Mark 16:1-8, 9-20

One of my friends, a pastor (and my fifth-grade Sunday School teacher), posted on Facebook:

I had to laugh when I was asked if we were having church on Christmas day, which fell on a Sunday in 2011, I could give them that as it is a movable day. But, when I was asked if we were having church on Easter Sunday?????? When did that become a movable day? I don’t know…….how about Easter Tuesday?

For the record, we didn’t cancel worship on Christmas Day either, but the reason would have been that many people don’t go to church that day. But Easter? That’s when you do come to church! Canceling church today would be like rescheduling your Super Bowl party on account of the big game.

But then I had a second thought: what if we did cancel church today? We wouldn’t announce it, just do it. We could invite everyone and I could greet them in my white robe, saying: “you’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, but he’s not here! You’re looking for chocolate bunnies and white flowers, but they’re gone. You’re looking for memories of Easter long ago, but it has left the building. See where it used to be – it must have up and walked out the door.”

Isn’t that what the angel says to the three women? “You’re looking for your savior – your rock – your reason for being – but he’s not here. Life is not where you left it. You left Jesus in the grave. Death swallowed up life and closed its mouth with a stone, and you had to walk away, in part to acknowledge the simple reality of death. Now you’re looking for what was, for the life that used to be, and it’s not here. Jesus was dead, but he’s not dead forever. Life is too wonderful for that. Jesus has gone back to Galilee where his ministry started. Life has gotten up and gone back to work. Go, heal and serve with him.”

That’s what I’d say if we canceled church: “Don’t look here. Easter is not here. Jesus has left the building, and he’s out there wherever people love and serve each other.” I wouldn’t really cancel church, I’d just relocate it (or maybe dislocate it?). We would still be the church in the world wherever we serve, share, and live the Way of Jesus, wherever we let this story be real. The stone couldn’t hold Jesus then and brick can’t contain him now. He’s risen and gone out into the world, and see him when we go out too.

As if to reiterate the angel’s words, Mark deliberately left the ending off his gospel. The first reading (Mark 16:1-8) was it; the second reading was apparently added by a later writer. Whereas the second ending coordinates with the other three gospels, plus a little additional material, the first hardly seems like an ending at all – just a tomb, an angel, and silence. I think Mark wanted us to wait there, in the awestruck silence after the so-called end of his story, when we know that Christ is not dead, but we haven’t seen him yet. Then I think he wanted us to do what that later writer did, what Matthew, Luke, and John also did, which is to write our own stories and have our own encounters with the risen Christ. It’s hard to write a story without an ending, to tell good news without tying up every loose end in the narrative. I think Mark did that deliberately, and his non-ending means that it’s now our turn to join the story.

Of course, that’s why we didn’t cancel church today. We have to hear the first part of the story again, sit with it, wonder about it, listen to it. We have to ask it our questions: What exactly happened there? How could it have been? I don’t know the best words to put on the resurrection, whether it’s literal, symbolic, spiritual, or imaginary, and I don’t think Mark knew the best words either, but he at least was inspired enough to leave it at that. He said, this is the story, and it’s true, whatever that means. Now go live it. Let it soak into your bones and then share it with others. Go seek the risen Christ out there in the world, because he’s waiting for you.

This all reminds me of Easter eggs. I found myself wondering about this old tradition this season. The colorful signs of new life made sense, sure – but hiding them? Then it clicked: that’s what God did with Christ. The new life is hidden – not in the tomb, but everywhere – and you have to go find it! You don’t have to make it happen (I want to be clear about that), because God is already doing it, but we’re invited to go discover it, live it, and share it. Life is hidden under bushes, behind the couch, even on top of the fridge if you’re tall enough. It’s there where you have to reach and stretch for it.

Part two of our story is out there, all around you, in this life, and that’s what makes today different from Good Friday all over again: Christ has died, but Christ is risen! He has gathered us here to celebrate, he goes out ahead of us into the world, and he invites us to join his mission all over again. So we go out to serve, not because he died, but because he lives – not because we have to hold down fort in Jesus’ absence, but because our service reveals Christ’s presence. So go out to tell the story, with or without words, not because you know and understand it once and for all, but because there’s always something more to see, and learn, and believe.

Church is not canceled today, life is not canceled today, the future is not canceled today, because Jesus is not in the tomb. He is risen – go find him and serve him! Alleluia! Amen.

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