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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

It Just Got Real - 04/01/2018

Man, that's a good story, isn't it?

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Mark is my favorite gospel – some of you have heard me say this before, no doubt. It's my favorite account of the teachings, the ministry, the death and resurrection of the one we celebrate this Easter morning.

For a long time, scholars dismissed the Gospel of Mark as the lesser gospel among its peers Matthew, Luke and John.  Some people call it the Reader's Digest version of the Gospel story. Some criticize it because Jesus is so much more gritty and earthy in this version of the story. Sometimes he doesn't even seem to be perfect – like when he had to make two attempts at healing the blind man at Bethsaida, remember that story? “Some people brought a blind man to (Jesus) and begged him to touch him. ... when (Jesus) had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Can you see anything?’ And the man looked up and said, ‘I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and (the man) looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” (Mk 8:22b, 23b-25)

And some early theologians of Christ's church didn't like how thick-headed and cold-hearted the disciples can be in Mark, despite their sincere desires to follow this radical rabbi. Remember, for instance, this account: “People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.'” (Mk. 10.13-16)

Some people thought so little of this Gospel in fact, that they wrote other endings for it … endings they felt were more fitting to the divinity of our Redeemer … endings that polished up the disciples' lack of understanding and tendency to sin, just like the rest of us. They just couldn't abide by that original ending crafted by the gospel writer – the one we just heard:

“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.” (Mark 16:1-8)

It's not much of a Hollywood ending, that's for sure. It's rather unnerving. It doesn't wrap the story up into a neat and tidy package at all. Instead, it leaves everything hanging like big old question marks. Who rolled the stone away? Did anyone see any of this? They said nothing? Where exactly is Jesus and what is going to happen now?

And that is why this Gospel can be so appealing, I think. Because our lives are not always Hollywood endings either.

Sometimes our relationships are broken.

Sometimes our bodies succumb to illness and disease or they bear the scars of old wounds. Sometimes those wounds are not even physical.

Sometimes things don't go as we plan or wish or assume.

So when we take into account the earthiness of this Jesus, the misunderstandings and mistakes of the disciples, and the messiness that sometimes happened in all their times together … it makes them all so much more realistic and relatable.

And it may make us realize that if it were one of us at the tomb that morning, we may very well have done the same thing … fled in terror and amazement … told no one about what had happened. Because let's face it, if it were you running back to your family and friends with this story, they'd think you were loosing your grip on reality. Dead people don't get up and leave the tomb and return home.

Just think about what has happened to these women disciples.

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome saw their friend Joseph Arimathea lay the body of Jesus in the tomb on Friday evening, just before sunset and the start of the Sabbath. He was wrapped in a linen cloth Joseph brought when he asked Pilate for permission to take the body down from the cross. And after he laid it in the tomb, he rolled a very large stone in front of the entryway. So the women knew he was in there and his body was safe until the Sabbath was over and they could return to the tomb and properly prepare the body for Jewish funeral rites.

And while it's true that Jesus told his disciples – at least three times – that he must undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, the chief priest and scribes, and be killed and then in three days, rise again – even though he was quite explicit about that – the disciples didn't really seem to get it or know how to comprehend what he was saying.

So this whole scene must have felt to them like there had been some cataclysmic rip in the fabric of reality. It's no wonder  “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.” They must have wondered to themselves and one another whether this experience could be really be happening.

The reaction of the women brought to mind an experience I had years ago. I was a first time mother with a precious little baby girl in my charge. Like a lot of new mom's I went back and forth between the overwhelming feelings of love for this child and pure terror that I had no idea what I was doing, really, and how was this kid ever going to survive me?

Just as I was starting to feel a little more confident, my daughter was diagnosed with a hole in her heart. The doctors thought she would probably be OK, but perhaps she'd need corrective surgery when she was about 12.

If I thought I was terrified at the prospect of being responsible for another human being before that diagnosis – I would soon find out that terror was a proverbial walk in the park in comparison to this.

After some initial tests, we were referred to a pediatric cardiologist for a closer, more specialized look. But before we went, I wanted to have a group of mostly women who met at my mom's regularly for a prayer group to pray over her. So they did. They laid hands on her and prayed for God's healing, for safe travels, for me. Several weeks later, we went to our appointment with the specialist.

I wanted a miracle and I'm here to tell you, that's is what we got. When the doctor did the heart cath procedure to confirm everything the other tests showed, he found that the hole was gone. Instead of being released with a plan for further treatment and procedures and maybe even surgeries, she was given a clean bill of health and released from cardiac care.

I wanted a miracle. I prayed for it and when it happened, I just couldn't believe it for a long time. It was years before that terror would leave me completely – years before I would stop checking on her when she slept just to make sure she was OK.

But it was true – just like the empty tomb and what it meant was true that 1st Easter morning so many years ago.

It may have taken a little while for the miracle to sink in … it may have taken the disciples some time to adjust to this new fabric of reality. But they did – all of us gathered here this morning are a testament to that. Every time we feel our sins washed away in the forgiveness and promise of our baptisms … every time we eat and drink from this table of salvation is a testament to that.

And here's the other thing I love about the real ending of this gospel – it's the words of the messenger who greets the women at the tomb.

“Do not be alarmed,” the young man says, which is bible code for listen up … the next thing you hear is going to be Good News from God. “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.” (Mk 16:6-7)

Jesus has gone back to Galilee, just as he promised and with that the gospel writer takes us right back to the beginning of the story, inviting us to hear it again, to let it sink in and become our new fabric of reality … to let it fall into our lives in new and life-giving ways all the time. Confused? Not sure what to say? Go back to the beginning.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God … in those days Jesus came from Nazareth and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” (Mk 1.1,9)

Just like those first disciples, we too may find ourselves shutting down in the middle of our own not-so Hollywood endings, or our own moments of confusion and disbelief, misunderstandings and mistakes. We feel sometimes as though we are paralyzed in the face of this new reality of the Risen Christ. So we are summoned back to Galilee over and over again as we too are molded and formed into Jesus' disciples of our time – disciples who will also flee in terror some days, but who we also can be sure, God will continually compel to share the Good News still ring out from that empty tomb … “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news!” (Mk 1:15)

 Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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