Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + The Resurrection of Our Lord + April 1, 2018
Reading: Mark 16:1-8
The end is only the beginning.
Because otherwise, this is a really unsettling ending to the gospel reading on Easter morning, right? These faithful women heard the news — “[Jesus] has been raised!” — “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.” In the earliest copies we have of the Gospel of Mark, which was the first gospel written down, that’s it. The end.
But the end is only the beginning.
And maybe that’s part of why the women were so afraid that they “said nothing to anyone.” I mean, granted, I’m sure the main reasons for their reaction had to do with the sheer and otherworldly unexpectedness of what they found at the tomb. The Gospel of Mark tell us that these same three women — Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome — witnessed Jesus’s crucifixion (Mark 15:40-41). And now they came to his tomb, ready to care for his dead body. That’s the kind of terrible scene they prepared themselves for. But instead, when they get to the tomb, they see that the huge stone has been rolled away already. And what would your first thought be in that situation? They had just seen Jesus arrested by the authorities, the riots at his trial, his public torture and humiliation, and finally his gruesome execution, and now all of his followers were in hiding — so maybe they saw that stone rolled away and could only think in panic: “What are they doing to him now?”
And then they entered the tomb and saw a stranger sitting where Jesus’s body should have been. And he told them that something supernatural had happened: Jesus had been raised from the dead. The man that they had watched die on a cross — they would see him again, alive. And maybe that supernatural message was way too much to take in from a strange man sitting in their dead friend’s grave. It makes total sense to me that they would just go blank with “terror and amazement;” or jump to the conclusion that this stranger was lying to them and yet another horrible thing was being done to them, to Jesus and his followers and his legacy; or that they wouldn’t think at all, just start running as their whole world turned chaotic for the second time in a week.
But even after that initial burst of terror and confusion had settled, there were more questions to deal with. If Jesus had been raised from the dead, how would that affect their lives? Maybe that was a reason to be afraid, too…or at least intimidated.
These three women — like the twelve disciples, like many others — had been following Jesus from Galilee and helping to support his ministry (again, Mark 15:40-41). They had followed him all the way to Jerusalem, about 100 miles. They followed him while he healed people and cast out demons — Mary Magdalene was one of those he freed from demons (Mark 16:9); they followed him while he fed thousands with a just a few loaves of bread and some fish; they followed him while he clarified the ancient laws and taught about God’s love; they followed him while he rioted in the Temple and challenged the authorities; they followed him all the way to the cross. Witnessing his life on earth, they had felt God’s pull to follow Jesus, to support him, to be part of his mission — even though it demanded everything from them; even though it got dangerous.
Jesus’s life had changed their lives — not just a little, but totally. Jesus had changed their priorities, their plans, their relationships. Everything had been transformed by that pull towards the life of Jesus.
And maybe when he died, they felt like their transformation might die, too. In the last day, while Jesus’s body laid in the tomb, had they thought about what they would do next? Maybe they felt like everything Jesus meant had been extinguished. Maybe they were thinking about admitting defeat and returning to their old lives.
But now — a resurrection. Jesus had been given new life. And if Jesus’s “regular” life had pulled them into a new way of being, had so fully transformed them — what would Jesus’s resurrected life demand of them? These women suddenly found themselves called, pulled into something bigger and more life-changing than they could have expected– and maybe that was terrifying at first. Because now this was about more than a prophet, a healer, a wise man of God; this was about even more than another revolutionary — this was about something completely new, something no one could expect, something that reconfigured history and opened up a future no one could imagine. Now this was about death and resurrection: the death of the way things always had been, of all mortal dealings and plans, and the resurrection of God’s future.
The end is only the beginning. The old ways must die, because everything is being made new.
Christians hold that the resurrection of Jesus was a cosmological change. Jesus was the first to be raised to new life, and his resurrection ignited the transformation of the whole world: one day we will all be raised, all of creation will be raised to new life, fully redeemed from the evil ways of the world, “set free from bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21), made whole in God’s future. In the resurrection of Jesus, the transformation has only just begun.
God’s work is as big as the world, as all of history and all the future days: but often it is through our everyday actions that God works the transforming power of the resurrection.
God started with those three women at the tomb: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. We know that they did eventually tell the other followers of Jesus what they saw and heard at the tomb. And those followers — the Church — took on the resurrected life of Christ. They healed people; they freed people from guilt and demons; they fed the hungry; they clarified Jesus’s teachings; they preached about God’s love; they challenged the authorities and the status quo when they were out of line with God’s will. God pulled them — even with all their imperfections — into the work of transformation; God called them to die to the ways of the world and to rise into the resurrected life of Christ, into God’s future.
God continues transforming the world through each person that feels the pull of Christ’s resurrected life.
In 1960 Lucille Bridges convinced her husband, Abon, that they should let their six-year-old daughter help integrate the New Orleans school system. And so Ruby Bridges became the first African-American student to attend William Frantz Elementary. On that first day the other parents boycotted, rushing into the school to take their children home when Ruby entered. All the teachers refused to teach at a school where a black child was enrolled — all the teachers except Barbara Henry, who taught Ruby one-on-one.
On the second day of Ruby’s enrollment, one parent broke the boycott: Methodist minister Lloyd Anderson Foreman marched his five-year-old daughter, Pam, through a crowd of angry protesters to get her to school. Slowly other parents sent their children back to school, although Mrs. Henry continued to teach Ruby alone for over a year.
Four federal marshals escorted Ruby to school every day, through the crowds of people wanting to put a stop to integration. Some of them threw things at Ruby; some threatened her; one woman threatened to poison her every day, and so Ruby was only allowed to eat food she had brought from home. Yet Ruby seemed undaunted, and even somehow remained cheerful.
Her attitude drew the attention of psychiatrist Robert Coles, and he began to meet with her to try and figure out how a young child could remain so strong while crowds of adults yelled and threatened her every day, while she was ostracized to a separate classroom, even a separate teacher. Mrs. Henry told Dr. Coles that she saw Ruby moving her lips while she came to school every day. So Dr. Coles asked Ruby, “Who were you talking to?”
Ruby answered, “I was talking to God and praying for the people in the street. […] I wanted to pray for them. Don’t you think they need praying for?”
“Where did you learn that?” Dr. Coles asked her.
“From my mommy and daddy and from the minister at church. I pray every morning and every afternoon when I go home.”
In this one story there are so many people answering God’s resurrection call. Ruby’s parents deciding to send her to integrate this school; and, along with their minister, teaching her to pray even for her enemies. Barbara Henry, choosing to separate herself from the other teachers’ boycott even though she was new in town, and facing danger and ridicule in order to teach Ruby. Lloyd Anderson Foreman, who changed the tides just by sending his daughter to her school. The U.S. marshals who, in doing their duty, helped to usher in a new world. Robert Coles, who helped counsel Ruby and her family, and whose work provided insights that would help others facing conflict. And of course Ruby Bridges herself, who at six years old found herself thrust into a terrifying situation and faced it with courage and grace given by God.
All these people were thrust into a terrifying situation. The usual way of things in the South was dying, but many people were fighting to keep it alive. Still, God was working to transform things, to bring about resurrection and new life, a new way of things. And God called these and many other people to be a part of that transformation — and they answered that resurrection call.
The end is only the beginning. The old ways must die, because everything is being made new. Through the resurrection God pulls us into God’s future.
This morning we meet the strange messenger at the empty tomb. This morning we hear the good news: “Jesus has been raised!” This morning we stare into the empty tomb and wonder, “What does this mean for us? How does this change our lives?”
And maybe that question should shake us up, like the three women were shaken up two thousand years ago. Because the story of resurrection begins by reminding us that we must die to the way things are in this world: we must die to our personal sins and to the webs of sin the world traps us in; we must die to our apathy; we must die to our hopelessness and our fear; we must die to our prejudices and our greed and our selfishness and our idols. The world as we know it must die to its abuses of power and humans and all creation. These things must die, so that God can raise all creation — so that God can raise us — to radically new and unfamiliar life.
God is pulling us into God’s future. God is transforming our lives. God is renewing the world.
The end is only the beginning.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
 Taken from a section heading in Emerson B. Powery’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark in True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary, ed. Brian K. Blount, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), Mark 16:1-8, pp. 151-152.
 Peter W. Marty, “When Ruby Birdges prayed for her enemies,” The Christian Century, March 24, 2017. Available online: https://www.christiancentury.org/article/when-ruby-bridges-prayed-her-enemies Accessed March 28, 2018.