Acts 10: 34-43; 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11; Mark 16: 1-8
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
I want to say that right of the bat because the reading we just heard from Mark just doesn’t sound very “Eastery.” It just comes to a complete stop with everyone running away from the tomb afraid – it leaves with this cliffhanger of an ending. What happened to the women who ran away from the tomb? What about the disciples – where do they go? Fortunately in the age of Netflix, cliffhanger endings aren’t so bad anymore – you finish one episode of Sons of Anarchy or Breaking Bad where it leaves you hanging, you can just pull up the very next episode and start watching again. Problem solved!
But it wasn’t always this way. My first experience with cliffhanger endings was as a child watching a two part episode of the Brady Bunch in the 1980s. In the episode, the Brady family travels to Hawaii for a vacation. While there, the oldest son, Greg, played by actor Barry Williams, goes surfing and his parents and siblings are watching him surf along the waves until the very end of the episode, when this giant wave comes crashing down upon him, and all you see is the surf board, floating in the ocean. Greg Brady is nowhere to be seen. And then those three awful words appear on the screen – TO BE CONTINUED. It felt like a betrayal to my eleven year-old heart. How could they just stop the story there?
For a whole week I anxiously awaited the next episode of the Brady Bunch to learn of poor Greg Brady’s fate. Did he survive the tidal wave? Was he eaten by a shark? Well, you’re just going to have to find out for yourself, because I’m not going to tell you. Just kidding! Greg Brady survived his surfing accident.
Today cliffhanger endings are common place, whether in movies or television shows. And they are much older than select Brady Bunch or Happy Days episodes. I don’t know when the first recorded cliffhanger ending occurred, but I would wager that the story we heard today from Mark’s Gospel is certainly a qualified contender.
Mark leaves us hanging with that last sentence we heard this morning: “So they [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
That’s how the story, at least according to Mark, originally ended. That is the very end of Mark’s Gospel originally. No mention of Easter Eggs, marshmellow peeps, or chocolate rabbits. Just fear that first Easter morning. It’s kind of a downer ending, and I gather it wasn’t really popular, because some years later, a second ending was added on, one we didn’t hear today, but a few more verses of chapter 16 in Mark that attempt to put a more positive spin on things, rather than having everybody anxiously fleeing the tomb.
It is a cliff hanger ending if there ever was one. What happened to Jesus? Or his mother, Mary? What about the disciples – where do they go? None of these questions are answered. Reading Mark’s Gospel and coming to the end with all these unanswered questions is almost as frustrating as it was for me to watch six seasons of the TV show “Lost” only to arrive at the end of it with more questions. What ever happened to Walt? Who put that weird statue on the island? (Apologies to anyone who hasn’t watched the show) Today I find myself more comfortable with Mark’s sudden ending. I’m okay with everybody running away scared, because I know that’s not the end of the story.
This Holy Week I have made a new friend – it’s a dove that sits upon the branch of a crape myrtle tree just outside my office window. I noticed the same thing during Holy Week last year, too. He (or she) stays in the tree for Holy Week, and then leaves and flies somewhere else. Is it the same dove from last year? Who knows. But - the dove was outside my window as I wrote this sermon, and somehow it served as a reminder that Mark’s ending is not a cliffhanger – the story that ends on chapter 16 doesn’t really end there.
I say that because the dove outside my window reminded me that we are the next part of the story Mark begins. Yes, the women run away out of fear, but look at all of us here this morning. Your presence here proves to the world that Mark’s story doesn’t end where the Bible says it does. We are the next chapter – let’s call it chapter 17 - and it is a Gospel story we get to write, where we get to tell the stories of lives changed, of hope found, and most importantly, the fact that we are not alone, because God is with us and in us.
There is a dove sitting outside your life on a branch, and that dove is God’s spirit, which will never end, it always will be with you. The story Mark told needed to end so that your Easter story could begin. Where will you go when you leave the church today? Hopefully you don’t flee in fear! I wonder, what story will you tell?
God’s Easter blessing be upon you and your families this day. May you be blessed with courage to tell your story, giving it to the God who replaces cliffhangers with a Divine story that never ends. AMEN.