Sunday, April 6, 2015- Resurrection of our Lord- Pastor Kate Costa
“Just one more chapter, please!” My dad read us stories at bedtime, long after we were past the age that most parents read goodnight stories to their little ones. I remember even in middle school begging for just one more page, one more chapter, one more exciting tale to keep us up long after we should have had sugar plums dancing in our heads. Whether it was the Box Car Children or Nancy Drew or Harry Potter, we had to know more. And as an adult I’ve been known to stay up late with a good novel, saying to myself, “Just one more chapter, and that’s it. One more!” Do you ever get that feeling? Or maybe for you it’s watching the Big Bang Theory or House of Cards? Now you don’t even have to press the button- Amazon gives you “one more chapter” automatically and you’re hooked for another 45 minutes!
This morning we read the end of the Gospel of Mark. That’s it. It stops abruptly with the women standing, full of fear, at the tomb. We want to cry out, “Just one more chapter! What happens next?? Come on, one more page.” I can just imagine the early church pleading, too, “One more chapter”. In fact, the ending was so disappointing to them that the early Christians wrote alternate endings, probably many decades to several hundred years later. Go home and take a look at your Bible and see what is at the end of Mark in your translation. It will probably say something like, “The Shorter End of Mark” and “The Longer End of Mark.” Both of these are typically in brackets because they were added by later scribes. You’ll probably have a note saying something like, “Most ancient authorities end at verse 8.” Or “Many ancient texts mark verses 9-20 as being doubtful to the original text.” They wanted “one more chapter” so much they snuck it in to those early copies of scripture. We can’t blame these early disciples for adding their own endings, though. I’m sure we would do the same! “They [the women] said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” What a disappointing ending. One more chapter, please!
But that’s how it ends. The women fled for terror and amazement had seized them. Don’t you think that’s how we would react, too? To put it bluntly this Easter morning, dead people are supposed to stay dead. That’s all there is to it. The tomb should have been closed, the entrance tightly blocked by a stone that would have weighed a ton or so. Any people inside should have been lying down, beginning to stink after three days, not sitting up ready to have a quick chat as this messenger seems. Of course the women would be terrified! This bright picture is not what they would be expecting in the very depths of that dark, dark tomb.
I believe that you and I would be terrified as well. In the face of death, as much as we grieve and morn, and sometimes beg and plead for the life of the person to come back to us, we would be terrified to have it actually happen. I remember an older woman in my church telling us a story, probably just to scare us, about her aunt’s wake in the late 1800’s, when apparently modern medicine wasn’t quite so modern yet. In the middle of the family visitation in the church parlor, her aunt began coughing and sat straight up in the coffin. At least, that’s the story she told us gullible kids to scare us. It worked. Terrifying!
That of course was not a true resurrection, but what the women at the tomb experienced was every bit as terrifying. They ran away in utter fear because this was not what was supposed to happen at the graveside There were supposed to be no more chapters. It was done, as Christ said on the cross, “It is finished.” And yet, God did have one more chapter in mind. Death does not have the last word in this story- God does. God had one more epoch to add that had never been written before. God did something that had never been done before. Something utterly surprising and wholly terrifying- God raised a body, a true human being, flesh and blood, from the dead!
This year and even this holy week we have faced the dark tomb of not just Jesus, but of our own loved ones, our own parents and friends and members. In Culpeper just last week we lost a teenager to cancer and now we stand wondering at the cross this morning at the sheer horror and uselessness of suffering in so many forms and so many different areas of our lives. And yet, God promises that that is not where he’ll leave us. God promises that there is one more surprising chapter left to come. We don’t know what the next life will look like. There are those who will claim that they have seen the angels and the feathers and the harps, but all we truly know is that after this life we will have another chapter of peace with God. When we leave this life we are promised blessed rest, holy calm, perpetual light, everlasting peace.
But that is not all. In Colossians, Paul writes, “He [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
You see, there is one more chapter left to come! Christ was raised from the tomb, a bodily resurrection, something that had never happened before and never again has happened to anyone. And yet, we proclaim in the creed that we too await the resurrection of the body. All of our bodies will be made whole and complete, from the youngest to the oldest, from those of us who hate the very look of our skin in the mirror to those who can’t take enough selfies- all of us will have our bodies transformed into something perfect in God’s eyes. That new chapter will be the new creation- not a total annihilation of the earth, but a coming in glory and totally new heaven and a new earth. A second, surprising chapter. As NT Wright says, we will be “Surprised by hope”. And while we wait for that day to come, we know that God proclaims a new chapter for us here today. In hearing this old, old story, what new chapter is beginning in your life this very day? Perhaps it is a new way to mourn those who have passed on, a mourning as Paul says, as those who hope in Christ Jesus. Or perhaps it is something more every day- a new chapter in loving your enemies at work. Or a new chapter in trying to reconcile with your sister-in-law who hurt you those many years ago, or this morning.
One of my professors once told me that as the church we should be living like we are in the 29th Chapter of Acts. We should be living like the disciples in Mark 17. Well, I was a diligent seminary student, or at least tried to be most days, so I wrote that down in my notes. When I got home, I knew I didn’t have all scripture memorized, chapter and verse (and I certainly still don’t). So I looked it up. I got out my bible and flipped through the pages to the right section. No Acts 29. I thought I must have written the reference down wrong, so again, I looked up Mark 17. By now you know that doesn’t exist either. I sat and I thought. What could this crazy professor mean by telling us to live in a way that doesn’t exist? In the next class Dr. Heen clued us clueless students in. We were supposed to be living as if we were the next chapter in God’s great story. Obviously the women did not remain afraid and silent forever, or we would not have heard the amazing story. They went out! They sowed the seeds, they shared the news, they hurried to spread the word!
We are living in a Mark 17 world. We are living in an Acts 29 world. Because Jesus has risen, we are in a new chapter world. We too are called to go out, to write the story of God’s news being shared, not in Galilee, but in Culpeper. In our workplace, school, home, and neighborhood. We are called to be the disciples in Acts 29, sharing the gospel to the ends of the earth, even in the places that seem dark and hidden in your world. What is God going to do with the next chapter in your life?
One more new chapter story: Jennifer Pharr Davis set the women’s record for the fastest thru hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2008. In 2011 she decided that she had another chapter left to write, and so she set out in Georgia with a goal of beating the men’s record as well- needing to walk over 47 miles per day. That’s like hiking a marathon, and then hiking another 20 miles. And getting up to do it over and over again for a month and a half. She set out in Maine, the toughest stretch and after a couple of weeks she was already facing major struggles. She had terrible diarrhea. She had shin splints so bad that she had to walk down parts of the trail backwards. Finally she decided to give up. She knew her husband hadn’t been thrilled to lose another summer to driving around as her pit crew, so she thought he’d be glad to stop. She started envisioning him running to her, tears in her eyes, picking her up and driving her home.
Except, when she got to the next meet up point and told him that she was going to quit, that’s not what she got. Instead, he basically said, “Deal with it. So you’re in pain- you’ve been in pain before. So you’re tired, you’ve been tired before. I’m not letting you quit on the hardest stretch of trail.” A few days later and she got her stride back, she got her wind back. She broke the men’s record with time to spare, and did it by walking, not running as men for the past 20 years had done. With the help of family and support of friends, she wrote a whole new chapter, and encourages others to do the same.
This Easter, we celebrate the risen Christ. In him we are given a whole new chapter on life, that we might not fear death or be paralyzed by the unknown, but that we might go out in trust to love others, to support one another, and to live out a “living daring confidence in God’s grace so sure and certain that [we] can stake our lives on it a thousand times.” What new chapter will God write in your life this year?