At Old South, we are following the Narrative Lectionary, rather than the Revised Common Lectionary, which means that we’ve been marching our way through the Gospel According to Mark for quite some time. We wrap up Mark today, Easter, with Mark 16:1-8. Some say this is the original ending, and that what follows in most Bibles is an ending that was added later.
No wonder, really, that a different ending was tacked on later, because ending with verse 8 is a little tricky: “So they 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’s not exactly the stuff that leads neatly to choruses of “Alleluia! He is Risen!” or any of the other typical Easter excitement.
To focus on Mark’s version of the first Easter, if we believe that Mark intended to have his Gospel end with terror and fear, is to engage in something at least a little unexpected. But, that’s what we are going to do at Old South. I’m not sure what the response will be. Mark’s Gospel may be just what we need to hear, though. Although I can’t say that I feel much “terror,” I can say with certainty that there’s plenty of fear—fear of what’s to come, fear of the very real possibility that Old South will close in the not so distant future, fear that the church will continue to struggle and slip into complete irrelevance. Fear is a common aspect of our life together as a church.
It was the same for those first disciples, those first followers of Jesus.
At the sight of the empty tomb, their response was terror, amazement and fear, and perhaps most troubling “they said nothing to anyone.”
On that very first Easter, those first disciples had a number of choices, among them:
1. They could declare that they had done their best, but they couldn’t keep the crucifixion from happening and they had no idea what to do with the empty tomb. The easiest thing was just to move on.
2. They could pretend that nothing actually happened and return to their pre-Jesus lives.
3. They could fool themselves into thinking that Jesus was just away for a bit or maybe if they waited long enough that Jesus would find a way to fix everything and take care of things for them, like magic.
4. They could decide that others would figure it out for themselves, that Jesus was someone special and worth paying attention to. The followers might start meeting quietly on Sunday mornings in a special place, with a small “welcome” sign out front.
5. They could face the fear and the terror, and though their initial reaction was to adopt the “cone of silence,” they decide that Jesus was too important not to say and do something, and so they begin living in the midst of assurance as well as mystery, and begin to gather themselves, and then others as well, welcoming, inviting, actively sharing the love and hope of God through Jesus Christ and the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit.
Followers in churches like Old South face similar choices. We can decide that we’ve done our best and allow what seems inevitable to happen. We can trick ourselves into thinking that someone else will do the work for us, and our problems magically will be solved. We can wait for those “out there” to figure it out for themselves that they are missing out on something meaningful. We can continue to meet and post our small “welcome” sign and await the masses. One of these days, they will surely come. Won’t they?
Or, we can face our fear and, at the same time, come to terms with what this church and faith stuff means to us. And if it means enough, then we’ll figure out how to share the news, the good news. There’s a fancy word for that: evangelism.
For the first followers, their immediate experience may well have been fear, terror and an amazement that rendered them silent—at first. But, at some point, they figured out that Jesus—not to mention the resurrected Christ—meant something important, life-changing, to them. And, so they began to share, and welcome, and invite. And, behold there was the Church.
We can do the same, if we allow the Easter story to truly capture our imagination and heart. Happy Easter.