Coming home in the evening a week or so ago, for just a second, just a split second, I could smell them. An overnight rain had pulled a few more new leaves out of their buds, and while I hadn’t seen any of the flowers yet, I knew, I just KNEW that in that split second, I smelled the lilacs in our backyard. I turned my head and tried to catch them again, but they was gone. I couldn’t find the scent, but it had been there. I swear. And when it was there, I knew. Spring was really here. In a quick sniff of the still night air, everything was different.
I was filled with joy. Filled with it! Sure the calendar and the equinox had signaled the start of spring a few days earlier. The amazingly good weather we have been having brought out the spring bucket of clothes from storage. Even the cat’s increased shedding, because of the increase in daylight I’ve been told, let me know that the season was changing. But none of those signs really meant anything, none of them really signaled to me that spring was really coming the way smelling the lilacs did. In that one moment with the hint of the scent, everything was different, and I was elated.
However, that exact same realization - - that something has drastically and dramatically changed - - doesn’t always bring such a jubilant response. For some people and in some situations it can be downright terrifying.
As soon as they could get there after properly observing the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome rushed to the tomb with spices. He had died on Friday afternoon, just a few hours before the Sabbath began in the evening and strict, STRICT Jewish laws about the burial of the dead before Sabbath and coming into contact with a dead body had prevented them from anointing his body earlier. So as soon as they could, as early in the morning as they could stand to get up, they went quickly to the tomb, wondering aloud to one another how they were even going to get the stone rolled away.
Before they could answer their own questions, though, when they arrived at the tomb, they looked up and saw that it had already been rolled away. I think the fear probably started to settle in at that moment. Who had beat them to the tomb? At the very least it was someone much stronger than they. Was it friend or foe? Was it disciple or dissenter? What it a thief? A soldier? A temple official? A curious gawker? Still committed to their task at hand they entered the tomb and saw a young man, sitting inside. “He has been raised; he is not here. He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”
In an instant, they knew. Everything is different. Nothing in the world will ever be the same, and while it is easy to dismiss their response of fear and look for a different, more complete, more joyful ending, I think their fear is a perfectly acceptable reaction to the news that someone who was dead, lifeless, sealed in a solid rock tomb, now is NOT. It means, among other things that, all the rules have changed. The dead did not stay dead. And that is downright terrifying!
And then, as suddenly as this strange news came, our account this morning ended. The women fled from the tomb. Terror and amazement had seized them. They couldn’t even tell the disciples closest to Jesus, closest to themselves. They couldn’t tell anyone, for they were afraid. End scene. End gospel of Mark!
Except if you were reading along or if you want to flip to the page your Bible quickly even now, you will see it may or may not be the end of the gospel of Mark. There are a few more verses there that follow verse 8, a shorter ending and a longer ending, each with a slightly different, more detailed account of what really happened after the resurrection of Jesus. However, most scholars and people of faith don’t think that these words are original to Mark’s gospel. They don’t appear in the most accurate early versions of Mark’s gospel that have been found, and so most people don’t count them as authentic words of Mark’s gospel.
And so we have it - - Mark’s gospel ends with the women in fear and silence, and for centuries upon centuries, millennia even, that has been SO HARD for us to accept, so hard for us to live with. It didn’t take too long for the earliest scribes and editors to try their hand at gospel writing as they copied Mark’s original account. As some received copies and rewrote them by hand they added words to the end to try to wrap it up into a neater bow, to get the women out of their fear and the good news shared with others. They passed those on to others who kept copying the same words, and soon there were at least three versions of the gospel floating around the ancient church, all to try to prove that the faithful didn’t end in fear.
The attempt to do so is, to me at least, a little ironic and unnecessary. Isn’t there proof enough that the story didn’t end with silence? I mean, isn’t all of THIS, all of us, all of the churches around the world this morning full of rejoicing and singing and alleluias, proof enough that the women didn’t sit on their fearful story forever? Isn’t our own faith, our own impulse to gather on the eighth day, the day of the new creation, of new beginnings, of transformation, of resurrection, isn’t our own need to be here in this place with all these people proof enough that their reaction eventually changed? We know it did because EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT!
We know they got the courage to speak, to proclaim the good news – He is risen – because we are here proclaiming it today! Some day, at some point, Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome figured out that they couldn’t stay quiet, that they needn’t be fearful, that everything is indeed different and the world needs to know it! Some day at some point they broke their silence and became the first proclaimers of the best news ever - - “By the grace and loving power of God for all of creation, Jesus is alive and everything is different!”
The thing about some of these moments of realization when we just suddenly KNOW that everything is different, is that the full understanding of what that means isn’t always immediately obvious. Not to everyone everywhere, all at the same time. In our backyard that night a week or so ago, the smell of the lilac was fleeting. Almost as quickly as I noticed it, it was carried away on the night breeze. I caught it again for a moment just as brief on Thursday night, but it’s been gone ever since. Even when I pushed my face deep into the bushes trying to find it again, I couldn’t. I know it is there. I know I have witnessed it, but it’s just hard to find it again.
It can be that way with our experience of the resurrection. It can be hard to see, hard to believe sometimes, hard to remember it is something we know, something we have felt, something we have trusted when stories of death seem more prominent then stories of new life. Violence tearing apart the people and nation of Syria. Persistent threats and stories of modern day slavery in Sudan. Unbelievable accounts of dangerous bounties in professional sports, SPORTS, ENTERTAINMENT. Shootings in schools. Senseless murders based on the color of someone’s skin, even in this day and age. Cancer that strikes, young and old, with or without cause, in higher and higher numbers it seems every year. It just doesn’t always sound like a resurrection world, where everything is different.
But the resurrection is here. We find it in the out-pouring of love and compassion for an anonymous young life at the funeral yesterday in Winona of an unknown baby who was found in the river last year. We find it the way communities and churches and neighbors have rallied around the victims of tornadoes in Texas and Indiana this year. We find it in the relentless passion of peacemaking teams who continually go into dangerous nations and situations to bring the good news of a different way, to free those who are held in physical captivity, to release those who are bound to cycles of violence.
The resurrection is here when each one of us takes up the task of loving more than hating, forgiving more than holding a grudge, giving more than asking, accepting more than judging. The resurrection is here when we proclaim with our words and live with our lives the good news that love wins. The gospel of Mark seems to end in the middle of the story. It seems incomplete, and that’s because it is. Way back in the first verse of the first chapter of Mark’s gospel we are told that this account is “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The next 16 chapters are just the beginning. The middle of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is still being written today by our faith in the resurrection displayed through our lives, our choices, our love, because now everything is different.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!