Easter Day 1 April 2018

The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Isaiah 25: 6 – 9

Easter Anthems

 Mark 16: 1 – 8


Did we not know better it would sound like some sick joke – this news of the resurrection! Just imagine being one of the disciples of Jesus, not just the Twelve, but all those others who moved in his ambit. In just a week they have been through the roller coaster of Palm Sunday – the euphoria of expectant crowds, stripping of branches, paving the road with their cloaks, shouting at the top of their voices, “Hosannah! Hosannah to the Son of David!” The hugely important family meal of the Passover when Jesus really surprised them – not only did he wash their feet but, on breaking the bread, he changed the traditional words to, “Take and eat, this is my Body broken for you.” To add to the confusion he predicted that one of them would betray him, and that Peter, their captain, would deny him. If Peter would do that, what hope for the others?


And then the Garden – instead of peaceful rest and alcohol induced slumber, what does He do! Jesus keeps waking them up – stay with me, pray with me. And then it’s too late – the torch-bearing soldiers and police arrive in the night and Judas steps up to kiss him.


A travesty of trials follows – the noise, the confusion, the vacillating of the governor first this way then that, and the terrifying baying of the crowd for his blood. Who could forget that awful mob-noise: Crucify! Crucify him! Strange how quickly and easily the hero becomes the villain – and the crowd is never slow to react. It all becomes a blur after that – a crown of thorns, a purple robe, a man hauled out of the crowd to carry the cross, the nails, the gasps, the gambling over his pitiful rags, the increasing darkness and ominous silence broken finally by his last cry: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15: 34)


And then, first thing on Sunday morning, the strangest of stories. So strange that one Gospel writer can’t bring himself to convey the message (Mark); the others were all convinced that, whoever else was there, Mary Magdalene was among them. Her message? The tomb was empty! Is this the joke? Some sick April Fool’s joke. But there’s more, for Mary had a message from people she claimed to be angels. He is alive!


Incredible as that may seem, that is the Easter message. For centuries now it has formed the great Christian greeting. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


And yet, of the four Gospel writers, St Mark can’t bring himself to have Mary and her companions deliver the message entrusted to them. The Gospel ends very strangely. We heard it a few minutes ago. Having been told by the young man not to be alarmed but to go and tell the disciples and Peter to go to Galilee where they will see Jesus, they do nothing of the sort. “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.” (Mark 16: 8)


This strange and unsatisfying ending to the Gospel has provoked two theories. One, that the ending of the Gospel got lost somehow, and there have been several different attempts to add endings. (You will find them in your Bibles.) Second, that Mark deliberately ended his Gospel on this strange note. Interestingly, in the original Greek that final sentence itself is incomplete – it awaits an ending.


This second theory, that Mark intentionally left his Gospel incomplete, suggests we need to take seriously two things – the Gospel as a whole, not just a few verses; and the context in which Mark wrote and the people to whom he wrote. While we have no proof of what I am about to say, it is worth thinking about.


The young man tells the women that Jesus has gone ahead to Galilee. In Mark’s Gospel that is where it all began – the proclamation by Jesus that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.” (Mark 1: 15 a) The correct response to this message is repentance and belief. Immediately after this short proclamation we find ourselves on the shore of Lake Galilee with Jesus calling the first four of his disciples – Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and John, sons of Zebedee – to leave their nets and follow Jesus.


The whole of Mark’s Gospel is about discipleship. We heard this through Lent as Archbishop Geoff preached on Sunday nights. It is about following Jesus, leaving behind the old way of life, living into the Kingdom of God. It’s about recognising the call of Jesus and following him. Could it be that Mark’s strange unfinished ending is deliberately intended – forcing, encouraging his readers to read the whole Gospel, to hear the call of Jesus for themselves, and to repent and believe and then follow?


There’s another thought that comes when we consider the context in which Mark’s Gospel was written, and the people to whom it was written. We think Mark was the earliest of the Gospels to be written, some time after the writings of St Paul and almost certainly after the beginning of persecution of Christians under the Roman emperor Nero. Mark may have written his Gospel to those who had escaped this persecution – to those who had seen their leaders arrested, tortured, crucified even. Some of them may have denied Jesus under the pressure, or simply faded into the background, desperately hoping not to be singled out as followers of Jesus Christ.


If this was the case, then Mark is being deliberately provocative in the ending of his Gospel. Like Mary Magdalene and the women with her, these survivors of the first persecution were terrified. Would they be next? How could they possibly have the courage to talk about Jesus, to share their faith, their love, their lives? So they said nothing, for they too were afraid.


Is Mark writing to bring comfort to these terrified people – after all, Peter had denied he was associated with Jesus, and Mary Magdalene had not said a word? Is Mark writing to bring challenge to these terrified people – after all, somebody must eventually have spoken out. According to Luke in the Book of Acts it was Peter himself who broke the silence when, on the Day of Pentecost, he began to proclaim openly and very publicly that this Jesus, attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders and signs … handed over to be crucified and killed … this Jesus has been raised up by God, who has freed him even from death. (See Acts 2: 22 ff) Peter had more to say, he went on: This Jesus, who was crucified, is both Lord and Messiah. (Mark 2: 36)


So they said nothing, for they were afraid.


But somebody said something – or we would not be here today.


Today, Easter Day 2018, April Fool’s jokes not-withstanding, we too proclaim that Jesus is both Lord and Messiah. We do it in this wonderful service full of Alleluias, with the Cathedral cleaned and decorated and resounding with happiness. What a change from Good Friday – the solemnity, the emotion as we knelt before that looming dreaded death-bringing cross.


Today Hamish will stand at the font and be asked: Do you turn to Christ? Do you repent of your sins? Do you reject selfish living, and all that is false and unjust? Do you renounce Satan and all evil? It’s as if he is on the shore of Lake Galilee with Jesus calling him to leave his old life and follow Him. The questions are there for each of us today – Do you turn to Christ? Do you repent of your sins? Do you reject selfish living, and all that is false and unjust? Do you renounce Satan and all evil?


If the answer is Yes, then, unlike the women who fled terrified saying nothing, we dare to proclaim the great Easter message.


Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!