Saturday, 31 March 2018

Happily ever after?



I wrote to Mike to let him know what I was thinking of saying: that the resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate happy ending. This is the fairy tale on which all fairy tales are based. Jesus is the knight who turns the scullery maid into a princess, who rescues the princess shut up in a tower, who wakes her with a kiss. And Jesus is the princess who saves the prince, enchanted by a wicked witch, from their life as a beast or a bear or a frog. And here is a story in which they do all ultimately live ‘happily ever after’. And it is a story that is based on a historical fact – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

It is a great idea, nicked in my case from Tim Keller who, I believe, stole it from CS Lewis.

But Mike pointed out to me that Mark 16 doesn’t end with the ‘happily ever after’. It ends with some serious confused, scared and silent women.

It is a very odd ending, and the reason that we ended there is because most people think that Mark ended his gospel with these words: 
“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”.
 It is very human.

They come to the grave because they want to anoint Jesus' body with the burial spices. They didn’t have time to do that on Friday evening or on Saturday, because it was the Sabbath. And they are trying to work out how they will move the stone. Maybe they are hoping that some people will be around.

But when they get there, they find:
·         the stone has been rolled away
·         there is literally no body in the tomb
·         and a man dressed in white tells them that Jesus has risen from the dead.

Do they believe?
Do they leap up and down with joy?
Do they begin to work out the implications of what it means to say that Jesus has risen from the dead?
Of course not. ‘Terror and amazement had seized them’ (16.8)

We know the story. They didn’t.
For them this is weird. This is off the scale weird.
And one can imagine them at first walking away from the tomb. They start slow and they then get quicker. They’re not going to see the disciples. They are going anywhere. They just need to get away from that place, to get to normality. And the walk breaks into a run. And as they run, people call out to them: ‘What’s the matter?’ Do they tell them, ‘Jesus has risen from the dead’? Of course not. They say nothing.

And then, maybe, then they stop. They stop to get their breath back. They begin to think ..
Maybe that is the moment when, as Matthew tells us, Jesus appears to them (Matthew 28.9). 
And only after that, do they then go to the disciples.

Mark does not give us a happily ever after ending.

And I think that the reason for that is because when he sat down to write his gospel, about 30 or so years after Jesus rose from the dead, he was probably a member of the church in Rome. And that church was facing terrifying persecution.

Nero had decided to blame the Christians for the devastating fire that broke out in Rome in AD64.
Tacitus, the historian writes, ‘First then the confessed members of the sect (of Christians) were arrested; next, on their disclosures, vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the count of arson as for hatred of the human race. And derision accompanied their end: they were covered with wild beasts’ skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night.’

So when Mark writes his gospel, he is emphasizing the fact that to follow Jesus is not about a life of constant success or happiness. It is not about having one great spiritual experience after another. Instead he is saying that if you follow Jesus, you need to be prepared to walk the way of the cross, your own via dolorosa, and that there will be times when you are seriously amazed, confused, terrified and out of your depth.

But if Mark’s ending warns of difficulties to come, and if it is not happily ever after then, there are still hints that in the end it will be happily ever after:

1.      It is ‘the first day of the week’ (Mark 16.2): the day of creation, the day of the beginning – and the resurrection of Jesus is the day of the new creation, of the new beginning. It is a new dawn, not just of a new day, but of a new epoch in the divine history of time.
This is the story which means that Christians, whatever they are experiencing today, can always live with hope. The past has gone and the new has come. Today it may feel like Good Friday, but Easter Sunday, a new beginning, has come and it is coming.

2.      The stone has gone, the tomb is empty, and Jesus is alive. It is a simple message, with earth shaking consequences. It means that, whatever the appearances, however hard it is, however desperate the situation, however savage and evil the opposition, truth conquers lies, hope conquers despair, courage conquers fear and the politics of love triumph over the politics of violence. Satan, sin and death do not have the final word. Love and life do win. Jesus Christ conquers all.

3.      The women have been told that if they go to Galilee, they will meet Jesus.
And if we are prepared to put aside time to listen to his word, to hear his word and to obey his word, we will meet him. We may meet him in those completely unpredictable, extraordinary moments, those touches of grace, when heaven brushes earth, and he is there, he is so close that we can reach out and touch him.
It happens – even here! Someone wrote to me last week to say how last week’s service, and I quote “reawakened my knowledge of the power of prayer given by the Holy Spirit and this gift from God”.
But if we do not meet Jesus in such ways, and yet we have listened to him and been obedient, we do not need to despair. We live in hope, in a certain hope, that we will one day meet him – in our Galilee. Maybe here, but certainly there.

And that is when there will be ‘happily ever after’

Alleluia, Christ is risen!


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