Sermon: "Two Options," April 1, 2018

Easter Day - The Resurrection of the Lord
Rev. Ryan Slifka

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When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ 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.
— Mark 16:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version)


There are four versions of the Easter story. There are four versions of the Easter story found in the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The four gospels being the four biographies of Jesus found in the Bible’s New Testament. Near to the back.

The Good News According to John the Evangelist tells us that after the resurrection, Jesus passes through locked doors. With his shocked followers able to reach out and touch him.

The Good New According to Luke tells us that Jesus appears, breaks bread, disappears mysteriously, and ultimately ascends into heaven. His followers watch this play out. Their mouths wide open.

The Good News according to Matthew tells us that at the resurrection of Jesus, the earth quakes, and an angel descends like lightning from the sky. Jesus appears, and gives his followers directions to continue his work.

But Mark… Mark is different. In the Good News According to Mark—our reading for this morning, this Easter. Mark says that nothing happens.

Three women go to anoint Jesus’ body the tomb. They find it empty. They see a boy dressed in white (probably an angel) who tells them that Jesus isn’t there. No, Jesus isn’t there, but he’s alive, and out on the road where he said he’d be. But, in response it says that 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.”

In Matthew, Luke, and John, Jesus shows up. And his followers spread the news near and far. But in Mark, Jesus is raised from the dead. But nothing happens. “They were afraid,” It says. “They were afraid. They fled. They said nothing.”

Seems kind of… anticlimactic. Like the greatest, tie-breaking touchdown pass in history ending with a fumble right in the end zone. His followers find the empty tomb, an angel who says Jesus is alive, and on the road waiting for them. But then they turn tail, run away, and keep everything to themselves.

As the late great preacher Fred Craddock put it: “Is this any way to run a resurrection?”[i]

I don’t know about you, but if I lost someone, a close friend, teacher, let alone a spiritual master. If they died, but then three days later someone told me they were alive again, on the road at this exact location, the first thing I’d probably do is run there as fast as I could. And after I’d be more than willing to tell anyone who’d listen. If it happened to me.

But, it says. Even though Jesus lives, and is out on the road, waiting for them, even. Even so, it says, the women were afraid. They fled. They told no one. The end.

Now, obviously, someone must have said something to someone, and followed the angel’s instructions. Because a) we have the other three gospels, and b) we are all sitting here together on Easter morning nearly two thousand years after the first one.

Somebody must have said something. Somebody must have joined Jesus on the road to Galilee. Like the angel said. Must be some kind of mistake. In fact, alternate endings were written in the centuries following, because it seemed like a terrible omission. It’s no way to run a resurrection.

It could be a mistake, a scribe nodding off mid-sentence. But maybe there’s a reason Mark leaves the story right there.

Remember how the angel at the empty tomb says Jesus, the one who was crucified, wasn’t there. But that he had already gone ahead of them to Galilee. Galilee is where Jesus’ ministry began, back in chapter 1. It’s where his work was done. Where he called followers. Where he healed the sick. Where he fed the hungry. Where he freed people from their demons, and where he gathered disciples and taught them in the ways of God’s kingdom. All those things that eventually led to his death. The angel was sending them back to where it all began.

The women ran away and told no one because a resurrected Jesus would mean he was right all along. It’d mean taking up the work that he’d already begun all over again. I mean, they were probably actually a bit relieved when he was dead. Because, as good and as exciting as it was, it was hard. It was hard work. It was demanding, impossible, even. It took everything they had and then some. And plus it was dangerous, it was disruptive—look at where it got Jesus. So it was simply easier to give in to fear. To run, to hide. And to tell no one. Because if it was true, their lives would have to change forever.

There’s a reason Mark leaves the story right there. He ends it right there for our sake. For the reader, the hearer. The listener, the follower.[ii]

Because at the empty tomb, we’re given two options.

The first is to end the story where Mark ends it. To go home. To head back to life as normal. As if nothing has changed. Everything is the same. To head back to the same old fearful, violent, broken world, the way we found it. To leave here today, and simply join the women who are afraid, who flee. Say nothing, and do nothing.

The first option is to end the story there.

But there’s a second option. And the option is this: We can hear the words of this mysterious angelic figure at the tomb. We can hear his words, and we can take seriously his proclamation, and his invitation. His proclamation that Christ is risen—that the world’s brokenness, and its’ fearfulness and death, these do not have the last word. That our lives and our world can be different. The second option is to hear this proclamation, and accept his invitation.

Not necessarily to immediately buy into everything, to sign on the dotted line, or to go all in. At least not yet. But to leave this place this morning and return to the beginning of the story. To take up the angelic invitation to join Jesus on the road in Galilee. To join him in out in the world, taking teaching, feeding, healing. Helping to heal hearts, and having our own hearts mended in the process. As difficult as that may be.

We can take the first option. And end the story there. Which is easier. More comfortable. Less challenging.

Or, we can take the second option. And start the story over again. (Mark’s kind of a choose-you-own-adventure gospel). Which, I’ll admit is much harder. It’s much harder, but it’s worth while.

Because the good life is rarely the easiest life. Because it’s there, again at the beginning in Galilee where we’re promised the gift of new life, life abundant, life in the full. It’s there at the beginning where we can discover who we truly are, and become who we were created to be. It’s there at the beginning where we can experience that true joy, and love that surpasses all understanding. It’s there at the beginning where we’ll find the risen Christ… and where we’ll encounter with God in the flesh. Not just in Galilee. But in our own neighborhoods, and own lives.

It’s the hard way. But it’s worth it. Because it’s there, on the road, it’s there where we’ll be changed for good. For ever.

Brothers and sisters. Beloved guests and old friends. I pray that today doesn’t represent the end of your Easter story, the story of resurrection. But I pray that today is only the beginning.

May you leave this place, not in a quiet, fearful flee back to the anxiety of the status quo, business as usual. But, instead, may you leave this place today with courage in your heart. May you leave this place with shouts of joy on your lips, and hallelujah’s ringing in your ears. May you leave this place with your eyes opened to a whole new world. May you leave this place, heading in the direction of Galilee where the story began. With hands and feet readied in the service of love for friend, neighbor, and enemy alike.

May you take the second option, and leave the empty tomb today, knowing that Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed!


See you on the road.


[i] Fred Craddock, “Above and beyond: Mark 16:1-8,” The Christian Century: April 5, 2003.

[ii] There are, of course, endings written for Mark that have been used and continue to be found in Bibles. However, the scholarly consensus, based on the earliest manuscripts, is that Mark intended to end the gospel with the women fleeing in fear. See Raymond Brown, A Risen Christ in Easter Time, (Minneapolis: Liturgical Press, 1991), 10.