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What Do We Do Now?

Good morning, Grace family and friends, and Happy Easter. There are those among us, probably all of us, who have been waiting patiently to finally be able to say Alleluia, and today’s that day, so let’s say it together: Alleluia! There are those among us, maybe not all of us, who consider this morning’s Easter reading from the Gospel of Mark the best Easter reading. And whether you consider it the best Easter reading probably lines up with how much you do or don’t like ambiguous endings to stories.


I know some people really don’t like ambiguous endings. And I’ll tip my hand right now—I do.

One of my favorite science fiction films ever is Christopher Nolan’s Inception. If you haven’t

seen Inception, it’s about people who can travel into other people dreams while they’re

sleeping. The way a person knows they are in someone else’s dreams is they spin a little silver top. If the top keeps spinning without falling over, they know they’re in a dream. The

ambiguous end of Inception is that in the movie’s final moments, the main character spins a top and the screen cuts to black, leaving us wondering whether the whole movie itself was a

dream. And most people were fine with that.


People weren’t so fine with another famously ambiguous ending, the series finale of The

Sopranos. Now, even though that finale was fourteen years ago now—and that makes me feel old—I don’t want to spoil the ending in case you haven’t you haven’t seen it. I will say it had an ending even more ambiguous than Inception, and even more people were not fine with it. Countless articles, social media discussions, and even academic papers have been written about the end of The Sopranos. I even asked Chat GPT how many words had been written about the finale, and Chat GPT said it was impossible to give an accurate count, but it was in the millions of words.


Which brings us to today’s Easter reading from the Gospel of Mark. If the author of the Gospel of Mark had written this ending we read today, as part of a movie or TV show, he would have generated as much controversy as Inception or The Sopranos. And it turns out that he did, in fact, create a certain amount of controversy. Now, just to make clear, this passage from Mark that we read today is the original ending to the Gospel of Mark. The women come to the tomb of Jesus, find that the stone is rolled away, and the young man is there at the grave, and they flee from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.


What you’ll find is that the Gospel in most of our Bibles contains several more verses that were added later by scribes to provide a less ambiguous ending. This isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s a fact that’s footnoted in all modern translations. Those of us who prefer a less ambiguous ending can take heart in knowing that this preference is not only common, but it ended up actually changing the ending of one of the Gospels. In the scribes’ later additions to the Gospel, we are told that Jesus does in fact appear again, first to Mary Magdalene, then the other disciples, and then he gives his Great Commission, and then he ascends into heaven.


Which is all satisfying and comforting. And yet, we are haunted by the fact that what we read

this morning is Mark’s original ending. As Robb McCoy says, it is an ambiguous ending that is joyfully jarring. We come to this ending with the women fleeing the tomb and we’re suddenly left with more questions than answers. Like, “Why do we not get to see Jesus after he’s been resurrected, like the other Gospels? Why do we end with the women running away in fear and amazement?” Like the women at the tomb, we’re left asking ourselves, “What do we do now?”


What I’d like to suggest this morning, friends, is that Mark’s original ending, this abrupt non-

ending ending doesn’t feel like an ending is because it isn’t the ending! We are supposed to be thinking, just like the women at the tomb, “Okay, now what? What am I supposed to do now?”


And like Inception and The Sopranos and like all good ambiguous endings, we are left to imagine for ourselves, to fill in the blank, to decide what comes next. It’s no longer about how Mark ended the story, or about how those scribes added some verses to make it seem more

complete, but about how you and me—how we, together, as followers of Jesus, choose to end the story.


When I was a kid, and maybe when some of you also were kids, there was a series of books called Choose Your Own Adventure. Back then there were about 50 of them, now there are close to 200, with names like The Cave of Time, and Space and Beyond, and Prisoner of the Ant People. They were little paperback books, adventure stories, and science fiction stories, and mysteries, and as you read along, every few pages, you would come to a page where you could choose one path or another, and it would tell you to turn to a different page, which would create multiple stories with different endings. This is where the women at the tomb, and we, in our Eastertime, find ourselves. We’re at the bottom of one of those pages, where we ask, “What do we do now?”


And to find the answer to that question of “What do we do now?”, we go back to the beginning of the story, back to the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. Speaking of being a kid, most of us, even if we don’t have kids of our own, have probably read stories to little kids. And what do little kids say when you read them a story? Read it again! And that’s what we do, not only here in this Easter story, but as part of our Christian life. We read it again!


And when we go back to the start of Mark, we might notice something that we read the first

time through, but now seems to have a different meaning. It’s that first verse of the first

chapter of Mark. Do you remember it? It says, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. ”


The first time we read it, we probably thought that it meant the beginning of this chapter, or

even the Gospel of Mark, but now we realize “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ” is the whole Gospel of Mark. This entire Gospel is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, and you and I are called to finish it. That is good news!


What it is that we do now, my friends, including and especially when, like the women, we feel

scared and marvel all at once, is we go back to the start. Back to the start of the whole story

which is the life of Jesus, and we not only read it again, but we start patterning our lives after

our Savior Jesus, and remember him, again and again.


Several of us ended up reading the Passion of Jesus this week multiple times, including at Palm Sunday. It’s a brutal, horrific story. As Isaiah prophesied, “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of humankind.” Other translations say, “His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being.” We are told that his bones were not broken, but in every other physical and metaphorical sense, Jesus was dismembered, which is also the opposite of the word remember. We often think of forgetting as the opposite of remembering, but its true opposite is dismembering.


Grace, in joining with the Easter story, we re-member the dis-membered Jesus. We invite Jesus to come back to us into his unmarred form, newly resurrected, in our church, and in our lives, and here, every week, at the table. We remember his death, We proclaim his resurrection, we await his coming in glory. We re-member Jesus in our lives, the decisions we make to love one another as we love ourselves, to open our hearts and our lives and our church to people who are not like us. We re-member him when we love our enemies and re-member him when we forgive those who sin against us. In re-membering Jesus, we participate in the continuation of the Easter story, and we participate in his resurrection.


Grace, the joyfully jarring, beautifully ambiguous, original ending of Mark’s Gospel is an

invitation for you and me to participate in the Easter Story of resurrection. I can think of no

better news. There’s even good news, encouraging news, in the fact that the women fled in

terror and amazement. It sounds a lot like what you and I, in our more sophisticated

psychology, call anxiety. And, despite what a million self-help books and podcasts tell us,

anxiety is not always a bad thing. As we leave the empty tombs of our lives, the empty tombs of grief, and lost dreams, and life that didn’t turn out the way we expected them to—anxiety can activate us.


Fear and amazement can sometimes be a doorway into running towards lives that Jesus

patterned for us, lives of joy, and new dreams, and resurrected lives you and I haven’t yet

imagined. We can return to old life life or be transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ. We can run away in our fear or run towards proclaiming the good news in word and action.


As far those women at the tomb, they went on to be the very first proclaimers of the Gospel. Jesus had been resurrected, and they would know that soon enough, but in this moment, it is the women’s lives that have also been resurrected. They, and we, are resurrected to the possibility of living in a new way. “It is finished” for Jesus, but it has just begun for us.


The Easter story isn’t something that only happened two thousand years ago; it’s something

that’s happening to you and me, today, in this time of what Kelly Brown Douglas calls crucifying realities. It’s hard right now to be a human, and it’s even harder to be a follower of Christ. The old ways of being Christian, and of being church, are dying. And you and I and the church are going to be resurrected. We’re not sure what it’s going to look like, or where it’s going to take us, but I can tell you one thing: We won’t do it alone, we’ll do it together.


Earlier, I said that the Good News of today’s Gospel is that we get to finish the Good News that Jesus started, but even better news is that we will do it together. Together, we come here, inside this building and outside of it, at the table of our Lord, and the table of our coffee hour, inside the walls of this church, and outside in the streets of this town and this county and this country and the world. Together, we will re-member the crucified and resurrected Jesus. Together, we will read stories that end ambiguously because you and are meant to be the end of those stories, and we’ll go back, and like children full of wonder, we will read them again and again, learning from the life of Jesus and not only his death, how you and I are called to live resurrected lives.


And together we will say, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed!”


Amen.

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