Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
At the beginning of this sermon, I want to talk a little bit about fairy tales. Most fairy tales start with ‘Once upon a time’, and they end with “And they lived happily ever after. The end.” The feeling we get is that the most important stuff happens in the tale itself; here we have drama, tensions, conflict, and obstacles that the heroes and heroines have to overcome. We get the feeling that, once the prince gets the princess, and the big bad wolf is dead, there is happiness, but this happiness is kinda dull. Endless bliss doesn’t make for interesting stories. So we better stop where the happily ever after begins. The end.
And movie industry picked up this notion of a good story coming to a close, and, for some decades, at the end of every movie, what words did we see and read, big and fat on the screen, accompanied by a great final musical fanfare? THE END.
Now regarding storytelling, things have changed quite a bit. TV gave us series and reality TV and never ending soap operas. And today, even as it comes to movies it seems we live in an age of sequels – about half of the movies that come out each year are continuations of stories previously told – and so we’ve gotten used to the phrase, ‘to be continued’ instead of ‘the end’. Toy Story, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Spiderman, Mission Impossible – life remains an adventure. And that’s probably closer to the truth, right? Life isn’t a fairy tale. Or is anyone here for whom life at some point was like a fairytale, with conflict and drama, and a happy ending, and then you lived happily ever after?
The story we hear every year at Easter is not a fairy tale. There is no ‘and Jesus rose from the dead, and they lived happily ever after. The end.’
On the contrary, the story continues, and it remains a dramatic story of struggle and tension and obstacles which need to be overcome. And none of the gospel accounts we have emphasizes this more than the gospel according to Mark. There is strong evidence that the words, ‘and 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’, the words we heard in the gospel reading this morning, are actually the last words of Mark’s gospel. Yes, you can open the Bible, and find a different ending to the gospel according to Mark – and this ending is most probably a later addition by someone who wanted to put some sort of conclusion to the story, who thought the tension of the women being afraid and not telling anyone doesn’t make a good ending.
And that someone is right. What kind of ending is this, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid?
It’s not and ending at all. And that probably is the point Mark is trying to make. The tension we have after Jesus’ resurrection probably has the audience say – and then? What happened next? How did the good news of Jesus risen from the dead spread if the women didn’t tell anyone? How can it be that we gather here today, roughly 2000 years after that first Easter morning, if the story wasn’t shared somehow?
The way Mark ends his gospel is begging for a ‘to be continued’, a sequel, or even a series of sequels. Now let’s remember for a moment what ‘gospel’ means: gospel means ‘good news’, and we have come to understand the story of Jesus’ life and ministry for others, his life given for the sake of the world, and his victory over death as the good news. But what if Mark wants the good news to be continued? What could that mean for us, today? Hasn’t Jesus done everything for us, the end?
One just has to open the newspaper every day, or browse the online news headlines, or turn on the TV to realize that we are not living happily ever after. What we call sin is still rampant in this world. The crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 and the horrifying details that have emerged about this disaster, and the slaughter of 147 students at the University of Garissa in Kenya just three days ago are just a few examples for sin. The world we live in is still as world full of tension and conflict, and world which needs heroes and heroines, a world which needs heroes and heroines to overcome those many obstacles around us, from violence to injustice to illnesses to confusion.
There may be no big bad wolves and evil witches or wicked sorcerers that need to be taken on and overcome, but we know that there are many evil or twisted forces out there and also in our immediate environment which have to be tackled before there can even be a hint of a happily ever after.
Yes, Jesus died for us on the cross, and overcame the forces of sin and death on Easter morning, alleluia! But this is only the beginning of a story which continued through the ages. And history proves that the story somehow must have continued. The women must have told someone, and then those someones must have told someone else, and so forth, and so forth; otherwise we wouldn’t be here today.
And the story continues with us, here and today. WE are the heroes and heroines who have been given special powers by God – maybe not the fairytale powers of flight or superhuman strength or magic, but the powers of faith, hope, and love. WE are the heroes and heroines called to live our faith and hope and love every day of our lives and to make sure that life can grow. If you will, if the gospel, the good news, begs for a ‘to be continued’, WE may be the good news this world needs. We, as the body of Christ, very much alive and kicking, are the good news now. We are Easter people, we are loved and forgiven and given a new life, called to love and forgive and to give new life to all God created. We are the good news.
And we probably don’t make it into the headlines of TV shows or newspapers or the internet; but we are good news to all who are touched by us. Good news to the hungry, the homeless, and the imprisoned, with whom we share our money, our time, and ourselves. Good news to the disenfranchised, the bullied, the ridiculed, for whom we stand up. Good news to the sick or lonely, with whom we sit and listen. Good news to the frazzled woman at the check-out stand, for whom we have a smile and a kind word.
On this Easter morning, as we overflow with joy about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, may we not forget that we are part of that amazing, wonderful, greatest story ever told. And we may not live happily ever after – but as part of the Easter story, we live lovingly and purposefully and forgiven ever after. To be continued. Amen