In my ending is my beginning!

Converted!
April 21, 2023
You who pour mercy into hell….
May 6, 2023
Converted!
April 21, 2023
You who pour mercy into hell….
May 6, 2023

‘In my ending is my beginning!’ 

After giving two whole chapters for a detailed account of the passion – the betrayal, arrest, trial, torture and death – of Jesus, (Mark Ch. 14-15) Mark’s Gospel has only 8 verses on the resurrection in his final, sixteenth chapter.  This is because verses 9 – 20 are generally regarded as a later addition by someone else.  There is also a much shorter ending as second alternative, placed after verse 8, but without verse numbers.  So here we are, almost at an ending, and yet, here we are, just at the beginning, with everything before us and some choices to be made.  You and I can instead ‘write’ the next chapter, as St Mark’s Church!    Verse 8 says:

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.

What does this dramatic Gospel v8 ending mean for us?  This could be a story of failure told in brief detail, with a group of women going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, worried the tomb might still have the stone blocking the entrance which they hadn’t yet worked out how to move; of the tomb being empty and a stranger, a young man in white sitting in the tomb instead; of directions being given to them by the young man about what to do next, but in their panic they fled and said nothing to anyone.  No body, no anointing, no message, no ‘happy ever after’ ending offered…Yet, ‘in my ending is my beginning’.   Mark offers us the opportunity to tell a new addition to his story.

The women coming to the tomb on that first day after the Sabbath included Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. They had also been present at the terrible crucifixion.  (Mark 15:40)  We can hear their sadness at the death and loss of Jesus, their love evident in all the spices they bring to anoint his body and their determined early start as soon as the Sabbath is over.  We can hear their surprise at the stone already rolled away, now the empty tomb and the presence of a young man inside; and, we can hear the panic, terror and amazement as they react to the shocks. 

If you and I are now writing this Gospel’s next chapter, what do we make of the sadness and grief at the loss of the loved one, a leader, friend and family member.  Our certainty about what happens at death is beginning to be challenged and do we dare to wonder?  We all know what it is like to have a loved one die, and not yet have found the promise of the living. The astonishment at the message so unbelievably given to us by a stranger has us backing out of the tomb, falling over each other.  We gather our jars of spices in the early morning light, as darkness gives way to the dawn.  Have we encountered the risen Lord yet, I wonder?

For me, if I’m writing the next bit of the story, I think I’ve picked up my jar of spices ready for anointing the dead and I am going to smash it against the stone now pushed away from the tomb’s entrance, in glee and joy as I start to think about how I’m going to get from here to Galilee, away from Jerusalem with all its noise, rules and abuse of power.  I’m heading for the margins, to Galilee to where God is already, waiting for me to arrive, waiting for me, for us, to hear God’s invitation and to join him. 

Let me re-write this: we’ve broken the jars, we’ve abandoned the rituals, the sorrow, the despair.  You know we can’t go back to our old lives.  We can’t continue as we are.  That’s never going to happen with the news we’ve just been given.  We were to go and tell the others, the disciples and Peter, the extraordinary news, Jesus is in Galilee.  He’s already there, he’s gone ahead!   Did you notice, there is no hint of displeasure, judgement or rejection in the directions we’ve been given, nothing about previous denials and betrayals.  Jesus did tell them, us, off for being too slow to believe and being distracted, but we were not told off for failure.    We now confront the reality Jesus withholds judgement, which is hard enough for the guilty to accept; but understanding Jesus now shows love to those who failed him, failed God, failed their friends, including Peter is almost unbearable.  Yet Jesus has not only forgiven, he really doesn’t hold onto these memories of grief, guilt, shame and power to punish. 

Easter which we experienced three weeks ago, is where we started to see a world free of revenge and reprisal, where there’s always a price for everything, with nothing free or without expectations.  Easter is the reality of God’s kingdom, absolutely structured for mercy, according to a new pattern given by an innocent man who returns without blame for all of us who are guilty.  God doesn’t need a scapegoat.  God’s love for us, for those frightened men and women, pours from the empty tomb.

Easter carries a potent, powerful political and ethical mandate and direction.   It describes our new relationships with each other and God which is intimate, personal and global.  It is a far cry from the mayhem of settling old scores, of winning and losing, being fearful of the ‘other’.   Easter inspires all sorts of emotions and no wonder those first disciples ran as fast as they could to get away from the shock.

Mark left the end of the Gospel open for a reason.  We can stop being shocked by such love and instead speak of it, live it and believe it.  We can deliver the amazing good news of love and reconciliation to every Peter out there who believes things cannot be helped and will never be changed, that families, memories and friendships cannot be healed; and our cowardly, or wrong-headed, regretted choices can never be forgiven or be worthy of God’s love.  So, can we dare to believe God is with us, always, loving and transforming us in peace, contrary to everything you’ve ever been taught?  Yes!  Believe, my sisters and brothers for Easter tells us everything is different for ever. 

As Mark has shown us so clearly, ‘In my ending is my beginning’.

The Lord be with you.

Bibliography

         Francis, L.J., Atkins, P. 2002.  Exploring Mark’s Gospel.  Continuum, London

         Jarvis, C.E., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds].  2014.  Feasting on the Gospels Mark.  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

         Painter, J.  1997.  Mark’s Gospel.  Worlds in conflict.  Routledge.  London and New York

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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