A sermon preached to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY at the celebration of the The Great Vigil of Easter, March 31, 2018 on Mark 16:1-8
“A long, long time ago…” is how some of my favorite stories start. Folk tales and legends are some of my favorite stories because they are the stories of oral tradition, and with each telling we who hear it get more ingrained into the rhythm of the narrative. Stories that are meant for the ear and not for the page get recited and enacted differently; it matters how the story is told and it matters how many times we hear it. Just like the creation narrative and the story of Moses parting the red sea, Mark’s gospel is a story that needs to be told.
In the gospel according to Mark, it is clear that Mark is always in a hurry to tell the story; in Mark, we cover more action with less details in very little space. Mark’s gospel, it seems, was not meant to be read once and put away, no Mark’s gospel was meant to be read and reread, to be told and retold, because Mark’s assuming his audience knows that the resurrection is coming. He assumes that we know how this story ends.
My favorite way to experience folk tales is to recount them in a dramatic way to a young child. They know how each story will end, they have heard it time and time again, but they still sit on the edge of their seats waiting to find out what will happen to the Three Little Pigs. And when you read and reread the gospel according to Mark, it is easy to catch this spark as well.
As the Marys bring the spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial we may begin to wonder, “how will these two women move the large stone that covers the grave?” When the young man dressed in white assures them that Jesus has not been taken, but that he has been raised, we might be riddled with questions about who this messenger is. And when the women leave the scene terrified and amazed because, as Mark says, they are afraid, we may be stunned and confused. But when we hear the story time and time again, these big questions stop being points of confusion and start being points of intrigue.
Those of us who have heard this gospel passage time and time again know that the stone will be rolled away, Jesus is risen, and that the women do not stay silent for long. No, because we hear the whole of the gospel according to Mark, we know that the light that shines upon everything is the light of the crucified and resurrected Messiah.
When my youngest nephew was four years old, he had a penchant for telling stories, and he always told them in the same manner. It didn’t matter if it was telling me what he had for breakfast or of something dramatic that happened at school, the stories were always dotted with “AND THEN….”. He knew a truth of storytelling, that great stories are never done unfolding.
In the gospel according to Mark, there are some theories about Mark’s ending to his gospel. Some say that there was a missing ending, and so the verses after our passage were added to fill in the blanks; some say that those who came after Mark added on to end the story in a more practical way. But when we take verse 8 to be the end of Mark, it is as if a giant “To Be Continued….” scrolled across the screen. Because we know that the story does not end with the women being afraid and not sharing the news of Christ’s resurrection. The truth of Mark’s narrative is the truth of all great stories: they are never done unfolding.
And while the story is never really done, we know how it ends.
Tonight, we have heard many stories that are important to our faith tradition, and each time we hear them, something new happens, because the story told at the creation, and the story told by Ezekiel, and the instructions given by Saint Paul to the congregation in Rome, and the way Mark describes the women coming to the tomb is not the whole story.
Tonight, as we return to the rhythm of hearing the story and knowing the hope of the resurrection, we welcome Chole and Emma into this great story. As we welcome the newly baptized into the telling and retelling of the story, we welcome them to take their part in the story that is never really done, but one of which we know the ending.
For Chole and Emma, and for all of us, this is not solely a salvation event, it is the beginning of a salvation process. It is a process, that like the great story, is never done unfolding, but one of which we know the ending. We come back year after year to these holy days and hear the story of the crucifixion and the resurrection of the Messiah; we return to the rhythm of the church year and the stories of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, and just as we did earlier, we continually reaffirm our baptismal covenant. We remind ourselves that the story of our faith is never really done unfolding, but we know that Christ draws us up with his resurrection; we know the ending of this continually unfolding story.
In our baptism, we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and granted the freedom of God’s great story. In this freedom, we move from darkness of the world to the light of Christ; we move from being trapped by sin to being freed by hope. We move from death to life. And while we don’t know how the story will continue to unfold, we do know the ending.