A Pastor's Ponderings and Such

1st Biblical Witness The Gospel Of Mark 16:9 — 13

Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

2nd Biblical Witness The Gospel Of Mark 16:10 — 20

Later Jesus appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

Reflection      “Triumph And Purpose”

This morning we’ve read what is called the longer ending in Mark which is understood to have been written later and added on. In the shorter, original ending, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, and went to Jesus in his tomb to anoint him. Jesus was gone and someone else was there telling them Jesus had been raised from the dead. They were told to let the disciples and Peter know that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. They were terrified and ran away, which is entirely understandable to me.

The longer ending that we read is sometimes marked as being doubtfully authentic in the Bibles they’re written in. And not all Bibles even include it at all. I’ve never before used this longer ending for Easter. This year, it spoke to me. Stories and myths are reworked all the time. Although I’m confident that this longer ending was added later, that doesn’t take away from the fact that someone at some point felt like the people at the time needed it.

I’ve talked before about a book called, “The Telling” by Ursula LeGuin. How the story-tellers in her book would finish by saying something like, “well, that’s how I know the story.” None of the stories were considered set in stone – not meant to be factual. There was a depth of meaning conveyed through each telling, with each of their nuances.

The original writer of Mark probably wanted to share the intensity of what it felt like to imagine Jesus risen from the dead and making plans to meet his followers in Galilee. The writer was resonnating with the fear of the people at the time. Affirming them. Sharing their own confusion.

Why would someone come along later and replace the fear with teaching and a charge to action? I think it’s because whatever was going on at the time held too much fear and foreboding. This set of people probably needed reassurance, their faith bolstered, and hope for the impossible.

In this longer ending, the followers of Jesus were promised superhuman powers. After those promises, Jesus ascended into the heavens and took his rightful place at the right hand of God while the followers went out confidently to proclaim the good news, letting go of their fear. It’s very “happily ever after,” neat, and tidy. In the midst of chaos, it really helps to have a little happily ever after tossed in your direction. A sense of empowerment and agency, gives us the boost we need.

In book study we’re reading Amanda Gorman’s book of poems, “Call Us What We Carry.” One stanza from her poem, “The Truth In One Nation” says this

Some days we believe
in nothing
but belief. But
it is enough to carry us forward

Sometimes we just need something to believe in to help us move forward. Trust me, I’m not going to literally pick up a snake or drink a deadly thing to prove my faith or to feel accomplished. That doesn’t change the kind of inspiration we can get from the impossible symbols in the telling. We’re being told that whatever is out there that we’re afraid of is actually something we can face and conquer.

Today we talk about the power of resurrection. The power of overcoming and being remade. Christ resurrected is about life after death – about Holy Love infusing a moment so directly and intently that life erupts in a place where only death was possible. I believe in the Easter story of regeneration. I put my hope in a God who mixes Sacred Energies of Eternal Life with the Holy Energies of our mortal existence.

Some years we need the reminder that those who encountered the Risen Christ were confused and fearful. Other years, we need the comfort of our friend and teacher telling us that we are made of such stuff that we can overcome our obstacles; and not just overcome, but transform them into good news and abundant life, just like he was transformed from death to life.

Our obstacles the last couple years have been many. The pressure doesn’t seem to be letting up a whole heck of a lot. Much has been resolved, but there are new struggles emerging that we have to deal with. The shorter ending of Mark affirms our fear and confusion as a reasonable response. The longer ending reminds us that we don’t have to stay there. Our destiny is not to be paralysed. Maybe it’s to be shaken, but in a way that agitates us loose to be able to move away from what’s been confining us. We may not know what to believe in … but if we believe there’s something to believe in, that just may be enough to move us forward.

We’re called to do what others have given up on. That’s what all those symbols of healing folks and flirting with danger mean. There’s a power that flows through us which we don’t have to muster for ourselves. One we don’t have to be good enough or strong enough for. We just have to be open to it. Not a type of perfection of character or depth of wisdom. Just a willingness to proclaim that there is good news and to take kind positive actions on behalf of others. We wouldn’t have to proclaim good news if bad news wasn’t surrounding us. So of course it’s going to be a challenge. We will be confronted with obstacles … even doubt. That’s what makes the good news so important and compelling. It challenges the notion that the only thing that’s real are the struggles we face.

Death is real. But death isn’t the only thing that’s real. And it isn’t the biggest most important real thing. Life is. Community is bigger and more powerful than dissension. Addressing danger is more powerful than the danger itself. And sometimes we have to rewrite the story to remind us that we are strong, able, confident, and full to bursting with life. May the power of resurrection fill you and move you with good news and holy love that you can’t help but share.

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