world. It was the same truth that would give them the strength to face the dangers and injustices that surrounded them.

I imagine the change in their hearts and spirits as they walked away from the empty tomb, at first in terror then gradually transforming into a deep and almost inexpressible joy as the eternal truth of their Lord began to take

hold of them. What had at first caused great fear and trembling now was a source of great strength, comfort and hope. The story of God in Jesus had not ended at the cross or even in the tomb but would continue forever through them and the people they would tell and the generations that followed.

Maybe this is why Mark ended his gospel this way – so that we who hear it would find our own spirits stirred up at the thought of Jesus’s story ending in silence and find ourselves compelled to keep it going.

The story of Easter that began for us in the Church with Ash Wednesday and through the season of Lent also does not end today. Even Easter itself lasts more than one Sunday for it is an entire season that lasts 2 weeks longer than Lent – this is the season of Eastertide that begins today.

Most importantly, the story of God in Jesus is meant to continue in and through all of us. It is both the great responsibility and the joyful gift given to us in the Resurrection. And so, as you go on with the rest of your holiday celebrations today, with Easter baskets and egg hunts, and family gatherings around wonderful meals, let these questions float around in the back of your mind:

How will Jesus’ story continue in me?

How will the message of God’s great love in Christ continue to be told in my life, in every action I take, in every relationship I treasure, in every word I utter, and in every prayer, I offer?

Today may be the official ending of Lent, but do not let it be the end of the story!

Because Christ is Risen…He is Risen Indeed!!! Amen.