When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb.
They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!)
Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”
Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Mark tells us that these three women – Mary, Mary, and Solome, slip out to the edge of town early in the morning, just after the sun comes up, in that hazy sort of dawn where the morning is just shaking off the shadows of night. The Sabbath is over and Jesus has been dead since Friday but they’ve only just begun to grieve.
So they come out to the tomb early in the morning, with their basket of spices ready to anoint the body, a last act of care that they hoped would help them understand what had happened.
They went to the tomb that morning in search of an ending to the story that had taken such a dramatic turn on Thursday. We might say they went looking for closure, for some way to put all this behind them.
But what they found, of course, was an empty tomb, with no body to anoint, no use for those spices, and a young man in a robe who definitely wasn’t Jesus, who says to them, “Do not be afraid.”
This was not the ending they were looking for.
And so they run away, back into the night – and despite the words of the messenger, they are afraid.
And that – remarkably – is how Mark ends his gospel. Right in the middle of a sentence, almost, and certainly without the closure we think we’re looking for.
Now, if you looked in your Bibles, if you find the last chapter of the gospel of Mark, you’ll see a few more verses there after vs. 8. But we can be pretty sure that those were added generations later, by scribes who were equally convinced that there needed to be a better ending to the story.
Because this is a story that needs an ending.
We know something must have happened. Mark tells us that they said nothing to anyone, but something must have happened to bring them back together, to bring them to tell somebody. We know this, because the story made its way to us, this morning.
We know that something must have happened because a few minutes ago, six people stepped into that baptistry right there, into waters that are as full of sacred mystery as the empty tomb. Charlie and George and Robertson and Olivia and Bella and Sun stepped into those waters and into this story that hasn’t ended yet.
In the class I led with those kids, we talked a lot about how God is always extending an invitation to us, always reaching out to us, offering us new life… and baptism is our way of saying yes to that invitation.
So today those kids said yes to the grace God offers, to the promise of new life, to living out the story that is as ancient as time itself and begins anew today.
And when they stood up, you all gave them a new invitation: to walk in the newness of life.
See, I think, that maybe this unfinished ending of the gospel is Mark’s greatest gift to us, because it means that this is our story to finish.
We’ve done our share of running away in the morning light, back into the shadows that feel safer, when the glare of the sun reveals a truth so great that it pushes us to see beyond where we are comfortable. We’ve done our share of keeping the story to ourselves, holding on so tightly that we don’t let anyone else in. We’ve done our share of being afraid.
But now it’s Easter morning again. It’s Easter and the sun has risen, and something happens that brings us back to take another look into that empty tomb and write a new ending to our story.
Our task today, when we’ve sung our final alleluia and go back into the world….
Our task is not to decide if we believe this crazy story or not.
Our task is to live it. To live this story.
The invitation in the empty tomb and in the waters of baptism is an invitation to life itself.
So the question before us today is this: What kind of story will you live? How will you say yes to the God’s grace?
And the thing is that sometimes it feels like the story happens to us, that life happens to us – there’s a death in the family or an illness or a job loss or just the everyday stress of being alive – and it feels like the story is happening to us. And let me tell you that Easter doesn’t mean there won’t ever be any more pain or grief or sorrow or death.
What it means is that we get to choose the sort of story we live. Easter means we have a choice: We can run back into the shadows of fear, back into despair and the unfinished darkness of the night…
Or we can say yes to the invitation right before us. We can say yes to living in the light of hope.
We can live this way.
We can live with forgiveness instead of revenge.
We can live with hope instead of despair.
We can live with grace instead of resentment.
We can live with abundance instead of scarcity.
We can live with love instead of hate.
We can live with acceptance instead of judgement.
We can live with contentment instead of longing.
We can live with joy instead of fear.
We can live this way, because the story doesn’t end.
The story doesn’t end at the empty tomb. It goes on, and it’s your story, and mine. It’s a story for those who were baptized long ago, and for those whose hair is still dripping sacred water right now. It’s a story for those of us who have heard it all our lives and for those of us who have heard it fresh today. It’s a story for those of us who are filled with questions about how it could be and for those of us who are filled with the mystery of it all.
This is your story, and mine, and it’s a story for all the world.
So that’s our task: to live this story. Our task is to go out from this place telling this story, and living this story, in a world that desperately needs to know that love wins every time.
We who have peered into the tomb and found it empty can now go back into the world with the assurance that we need not be afraid.
For there is hope, here, and promise. And light and love and peace.
It’s the unfinished story of God’s grace. And it’s for you – this story is for you.
Let us rejoice at the good news that Christ is risen! Alleluia. Amen.