What will you do?

Before we move into the body of the sermon here and its main point, in terms of “What would you do?” I want to set a couple of things right for context, as we’ve had to do frequently as we’ve gone through the Gospel of Mark.

The first thing that I want to touch on is that we stopped at verse 8 for a reason. In your pew Bibles, after verse 8 it says “the shorter ending of Mark” and then “the longer ending of Mark.” The fact is, both of those endings, as near as we can tell by scholarship, were added later. They were not written by Mark, which is why they are notated that way.

Mark ends on a very strange note, that we’re going to explore today. Apparently some monk could not deal with, or struggled with, the idea that he would end this way. So he tidied it up, and wrote a new ending, I’m sure under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, Mark had a very strong and overriding reason for why he finished it the way he did. So we stop at verse 8.

The second thing I want to mention, although it bears no direct relationship to my sermon, but I think it’s important, and that is the stone. I always like to talk about the stone on Easter, that was over the doorway to Jesus’ tomb.

The women note that it was a very large stone. “Who will roll away the stone for us, from the entrance to the tomb?” Some translations say “very large stone.” The stone probably weighed a ton. What they did was, they’d dig a groove in front of the doorway to the tomb. The tomb was a natural cave, so they would dig a groove in front of it, then they would roll the stone into it.

If any of you have ever been stuck in the snow, where you’ve managed to spin out and dig yourself a groove in the snow, you know how hard it is to get that thing moving again. You have to rock it back and forth, back and forth, and get a good push, before you can actually go anywhere.

So you had three women here. It was not going to be real easy for them to move a one-ton stone that was in the groove. But the stone was moved for them, whether by an earthquake, an angel, however you want to understand it.

I think that was important, because Jesus didn’t need the stone rolled away to get out. He was resurrected in his resurrected, glorified body, and he could travel hundreds of miles in an instant. He appeared through locked doors to the disciples. He didn’t need any stone rolled away for him to leave the tomb.

The stone was rolled away so that the women and the disciples could go in, and see the wonder of the resurrection. So with that in mind, let us look at this amazing event, of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When I was pastoring a church in Michigan, I was also an on-call Chaplain at the hospital in the next town, in Grayling. You can imagine that you hear some pretty incredible stories in hospitals. I heard one that another chaplain gave, one of the times that we all gathered together to share what was going on.

She told me a story about an event she had late one night while on duty. She was called to the bedside of a woman who had a severe heart attack. By the time she got there – remember, we’re not on site at the hospital, we’re called – by the time she got there, the woman had been pronounced dead.

All the staff had gone except a doctor and a nurse, who were tidying up and filling out the reports and paperwork. At first the Chaplain turned to leave, but she sensed God tell her to stay. So she entered the room and sat next to the woman’s body. She told the remaining doctor and nurse that she wanted to pray for the woman and her family. As she began to pray she felt the Spirit praying through her.

Suddenly, the dead woman bolted straight up and cried, “What’s going on here?” I’m not sure who was more frightened, the woman, the staff or the chaplain. Fear, in such circumstances, is a natural thing. It’s a reaction to the unexpected. And I don’t know about you, but I haven’t had too many dead people sit up on me, and frankly, I don’t want to! I think we can understand and sympathize with the women in our gospel story today.

Mark describes how, when the women heard the message that Jesus arose from the dead, and saw his empty tomb, they turned tail and ran, “because they were afraid”. Those are the last words of the Gospel of Mark – “they were afraid”. I think it’s telling, because it’s honest.

The real human response to Easter is fear – not joy, but fear. These women had spent the last few years with Jesus. They had come to know him intimately and love him deeply. He was their teacher, their pastor, their promised Messiah.

But in the past few days, dark dreadful days, they had seen him arrested, tried unfairly, then flogged within an inch of his life, beaten, and crucified as he was hung up on a cross. They were there when they took his body down from the cross, and they stood by while the stone was rolled over the entrance to his grave.

Then in the early morning hours of the third day they returned to finish the work of burial, which had been interrupted because of the Sabbath. They wanted to anoint his body with spices and then to go home and try to find a way to go on with life.

This is how you grieve, this is how you mourn. This is what you do to face death and loss. We know this pattern. We’ve all experienced this to some degree or another in our lives. But none of us have ever faced an empty tomb.

The woman could cope with the death of Jesus. Terrible as it was, they knew what to do. But what do you do with a resurrection? No one’s ever risen that way before. There is no Emily Post or ‘Miss Manners.’ No Dear Abby to help you and give you advice. No support groups or help lines. No one to take your hand and say “Honey, I’ve been there before.” No one’s ever dealt with an empty tomb.

And that is frightening. Everything the women understood about life was in turmoil. In that one incredible moment, death was shattered, and the world they knew, the realities they had lived with, were turned upside down. As someone once said, “if death is not the end, then all the cards in the deck may be wild.” Nothing is secure and fixed now. God had come. Jesus Christ is risen.

Life would never be the same. It couldn’t be the same. The women couldn’t even begin to understand what life on this side of the resurrection was all about. They simply knew that if Jesus was indeed alive, risen from death itself, then somehow, their lives would never be the same again. And that is a frightening thing.

Scripture itself says there are two stumbling blocks to faith. The first is the cross. The second is the empty tomb. The first is the cross, because no one likes the idea that someone else did for our sins, shed his blood for us. We couldn’t fix it on our own.

But the second one, the second one is just as hard in its own way. The idea of the resurrection, that someone came to life after death, that the impossible happened. You can say, “Well, all things are possible with God.”

But to actually grab hold of an impossibility, and make it the centerpiece of your faith and understanding, that’s a whole other ball of wax, and something that even believers struggle with at times, much less those who don’t believe.

The women had come to the tomb that morning thinking that the story of Jesus Christ had come to an end, that it was all over between them and Jesus. To their astonishment, and to their great fear, they found it was not over. They met instead an empty tomb, and an angel who said “he is going before you to Galilee, there you will see him.”

Mark wanted us to realize even the resurrection is not the end. It’s not a “happily ever after” moment. Instead, if you remember, Mark opened his Gospel with the words “This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

And he seems to have ended his gospel jin much the same way. “He is going before you… you will see him.” Perhaps that is what frightened the women the most. It was the reality that God was not finished with them – or with us; and that we would be confronted by the risen Christ – the really risen Christ, as we go through life, as we go along our way.

Mark challenges us to believe not simply that Christ is alive – and even this story has a happy ending. But rather that the beginning of the good news of salvation is here and now – with you, and with me. Jesus goes ahead of us and we can expect, we will encounter the Christ – here and now – in our very lives.

And so Mark’s final word is “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

It is a story that is unfinished, because it is meant to be unfinished. It is meant for you and I to take it up, to decide for ourselves how the story will end. What will you do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

What will you do with his going before you, knowing that you’re going to meet him? What will you do with the miracle and the chance at new life, something totally different from what you have experienced before?

Frightening isn’t it? We each have the opportunity, amazing and disturbing though it is, to finish this story in our own lives. Jesus Christ died and rose that he might meet you here. He has come to offer you new life, Resurrection Life. What will you do with the news? Will you hear the words of the young man at the empty tomb?

“You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised, he is not here…He is going ahead of you, you will see him.”

How will you finish the story?

The story is told of a young man once came home from a prisoner of war camp, where he had been reported kill in action. His family and his buddies and even his girlfriend had mourned him as dead, and then more or less got over their grief.

His sudden reappearance was disturbing to say the least. They had all loved him, but they had in effect written him out of their lives. His girlfriend was engaged to marry someone else. Moreover, he didn’t seem like the boy who had gone off to war.

He was thin and haggard and haunted. However, he was now mature, self-possessed, and, astonishingly, happy. He hadn’t smiled much as a kid and rarely joked. Now he was witty and exuberant all the time. A quiet kid had become an outgoing adult man. He didn’t fit in the patterns of relationships he had left behind.

Quite the contrary, his happiness and maturity were unsettling. He congratulated his former girlfriend on her coming marriage and shook hands cordially with her fiancé. His family went to the priest. “There’s something wrong with him,” they said. “There sure is,” the priest replied, “he has risen from the dead and now lives a new life.”

This is the reality of the Resurrection. The dead, you and I, are given new life through Christ. Will you take hold of the new life Christ offers? Will you accept the frightening, awesome, wonderful news that will forever change your life? Because this is the truth: the Lord is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen.

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