The Deep Memory of the Faithful, preached by Winton Boyd on April 2, 2017

 

Mark 16:8

8 So they (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.

 

About a year ago, a small Swiss company produced a film called “Late Shift”.

1 movie, countless stories, 7 endings.

Matt, a smart student, has to prove his innocence after being forced into the robbery of a famous London auction house. How will the audience decide to act when everything is turning against him? The audience makes decisions for the interactive thriller’s hero while the movie keeps on running seamlessly.

This time it’s different. This time you leave the theatre knowing that if you watched the movie again, you could see a different story. What if you’re dissatisfied with the consequences of the audience’s collective decisions? Then, in the form of the app, the protagonist’s fate is in your hands alone. It is up to you to discover countless variations of the same plot and make “better” decisions. (http://lateshift-movie.com/)

As part of this growing genre of material that blurs the boundaries between a game and a movie, only one of the 7 endings has a typical ‘happy ever after’ feel. It is the latest in a trend that started with the play “Clue” in the 80’s and a few other films since then. Because of technology, the occurrence of this genre appears to be on the rise.

At first glance, this is a fascinating development; until we realize that different endings to a common story are nothing new. Different endings to the same story occur all the time in history.

1948 for most European Jews in Israel ended with the creation of the state of Israel. This state was the culmination of generations of yearning and hope. For most Palestinians in the region, however, the year ended with what is known in Arabic as the “Nakba” (catastrophe). Nakba was evidenced by lost homes, death and displacement. Who you were shaped the story and it’s meaning.

The same can be said for the “Civil War” and the “War of Aggression.” In one version a nation remained united. In another, the dreams of independence and secession were dashed. The ‘ending’ has shaped ongoing interpretation of not only that conflict, but also most events since then.

Ironically, some of this same dynamic occurs in the bible, most notably in the gospel of Mark. In his theatrical rendering of the gospel titled, According to Mark, actor Jim Krag offers a dramatic and somewhat fearful ending to the gospel. The last line of his performance is Mark 16:8, “ So they (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.” (www.accordingtomark.org)

Biblical scholars call this the ‘original ending’ of Mark. Most scholars have long believed this is where the original manuscript ended. If you look in your bible, however, you’ll see additional verses (the rest of today’s text), broken into two sections, ‘the short ending’ and the ‘long ending’ of Mark. (http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/the-strange-ending-of-the-gospel-of-mark-and-why-it-makes-all-the-difference/)

What is this about? What is the context and why 3 endings?

The original Mark has no appearances of Jesus following the visit of the women on Easter morning to the empty tomb? Like the other three Gospels, Mark recounts the visit of Mary Magdalene and her companions to the tomb of Jesus early Sunday morning. Upon arriving they find the blocking stone at the entrance of the tomb removed and a young man:

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.”

Ending here, Mark gives no accounts of anyone actually seeing Jesus as Matthew, Luke, and John later report.

Many scholars today believe this original ending of Mark was viewed by later Christians as deficient; so much so that various endings were added by editors and copyists in some manuscripts to try to remedy things. Most bibles today have three endings with explanatory footnotes; the original ending at vs. 8, a ‘shorter ending’ and a ‘longer ending’ referred to as vss. 9-20.

Beyond theological or textual fascination, what is happening here? More importantly, what might it mean to followers of Jesus today?

As noted, Mark’s original ending describes the women as uncertain and afraid. They are still presented as faithful, but also aware that what they have just witnessed and heard could cause trouble in their near future. Resurrection is radical. If Jesus is still somehow alive, it would only intensify the threat to various authorities that resulted in his death in the first place. His closet followers could have been afraid for many reasons, but certainly their physical safety in the face of potential violence was one of them. Even claiming he was resurrected could be dangerous. There isn’t evidence that a risen Jesus was interesting in responding to his own unjust crucifixion with revengeful violence, these women would have been right to fear the violence of others. While Jesus spoke of a new ethic of love, on this early Sunday morning, they couldn’t be certain of their own fate. For the writer of Mark, this appears to be an important point.

But, secondly, Mark understands resurrection in a very different way than the other gospels. The only place post resurrection epiphanies or “sightings” of Jesus will occur will be in the north, in Galilee, not in Jerusalem. We learned this not after the crucifixion, but by Jesus himself in chapter 14, “but after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

As the earliest Gospel, it appears that the first generation of Jesus followers were perfectly fine with a Gospel account that recounted no physical appearances of Jesus. We have to assume that the author of Mark’s Gospel did not consider his account deficient in the least and he was either passing on, or faithfully promoting, what he considered to be the authentic Gospel.

Saying this another way, Mark knows of no accounts of people encountering the revived corpse of Jesus, wounds and all, walking around Jerusalem. His tradition is that the disciples experienced their epiphanies of Jesus in their home territory of Galilee after the eight-day Passover festival. By this time, they seem to have returned to their previous occupations like fishing, in despair. It is here, in the living of daily life, ‘back in the world,’ that these encounters with the risen Jesus occurred.

We don’t need to criticize the other gospels to recognize the importance of Mark’s ending. Palestinian poet Ibtisam Barakat has noted that one of the impacts of living under oppression – political or personal – is that people learn to be dishonest. When oppressed, people learn to present the truth as the powerful want to see it rather than as they themselves really know it. To smile when one is in deep pain, to say yes when one wants to say no, to say life is good when despair is rampant. (Wisdom Ways talk, March 31, 2017, St. Paul. MN)

Mark chose not to portray Jesus’ followers in a purified or grandiose way; he chose to show them honestly, scared and uncertain. Is it possible that Mark did this to highlight an even more important truth; a truth demonstrated by Jesus’ own promise, already given, that his ‘raising up’ would take place in their ordinary and everyday lives, transforming them into strong, determined and ultimately hopeful witnesses to God’s love?

 

Is it possible that Mark wanted to model the honesty of our lives – in order to help remind us of the power of God’s spirit in our midst.

The ‘ending’ as it first appears may not be the ‘ending’ after all, but a new beginning. Maybe that promised, grace filled beginning doesn’t come through an other worldly, defiance of the laws of biology so much as in the deep memory of the faithful.

Reading these gospel words so many years later suggests that we too have spiritual experiences and memories that can serve to guide our faith. Rather than just looking for new signs, might we remember the promises of faith given to us in the past to help us move forward. We have the promises of Jesus, of course. But we also have our own memories of faithful mentors and loved ones who modeled a life of trust. We have memories of those who have taught us, explicitly and implicitly, what it means to rely on a strength greater than our own.

Maybe it is in embracing those promises remembered,  that we will see, feel, hear, taste and touch the risen one, full of love and hope.