Sermon by Pastor Ben Cieslik
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
There are some stories that are so familiar to you that you can mentally fill in the pieces, even if the person telling the story omits a detail or two. Maybe it’s the story about how your parents met, the one your Mom loves to tell some often that you can start telling it alone with her, and if she forgets the name of the high school dance you’re right there to fill in, reminding her that it was the “Enchantment Under the Sea Dance.”
All right so that’s the plot line from Back to the Future, but you know what I’m talking about. There are just these stories that we know so well that it’s easy to finish them, even if they never happened to you.
Usually they are family stories, told at family gatherings, Thanksgivings, Christmas’, anytime the whole clan gets together…
I’m going to guess that for many of you, the story of Easter is one of those kinds of stories. Even if you’re not super familiar with all the details, most of us get the general gist of the story.
Jesus dies. They place him in the tomb on Friday. On Sunday, people go to the tomb to check things out. They seem the tomb is empty. They’re excited and shocked, they go tell people and then they encounter Jesus. They see that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
I think some of us might be so familiar with the story of Jesus’ resurrection, that we might not notice just how seemingly bad Mark’s telling of the resurrection is.
Did you notice?
Two things go pretty wrong in Mark’s telling of the resurrection.
First who’s missing?
Jesus. Right Jesus. I mean, not for nothing, but most of us would expect that for a good telling, a compelling telling of the resurrection of Jesus, he would be there. We get that in Matthew’s gospel, in Luke’s gospel in John’s gospel in spades. But in Mark, there’s no Jesus.
Problem 2 is what? The women who are visiting the tomb don’t do their job. Right, they’re greeted by this heavenly character, a young man in white, who gives them some pretty astonishing news. He says, “Jesus isn’t here, he’s been raised. But don’t freak it out, it’s okay, go and tell the other disciples that Jesus will meet you in Galilee.”
But instead of doing what they’re told, they leave the tomb and say nothing to anyone because they were afraid.
This is how Mark ends his gospel. Pretty underwhelming story of the resurrection. Jesus doesn’t show up, and the witnesses to the resurrection don’t do their job, they don’t witness, they don’t tell anyone.
The easy joke here is that they were all Lutherans.
No, but think about this, it’s a terrible ending. It’s missing all good parts.
One of my mentors pointed out that it really shouldn’t be a big surprise that Mark isn’t very good at endings, because he’s not very good at beginnings either.
Mark 1 starts like this. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
That’s it. So maybe the moral of the story is Mark knows how to write a good story but he can’t start it and he doesn’t know how to finish it.
There’s one person left who’s heard the proclamation of the heavenly witness. There’s one person left who has heard that the tomb is empty. There’s one person who has heard the promise that Jesus, the crucified and risen Jesus, is out in the world. There’s one person who had heard that Jesus is going ahead of them and will meet them out there, in the world.
You are a witness to the resurrection. You are a part of this story. After the women fled in fear and the guys didn’t even show up, you know this good news, you know this great news that life not death wins. You know that God has won, that life has won, you know. It’s down to you.
Viewed in that way maybe Mark’s not so bad at writing endings. So then, maybe, just maybe he’s not so bad at beginnings either.
What if Mark’s story is just the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ the son of God? What if everything in the gospel, all 16 chapters is just the beginning?
Then, then you and I find ourselves in an interesting place, don’t we?
We’re part of a story that still unfolding. We are part of a story that is definitively marked by the reality of an empty tomb, the promise of God’s victory over death, but it’s not over yet and you get to participate. You get to be a part of God’s story of promise and life. It’s down to you.
So what will you do?
What will you do with this story, this life that’s been entrusted to you?
Will you do something as radical as come back next week? Will you look for ways to invite others into this story? Maybe it’s bringing them here, but maybe sharing a little of your story with them and sharing some of theirs.
Following Jesus is the wake of the resurrection story, means showing up in people’s lives – even in the midst of your fear and trembling and somehow/someway finding the courage to give voice to your own story and point to the moments where you’ve experienced God. It’s tricky and terrifying but in the end it’s down to you.
Because you’ve seen and you’ve heard the good news, and it’s something that this world desperately needs.
Over the next few weeks at Bethlehem both here in Minneapolis and in Minnetonka we’ll be working through some of the things that are marks of the resurrected life. Things like worshipping, learning, praying, serving, encouraging, and giving.
Together we’ll be reflecting on how these things strengthen us for our calling in the world, to share the love of God in all we do. So I want to invite you back next week, because today isn’t the end of a really great story, it’s just the beginning. Amen.