Don’t Be Alarmed–Easter 2015

Easter Sunday

Don’t Be Alarmed

April 5, 2015

Mark 16:1-8, Common English Bible

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.

Frederick Buechner, an ordained Presbyterian minister and the author of more than thirty published books, tells us:

The symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. 

You can’t depict or domesticate emptiness. 

You can’t make it into pageants and string it with lights.

It doesn’t move people to give presents to each other or sing old songs. 

It ebbs and flows all around us, the Eastertide. 

Even the great choruses of Handel’s Messiah sound a little like a handful of crickets chirping under the moon.

He rose…

If it is true, there is nothing left to say. 

If it is not true, there is nothing left to say. 

For believers and unbelievers both, life has never been the same again. 

For some, neither has death. 

What is left now is the emptiness. 

There are those who, like Magdalene, will never stop searching it till they find his face.

Mark’s gospel ends differently than all of the gospels. It is the only gospel that leaves us with an alarmed, frightened trio of women:

Mary Magdalene, James’ mother, Mary, and Salome, the wife of Zebedee and mother of the brothers James and John.

Mary Magdalene, James’ mother, Mary, and Salome, the wife of Zebedee and mother of the brothers James and John.

They arrive at Jesus’ tomb, go inside, and see a young man who tells them that Jesus has been raised. Go and tell the disciples, especially Peter. They don’t see Jesus. They don’t talk to Jesus.

Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

They were alarmed!

And like all alarmed, scared and frightened people—they fled—they ran! Mark’s gospel leaves us with what seems like a very imperfect and unsatisfying ending. Additional words have been added to Mark’s gospel to give it a more perfect and satisfying ending. Most Biblical scholars stand firm that the ending of Mark that we heard today is the true and perfect ending.

Forty years ago three men decided to write something perfect.

The Nashville country music industry of the era blatantly refused to acknowledge the writers’ and artist’s fringe style. Their response to Nashville was not to sell out; their song name-drops Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride and Merle Haggard and also makes reference to Faron Young’s “Hello Walls” in the background vocals, noting that “you” (meaning Nashville industry executives) “don’t have to call me” any of those names anymore. In the third verse, the singer notes “the only time I know I’ll hear David Allan Coe is when Jesus has his final Judgment Day,” noting that he never expected the Nashville music industry to recognize him by his individual merits.

In the song’s iconic closing verse, Coe explains that “a friend of mine named Steve Goodman” wrote the song and considered it “the perfect country and western song”. Coe, upon receiving the song, explained to Goodman that he was wrong; there was no way a song could be “the perfect country and western song” without mentioning a laundry list of clichés: “mama, or trains, or trucks, or prison, or getting drunk.” Goodman then proceeded to add the final verse, incorporating all five of Coe’s facetious “requirements,” whereupon Coe agreed that now it was “the perfect country-and-western song” and felt obliged to add it to the end of the record:

I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison

And I went to pick’er up in the rain

But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck

She got runned over by a damned ol’ train.*

[*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_Never_Even_Called_Me_by_My_Name, text/content from this web page]

These three men, Goodman, Prine and Coe can help us see the reason that Mark’s gospel ending is the perfect ending to the gospel—the Good News of Jesus. These men realized that their well being, their future, their merit was not dependent upon an established music industry that had created its own rules and status quo of who was in and who was out. These men realized that they were on their own with their own God given talents to write sing their way of country/western music with messages that they believed would be accepted and heard from them. I’m certain they were, at first alarmed and afraid to be cut off and rejected from what had seemed like the path to success.

Mark’s gospel ends with much of the same feelings and recognition for Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome. They expected to find Jesus’ dead body in the tomb. Instead an empty tomb greeted them with a young man in a white robe who tells them that Jesus has been raised. He’s not here. They are alarmed and run in fear from the empty tomb.

We are left to imagine what they said when they got to the rest of the disciples and Peter to tell them why they were alarmed—scared. Perhaps Mark did write the perfect ending that ensures that the Good News will be shared forever.

These three women, like the three men who wrote and performed the perfect country music song, had reason to be alarmed. Jesus, the one who was supposed to be their salvation, had died and with resolution and broken hearts they came to do the acceptable burial preparations and acknowledge a bad ending to what could have been a perfect ending.

The perfect ending is left in their hands to go and tell the Good News that Jesus is raised from the dead. The perfect ending is that the established ways of life and death that they knew have now all changed because the tomb is empty.

Like these women and these three men, it is up to us, too, to use our God given talents and the gift of the salvation of Christ—the empty tomb—to go out from here today and to daily share the perfect ending of the gospel of Mark—to live on the fringe. We can’t sell out to the way things are in the world because we know what we know about the risen Christ. With our own stories of the ways God has blessed us and loved us, we are sent out to share the Good News of the empty tomb. The perfect gospel ending also depends on us not being alarmed but being inspired and driven by Holy God to go and share the Good News that Jesus has been raised from the dead—God’s perfect ending forever.

 

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