The following sermon was preached by Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink at Wine Before Breakfast on April 19, 2022.
WBB Easter Sermon – Mark 16
Of all the resurrection narratives, I find the one in the gospel of Mark the easiest to relate to. Instead of joy and wonder, the reaction to Jesus’ resurrection is terror and astonishment. And then they run away. This feels more like real life. God does things that surprise us – and we’re not quite sure what to make of it or how to respond. We ignore it or practice avoidance, which is a tamer version of running away.
And yet the end of Mark, often known as the shorter ending, lacks resolution and doesn’t fit with what we know to have happened. After all, clearly the women couldn’t have told no one about the resurrection or how else would we know about it? Fairly early on people had a sense that the original ending of Mark was incomplete, and so they fixed it up by adding on a longer ending.
Because the longer ending of Mark is not seen as original, we often ignore it. But I wonder what we might miss by doing so – Verses 17 and 18 give an inspiring picture of how God will work through those that follow Jesus. These verses say, “Powerful signs will follow the ones who follow me. Here are some of the things they will do in my name, representing who I am: They will force out evil spirits, pick up and throw out snakes, and even if they drink deadly poison it will not harm them. They will speak in new languages and heal the sick by laying hands on them.” Church history has shown us that these things have indeed happened. When I read those words, I wonder what it would look like to have that kind of faith. What might it look like to believe that God can and would do these things through me and other followers of God?
And yet, as much as I long to have the charismatic, move mountains kind of power that we saw the prophet Elisha to have, the text makes me uncomfortable. It feels like an impossible standard to follow, and that if this is the only way to follow Jesus then I will fail at it.
And yet, in my failure I would be in good company. In the gospel of Mark, the retelling of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is a retelling of the multiple failures of those who follow Jesus. In the events leading up to Jesus’ death and crucifixion, one by one the disciples fall away. Judas betrays him, Mark – whom many assume is the young man mentioned in Mark 14:51 – runs away naked, discarding his garment in order to escape. And at the end of Mark 14, Peter denies him. All of the disciples have failed him. None of them are left to witness Jesus’ death and burial. The only ones that are left are Joseph of Arimathea, who is notably not named as a disciple, and Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Joseph of Arimathea takes Jesus’ body and buries him, and the women witness Joseph putting Jesus’ body in the tomb and rolling the stone back.
At the beginning of Mark 16, we read about how these women go to the tomb in order to anoint Jesus’ body. As they go, they wonder how they will move the heavy stone in front of the tomb. I have sometimes wondered why they didn’t plan it better, but perhaps in their grief it was too hard to plan, especially when those they might have asked for help – the disciples – were wrapped up in their own grief and shock about losing Jesus after following him for years – and the disciples likely feared that those who had harmed Jesus would come after them.
The women as they approach the tomb find out the problem with moving the stone had been resolved – and now they were faced with an even greater challenge. An angel! An angel with strange, impossible news! The angel meets them and says: “6 “Do not fear!” the young man said to them, “The one you are looking for is not here! Creator Sets Free from Nazareth, who was killed on the cross, has returned to life. See for yourselves. Here is where they laid him. 7 Now go and tell his followers, and Peter, that he is going ahead of them to Galilee. It is there that they will see him again— just as he told them.”
8 Terror and amazement came upon the women, and they ran as fast as they could from the burial cave.
Can you blame them for fleeing? Who of us, when we encounter God and when we are being forced to change all of our paradigms about what we believe and what that might mean – who of us would not be amazed, terrified, and want to run away?
Yet, it still feels like failure. Jesus is risen is the greatest news possible and they ran away. Jesus is risen are words we proclaim with hope and conviction – and practice speaking throughout Easter. Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed.
These women do not greet that news with joy or share it exuberantly with others. We, too, might not be able to greet that with joy – after all, it’s the end of a semester, the end of the busy Easter season, two years of a pandemic. We’re weary and feeling disconnected from others and life. And it feels like failure. And yet, when we look at the failure in this story and in our own lives, that is where we see Jesus. That is where we see the good news of the Gospel.
We get a first glimpse of the good news with the mention of the man running away naked back in Mark 14. What person is willing to admit that they ran away, shamefully naked? But in doing this, the young man places himself with the others who have abandoned Jesus – Judas who betrayed him, Peter who denied him. As one of the writers from Mockingbird ministries notes about this text: “And by telling the truth about his inability to stick with the Lord, he winds up exactly where Jesus wants him, exactly where Jesus has a chance to do something with him, exactly where he can become the recipient of what the Lord has to offer.” It is in and through our failure that we recognize our need for God.
We see the good news again when Jesus specifically names Peter in his words. Because Peter had denied Christ, he might have considered himself to be no longer welcome. The women are told to tell Jesus’ followers about the resurrection – and make sure Peter know that includes him, too.
Jesus tells the disciples that he would go ahead of them to Galilee. This is where Jesus began his ministry, and Jesus is inviting the disciples to join him – he is inviting them to go back to the beginning, to remember what he has told them, and to remind them that their failure in no way excludes them. He still wants them to join him.
Jesus’ invitation to the disciples to join him in Galilee alludes to something Jesus told them at the last supper. In Mark 14:27-28, Jesus says, “You will all fall away,” “For it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Jesus knew that their failure would be inevitable, but their failure – our failure – was an opportunity for Jesus to show his faithfulness, to show his grace. An opportunity for the disciples to turn back, for all of us to turn back, to recognize our frailty, and allow God to work.
The failure shown in this chapter is not the end of the story, but instead can prompt us to read the story again to ask what the good news really is. And the good news is that Jesus has risen, Jesus has conquered death. And if God has conquered death, then God can do all things, including healing us. Heal our anxiety and fear; heal our brokenness, forgive our failures; take away our shame and help us to follow Christ. And while these are words of comfort, they also ought to be words that bring a little fear to us. After all, we are following a God who is capable of challenging all of our paradigms.
Esau McCaulley, a black theologian and New Testament scholar, wrote about Mark 16 for the New York Times last year. He noted that “The terrifying prospect of Easter is that God called these women to return to the same world that crucified Jesus with a very dangerous gift: hope in the power of God, the unending reservoir of forgiveness and an abundance of love. It would make them seem like fools. Who could believe such a thing? Christians, at their best, are the fools who dare believe in God’s power to call dead things to life. That is the testimony of the Black church.”
May we learn from the wisdom of the Black church and other Christians from racialized groups. And may this also be our testimony here at WBB. That we may return to the world with hope in the power of God, the unending reservoir of forgiveness and an abundance of love.
 Ken Sundet Jones, About That Random Naked Guy in Mark’s Gospel… – Mockingbird (mbird.com)