Easter in Galilee

Community United Church of Christ (St. Paul Park, Minnesota)

Scripture: Mark 16:1-8

Even during Holy Week, it’s not all work and no play for your local minister. Especially when a new season of “House of Cards” was recently released. If you don’t know it, “House of Cards” is a TV show on Netflix, about a husband and wife striving for the US presidency, and stopping at nothing to get what they want. When a new season is released all the episodes are available at once, so across the country for the last month every night from the street you can see curtains flickering with the light of binge-watchers up far beyond a reasonable hour. That’s why you might have seen me with bags under my eyes recently. Because, as Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist everything, except temptation.”

What makes this show so addictive is its heavy use of cliffhanger endings. Just when the action can’t get more dramatic, a sudden plot twist throws everything into question, then a moment later the screen snaps to black and the credits start to roll. “Aaaah!!” It’s nearly impossible not to click a link and watch the next episode. Anyone who has ever lasted a whole week for another episode of Lost, endured the long summer desert before Downton Abbey resumed again, waited years for the next Harry Potter book or Hunger Games movie to be released, and talked with others about how some dramatic situation might get resolved, understands the power of a cliffhanger ending. We discuss it long after, with anticipation for what’s still to come.

Mark gives us the ultimate cliffhanger ending at the conclusion of his gospel. We are all ready to celebrate resurrection and witness the risen Christ, but Jesus is not there at the tomb! Instead, we have a young man—probably an angel—telling us Jesus has been raised. The women he speaks to get the message, but the last sentence of the whole gospel is this: “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That’s it—fade to black, “The End”, roll credits. This is like a Perry Mason episode ending with a trial which will exonerate the innocent and reveal the true criminal. Then, on the way to the courtroom, the star witness is grabbed by masked men, tape put over her mouth and hands tied behind her back, then she’s tossed into the back of a van which drives away, tires screeching. At least in that case, we could expect those three little words of promise, “To Be Continued”. But Mark is different, and the final ending is as we heard it. There is no “Gospel of Mark, Part II: Return of the King”.

This ending to the gospel was so unsettling to early Christians that they actually wrote at least two alternate endings. You can see those in our Bibles today, even though those endings don’t exist in the earliest manuscripts of Mark’s gospel. Because it’s so hard to finish this way, right? This is a real downer, closing on fear and silence from the women who had been otherwise faithful all along. Too much is left unresolved—we don’t get the happily-ever-after ending that Disney has taught us to expect. No wonder those early Christians added a few verses. They just wanted to try and tie up loose ends, resolving things with a bright Easter bow.

But Mark’s gospel, ending as he originally intended it, gives us something that other versions do not. It’s honest to our experience of the resurrection. If we can’t see the risen Jesus ourselves, why should these women? If all we have to go on now is hearsay, trusting the testimony of others, we can relate with how these women feel. Will we tell the overheard news of the resurrection, or will we remain silent? The central question in Mark—and in all of faith, for that matter—is whether or not we can believe in one we have not seen with our own eyes. How do we live without Jesus here, leading the way?

Yet we’re not totally without Jesus, are we? He left us a clue about where he’s going next—the young man at the tomb said as much. “He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Jesus told the disciples at the Last Supper that he would see them in Galilee, and he’s not in a habit of breaking his word. Galilee is what one commentator calls “a regular, though silent, character in this Gospel”.[1] Galilee is the place where it all began: where Jesus was baptized, where he proclaimed the Good News, where he called Simon, Andrew, James and John; where he taught his disciples, where he proclaimed the message, and where he liberated people from sickness and demons. While the crucifixion and resurrection happen in Jerusalem, Galilee is “the place from which the disciples and the women came: their home turf, the place of their daily routine.”[2] Jesus may be gone, but he’s left a forwarding address: Galilee.

Where is your Galilee—a spiritual or physical homeland? It might be where you live or where you work. Maybe it’s with people who mean the world to you and are far away, or it’s when you are all by yourself. Galilee is wherever you’re going next after church, where you will be this week, where you spend the majority of your time. Galilee is the everyday place or state of heart that you find yourself in. And it is there that Jesus has gone before, promising to meet us there. As Gary Charles writes, “the risen Lord awaits us not in an empty tomb or in some distant future or remote place; the risen Lord awaits us in Galilee—on our city streets, in the halls of our schools, in the wards of our hospitals, and behind the bars of our prisons. The Lord awaits us in the market and the gym, when we sit down to dinner and when we lie down to sleep. Want to find the risen Lord? Want to serve the risen Christ? Mark says, ‘Then go to Galilee.’”[3] There is no sequel to Mark’s gospel in the Bible, but that’s because Jesus has left the pages of the book and walked into our very lives. The ending that we’re looking for will be found among us, in Galilee.

“But Preacher”, I hear someone say, “the Christ of mercy, compassion and deliverance hasn’t been by my Galilee in a very long time.” Maybe you are among those “far better acquainted with Golgotha than Galilee.”[4] Maybe you’ve been looking already, and aren’t finding Jesus there. Or maybe it’s just too tenuous to say for sure. Maybe you—like Peter on the night of betrayal—have decided it’s too risky to speak up, even when you recognize Christ. Maybe we—like the women, like Peter—turn away in silence, in denial.

But if that’s what Galilee looks like for us right now, it’s not the end. Because the women DID speak eventually, right? Otherwise we wouldn’t be here talking about it. They broke their silence and told folks the message. They did “tell the disciples…and Peter”. They told Peter that Jesus’ Good News of mercy and kindness were for him too. No matter how loyal or distant a disciple is, Jesus’ mission is continued in the lives of all. “The falling away of the disciples and the denial of Peter are not the end of God’s plans for them. In this command of the angel to the women lies the promise of forgiveness and restitution, of a renewed call and a fresh start….”[5]

So let us finish the story of resurrection in our own lives, meeting Christ in our Galilee. Finish the story by refusing to accept the tales of despair and death which are all too common right now. Finish the story by letting Christ’s promise live in us: with God, life is stronger than death. Finish the story by forgiving enemies and letting old wounds heal. Finish the story by walking with loved ones into death, yet trusting that goodbye is not forever. Finish the story by suffering with those who suffer, because the pain will not finally swallow us up. Finish the story by giving of ourselves in order to help others because that is the way of Christ. Finish the story with daily service to God in Galilee, sowing hope where despair rules, speaking consolation where desperation dwells, and breaking wide open all tombs.[6] Finish the story in faithfulness to the risen Christ, because you’ll hardly believe what comes next!

Let us pray: God of resurrection, plant the seed of your risen life within us. Nourish it by your Holy Spirit, that the God of hope will fill us with all joy and peace in believing. Amen.

[1] Gary W. Charles, Preaching Mark in Two Voices, by Brian K. Blount and Gary W. Charles (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 271.

[2] Lamar Williamson, Jr. Mark, in the Interpretation Bible commentary series (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983), 285.

[3] Charles, 272.

[4] Charles, 273.

[5] Williamson, 284.

[6] Charles, 273.

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