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He is Not Here!

He is Not Here!

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Well, this is a bit awkward. Here we are, all dressed up in our Easter finery. I’ve got on my super-suit. We’ve decked out the sanctuary with tulips and lilies. We’ve proclaimed that “He is risen! (…He is risen indeed.” Thank you.)

We’ve filled the cross with flowers. The bells have rung. The choir has sung. We even hired a trumpet player, so you know we are not messing around.

But now that you’ve heard this morning’s scripture, I’m afraid you also know that the guest of honor… is nowhere to be found.

If you’ve come here today to see Jesus in all his resurrected glory, well, I regret to inform you that “he is not here.” Not this year. Because this year we are reading from the gospel of Mark, and Jesus is conspicuously absent from his telling of the Easter story.

(Bit of a let down, if you ask me.)

In Matthew, Jesus appears to the women as they flee the tomb and then meets up with the disciples back in Galilee where he commissions them to go and make disciples of all nations. That’ll preach.

In Luke, it’s even better. Jesus appears to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. He breaks bread. He eats fish. And he explains everything - everything! - before he ascends into heaven. (At least he explains everything to his disciples. It would have been nice if they wrote that part down, but what are you going to do.)

And in John, the wordiest gospel of them all, we have Jesus’ beautiful exchange with Mary Magdalene in the garden. We get not one, but two appearances in the upper room. And we get a bonus breakfast on the beach with Peter and the beloved disciple.

The Gospel of John is like “the Lord of the Rings.” It just goes on and on and on and it’s awesome because you don’t want the story to end.

All of which is to say that in Matthew, Luke, and John we get a satisfying ending. We get what English teachers call, “narrative resolution.” If someone were to make Matthew, Luke, or John into a movie, you could comfortably roll credits at the end of any one of them.

But not Mark. Forget the credits, it’s almost as if someone pulled the plug before the show was even over. In fact, if you open your Bibles… just kidding, I know you didn’t bring your Bibles.

But if you did, you’d see that the early Christians were so dissatisfied with the end of Mark that they wrote not one but two additional endings. And let me tell you, even the ending you have before you has been tidied up in translation. In the Greek manuscript the very last word of the gospel is actually gar meaning for, as in:

“they said nothing to anyone. They were afraid for…”

For what? We’ll never know.  Mark ends his gospel with a preposition and I can tell you right now, English teachers don’t like that either.

In Mark, all we get is an empty tomb. In Mark, Jesus is not with us in the end, but ahead of us and that, my friends, that is a different kind of story.

When it comes to the gospel of Mark you have to work a little harder for the good news.

When it comes to the gospel of Mark you have to work a little harder if you want to see Jesus.

Because according to this gospel, if you want to see Jesus then you have to follow Jesus…follow him all the way back to…where? Where has he gone according to the young man in white? Back to Galilee. Yes!

“But go, tell his disciples and Peter

(Hold on to that)

Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee;

there you will see him, just as he said.”

Well, alright then, back to Galilee. I can see how that was good news for the women, the disciples, and Peter, because they could actually walk there. But it seems a little less good for people like you and me right now…unless this non-ending is actually a clue, a sign, an invitation for the reader to look again.

Here are two things you might not know:

One, the gospel of Mark is the only gospel that begins in Galilee.

And two, Mark was Jewish… yeah…as Jewish as Jesus.

Sometimes we forget that here in the church, and because we forget that we miss things that would have been obvious to his initial audience. I mean I didn’t even know this before I began work on this sermon, but I learned this week that in Judaism each congregation reads through the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) every year.

On the eve of the Torah celebration, Simchat Torah, they take the scrolls out of the ark and read through the night such that very early in the morning, when the night is giving way to day, the last verses of Deuteronomy that describe the death of Moses are read.

After which they immediately (Mark’s favorite word) rewind the scroll and start their liturgical year all over again by reading Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Mark’s first words are also about a beginning: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Friends, I don’t think it is just the women, the disciples, and Peter, who are being sent back to Galilee. I think Mark is sending us back too, all the way back to the beginning of his gospel.

All the way back to chapter 1 where John the baptist washed people clean in the river Jordan.

All the way back to the place where Jesus launched his ministry with the words “the kingdom of heaven has drawn near, repent and believe in the good news.”

Every disciple who failed Jesus - which last I checked was…. all of them, (and Peter, who - let’s be honest - no doubt felt that he had failed Jesus Most. Of. All.) - every disciple is invited back to Galilee. Meaning that every last one of us, no matter how spectacularly we have failed in our efforts to follow Jesus, is invited back too. Forever! For Always!

Friends, Mark’s non-ending effectively puts the good news on repeat.

Mark’s non-ending invites us into an infinite loop of amazing grace.

Mark’s non-ending reminds us, over and over again, that no matter how badly we fail God, God will never fail us. If all of the disciples and Peter, are welcome back after all they did and failed to do, then We. Are. Too.

Mark is the gospel of new beginnings and infinite tries. Mark lets us know that we can always start over. We can repent and begin again… and again… and again.

Which means that you and me…we can change. It means that we don’t have to live the way we’ve been living one moment longer if the way we’ve been living is hurting us or anyone else.

We don’t have to remain a prisoner to our past or in lock step with the systems of oppression that dominate our present.  The good news is that we can change. And the even better news is that if we can change then so can the world.

Let that sink in a moment, because that’s not all.

That’s not all, because you see, once you accept Jesus’ invitation to start changing, changing yourself and changing the world, a curious things happens. You are start to see Jesus, just as he said, see him everywhere you go.

Going back to Galilee doesn’t just mean we can begin again with a clean slate, it means we can always re-up our call to follow Jesus. We can always re-commit to following him…following him to the margins where we can minister to the least and the lost, the hurting and the hungry, those in need of healing and those who long for liberation, just as he did.

When we do, we find Jesus in those we serve even as we become Jesus to those we serve. People see Christ in us even as we serve the Christ in them… Christ before us. Christ behind us. Christ within us. Christ all around us.

We find that Jesus has gone on ahead of us, not to do it for us, but to show us the way it ought to be done. He hasn’t gone ahead to lock up our salvation - make a deal with God on our behalf so we can go to heaven - but to show us how to live into the joy of our salvation right here, right now, by loving one another as he has loved us.

And finally, if we must pay for following him, pay as dearly as he did, he shows us that ultimately we have nothing to fear because the worst thing… the worst thing is not the last thing. Jesus went first to show us that nothing - not even death! - nothing can separate us from the love of God.

The worst the world can do to us is nothing compared to the last thing God will do for us because ultimately it is life that gets the last word in this story not death, love that gets the last word in this story, not hate, grace that gets the last word, not vengeance or violence. Because the God who began this story gets the last word, and God loves every last one of us and Peter, too much to let any of us go.

There’s a meme that has been circulating this week with the words of Dean Johnson who writes:

Jesus didn’t die so that you don’t have to.

Jesus died so that you would know how to.

Jesus didn’t die instead of you. Jesus died ahead of you.

Jesus didn’t rise so that you don’t have to. Jesus rose so that you would be able to…

Death and resurrection isn’t about substitution, it’s about participation.

Substitution keeps people suspended in a state of spiritual adolescence.

Participation liberate people to fully partake in the divine nature.

Jesus said, ‘Follow me…”

because Jesus knew we could, knew we were capable. And Mark shows us the way…shows us how to follow Jesus back to the very beginning….follow him to the places of greatest need…follow him no matter the risk…. for the one who has gone ahead of us will be there for us on the other side…just as he said.

We may have to work a little harder for it this year, but trust me when I say Mark’s gospel is good news for you and good news for me. Good news for us all.

Mark’s gospel is good news for anyone who wonders if Jesus really loves you. The answer is: Yes! Jesus loves all of us and Peter. So much so that no matter how badly we screw things up, we can always begin again.

Mark’s gospel is good news for anyone who wonders where Jesus is right now in this world so full of pain and suffering. Jesus the Christ is right where it hurts inviting us to come help, hold, and heal the world the way he did that we might be Christ for one another.

And this gospel is good news for anyone who wonders what comes next. Good news for anyone who has ever lost someone they love. Good news for anyone who fears being lost themselves.

Dear Ones, what comes next is resurrection. What comes next is life. What comes next is love. Because what comes next is always God. And because the author of our faith is also our perfecter, God is not someone we ever need fear.

I’m starting to think this gospel with no ending may be the best gospel of all, for a gospel with no ending is good news of infinite grace.

A gospel with no ending holds out hope not just for a new heaven but a new earth, an earth we can help and hold and heal as we become Jesus for one another.

A gospel with no ending may be the best gospel of all because it reminds us that the last word about us has yet to be spoken and that word belongs to God and God alone…

a God of new beginnings and forever tries….

a God who loves us too much to ever give up on any of us.

A God who has gone ahead of us to show us the way and is just waiting for us to catch up… waiting for us even now…just as he said.

So let me hear you say Hallelujah!

Let me hear you say Hallelujah!

Let me hear you say Hallelujah!

Hallelujah and Amen.

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