An Open Ending

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, April 4, 2021
Mark 16:1-8

    Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  For a few years when I was a kid, when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say something like, “I’m going to be a teacher, and then a nurse after school, a librarian on the weekends, and a pastor for Sunday mornings!”  I was quite the ambitious kid. I truly thought I could do it all.  My own kids now remind me of what it was like to have a world full of possibilities in front of me, when I thought there were few limits on what I could do or be.  As we age, of course, we are confronted with limits – not enough time, not enough money, not enough energy, or will, or physical health.  It’s one reason this pandemic has been so difficult – we’ve had so many limits placed on what we can do, where we can be, and whom we can be with.  Some of our hardest life decisions come when we face finality – we decide we probably won’t have any more children, and then the time comes when we realize we probably won’t have any more grandchildren.  Perhaps we recognize we can no longer travel, at least very far.  Or we can no longer even drive our own car, or live in our own home, or do many of the other things we used to do or wanted to do.
Death, of course, is the ultimate finality.  We grieve the loss of a loved one when we realize that’s it – no more phone calls, hugs, family get-togethers, meaningful memories.  All the things we thought we’d do together that will never be done.  The women who were following Jesus the last couple of years must have gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows the day Jesus was crucified.  Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome had seen how Jesus offered so many possibilities as they followed him. Their lives had new meaning and seemingly limitless options:  Jesus, the Messiah, could heal the sick, give sight to the blind, free the captives, offer a different kind of rule than the oppressive Roman government, and even raise the dead.  It’s significant that women, generally considered men’s property at that time, confined by many societal limits, are recognized as the most faithful of Jesus’ followers in all four gospels’ Easter accounts, sticking by Jesus at his crucifixion and tending to his body after death.  Jesus saw possibility and value in them when most did not.  Three times, to be exact, these faithful women had heard Jesus talk about what would happen to him, that he would be condemned to death and after three days rise again.  But that was all hard to understand, like trying to explain to a 5-year-old who wants to be a teacher-nurse-librarian-pastor what it’s really like to grow older and worry about health insurance and mortgages and paying other bills and saving for retirement.  
Let’s recognize on that first Easter morning these women are grieving.  Many of you know what it’s like in the first days after someone you loved has died.  You go through the motions, can’t eat or sleep much, your whole being is numb.  These grieving women are just putting one foot in front of the other, and thinking about what needs to be done next.  Jesus’ body needs to be anointed for a proper burial.  It’s risky with the Roman guards around.  They are expecting some trouble, at least.  “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”  they ask one another.  There will be roadblocks to caring for Jesus’ body.  They’re thinking of all of their limitations.  The stone is too large for them to handle on their own.  All of their dreams and hopes in what Jesus, the Messiah, would do for them and with them are crushed.  But to their surprise, when they arrive at the tomb, the problem of rolling a huge stone away has been taken care of.  Now they have another problem: Jesus’ body is not there. The tomb is empty.  And a stranger in white tells them that he has been raised, he is alive, and has gone to Galilee!  Like most of us, their first reaction is confusion, skepticism, and fear.  They’re not ready to hope again, not quite yet.
    I wonder, what are those large stones in your life that you’ve been wondering, “Who will roll this stone away?”  What are the problems or limitations you’ve been dealing with that are too large for you to handle on your own and difficult to admit?  What are the burdens we are carrying that we need to cast onto Jesus to care for us?  How has experiencing limits in life cut us off from our hope in recognizing the possibilities we still have through our faith in Christ?
    The women’s story ends abruptly in Mark’s gospel.  “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  Not the happy-Easter ending with all loose ends tied up in a neat bow like we are used to hearing, is it?  This open, cliffhanger-ending bothered some early Christians so much they added different endings to Mark’s original manuscript – at least three different alternative endings.  New Testament scholars today are pretty much in agreement that Mark intended his gospel to end with verse 8 as we heard today.  What they point out is, rather than just making us uncomfortable and wondering what happens next, Mark’s open ending gives US as Jesus’ modern-day disciples the opportunity to keep telling the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection today.  Mark’s telling of the Easter story opens us up again to new possibilities because of our faith in Jesus’ resurrection.  We are witnesses, too, as our reading from Acts reminds us today.  Easter Day, Christ’s resurrection, isn’t the end of the story. God’s story of salvation continues with us.  After the shock of the empty tomb, the women must have told others what they had seen, eventually.  Otherwise, there would be no Easter story.  And so this “ending” pulls us out of our Good Friday grief, out of our self-pity and limited thinking to say, “Hey, wait a minute, that’s not the end of the story!  There’s more!”  Then, we start to tell God’s good news – never-ending resurrection story.
    What better Easter good news for us to hear today than this:  Today is not the end.    Death is not the end!  The empty tomb is not the end!  Jesus died for us but he did not stay dead!  He died and was raised for us so death would not be the end for us, either!  This is the good news that the women and then the disciples start to realize as they come out of the haze of their grief to start to trust and hope again. What looked like finality and limited possibility with Jesus’ death in fact was the beginning of opening us up to infinite possibility!  So while we wrestle with the realities of our human limitations, we rejoice that in Christ, we all are given the hope and possibility of new life.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.