Sunday, March 31, 2024

Sermon: “Be Still and Know: What Comes Next?”, Mark 16 (March 31, 2024)

He is risen! [He is risen, indeed!]

This year, March came in like a lion and is going out like the Lamb of God! Amen?

After six long weeks, we’ve finally arrived at what is inarguably the pinnacle of the Christian liturgical year: the day we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Since Lent is a time of preparation and reflection, we’ve spent it learning new ways to stop in the midst of our busy lives and pay closer attention to God’s work in the world. To NOTICE God around us in every moment, so that we’re even more ready to welcome the miraculous Good News of Easter Morning – that Christ is risen! [He is risen, indeed!] In case you need a reminder of all that we covered in the last month and a half, the bulletin insert provides a brief summary of each practice we’ve discussed – take it home and use it as encouragement to keep up with whatever Spiritual Practice (or practices) you’ve found most meaningful.

Now, ironically, at the same time we’ve been exploring new ways to “be still” with God, we’ve also been reading through Mark’s gospel. I say “ironically” because, whereas Spiritual Practices help you slow down and enter into a deeper relationship with the divine, Mark’s gospel is both the shortest and the fastest-paced gospel. At no point does Mark’s narrative ever rest; it jumps from story to story without providing much explanation beyond what’s necessary for context. Maybe Mark could have benefited from learning about finger labyrinths or Daily Examen! In many ways, his gospel seems like the antithesis of what Lent is supposed to be all about.

The ending that we just read a moment ago seems ESPECIALLY hasty. You may have noticed that not only were our lessons and carols shorter than in weeks past, but the different sections almost seem to contradict each other in places. One minute, “the women say nothing to anyone, because they were afraid,” and the next minute “they promptly reported all the young man’s instructions.” Did you catch that? Then, it seems to conclude with a hearty, “Amen!” before rewinding and “rewriting” Jesus’ first post-resurrection encounter. If you DID notice, don’t worry; you’re right to be confused. There are, in fact, three distinct endings to Mark’s gospel: the original ending, the “shorter” ending, and the “longer” ending.

Each of these endings occur frequently enough in ancient texts to merit inclusion in the Biblical canon, but they’re different enough that we can’t treat them as a single cohesive unit. It’s almost like, in his haste, the original author of Mark’s gospel forgot to give us all the information we need, so either he or someone else went back later and “rewrote” the ending – not once, but twice – to fill in some of those blanks: how did the message wind up spreading? How did the disciples know that this wasn’t some kind of cruel joke? What did Jesus do after his resurrection? What are the implications for the next generation of Christians? What are we supposed to do with all this information today? Somewhere along the way, someone got fed up with the lack of answers in this gospel and decided to take matters into their own hands.

But maybe the lack of answers is exactly the point. Formal endings, with everything wrapped up in a neat little bow, tempt us to receive the information, file it away, and move on with our lives. But that’s not what the Gospel is about. It’s not just about events that happened in the ancient past, a story we retell once a year to reassure ourselves that all is well. The Gospel is the starting point for everything that comes next – not just in the early Church, but right here and right now. And instead of panicking and grasping for scriptural closure, maybe we should be still and rest in the space that Mark’s original “ending” creates for us. Maybe that was his intention all along: he rushed through the narrative at a breakneck pace in order to get us here to this point where the abrupt unsettledness of it all forces us to stop in our tracks.

By ending with the women’s fear, the original ending forces us to recognize the ongoing and inevitable uncertainty of life as a Christian. It forces us to confront our own anxieties. Faith and fear are not mutually exclusive; we can still trust God’s goodness and sovereignty while worrying about what the future will look like. In fact, it’s the very thing that inspires us to work towards a better one – one that will lead to the kindom of heaven on earth. By ending on a note of fear, Mark’s gospel gives us permission to be still and wrestle with our current reality and the way we feel about it.

By ending without explicit answers, the original ending encourages us to dwell in divine mystery. Every time we celebrate communion, we proclaim together, “Great is the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” But how often do we allow our faith to actually BE a mystery, without trying to explain God’s motivations or the mechanics of salvation. All we really know is that Christ’s death, resurrection, and return are actions taken by God out of immeasurable love for us, and that’s more than enough reason to celebrate. By ending without answering all our questions, Mark’s gospel makes room for us to be still and dwell in awe and wonder.

By ending without a “proper” conclusion, the original ending invites us to write our own. Now, of course I don’t mean to suggest that we should all literally write a different closing paragraph and petition General Assembly or the Pope or whoever to “update” scripture according to each of our personal preferences. What I mean is that the story DOES NOT END with Jesus’ resurrection, and we cannot fall into the trap of believing that it does. By claiming this centuries-old faith as our own, WE have made ourselves a part of the story; now it’s OUR turn to faithfully decide what comes next. And we can’t do that if we just barrel through life thoughtlessly. We need to be still and know that God is calling us to kindom work – we need to pause and listen so that we can discover what, exactly, that work will look like. The important questions aren’t, “what did Jesus do after his resurrection,” or, “who was the first disciple to learn about it,” but, “how do I overcome my own fear to share this Good News,” and “how can I turn the world upside down for God today?”

Celebrating Easter isn’t just about retelling an old story with a happy ending. It’s about taking the time to be still and marvel at God’s goodness and mercy. It’s about taking the time to be honest with ourselves about how it makes us feel. And it’s about taking the time to figure out the future that God is co-authoring with each of us. As we continue to celebrate the Easter season for the next fifty days, let us all make the time to be still and know who God REALLY is…and then, let’s allow ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit and GO, working towards the holy kindom, on earth as it is in heaven, that Christ’s death and resurrection has made not only possible, but inevitable for all people. Amen? Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment