God's Open House

Easter Sunday 2018

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“Who Will Go With Him?”

“And they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” That’s the end of the Gospel of Mark. “And they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” There’s a moment in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, when the dreaded pirate ship the Black Pearl is introduced. Someone says, “I’ve heard stories. She’s been preying on ships and settlements for nearly 10 years. Never leaves any survivors.” And Captain Jack Sparrow looks back and says, “No survivors. Then where do the stories come, I wonder?”

If there aren’t any survivors, then who would be around to tell the tale? If they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid, how do we know what happened? This is the conundrum of the original ending of the book of Mark. I say original ending, because there have been a couple of later attempts to resolve this problem. If you open your  Bibles you’ll note after verse 8 two sections, titled something like “The Shorter Ending of Mark” and “The Longer Ending of Mark.” Our earliest copies of the book of Mark don’t have either of these endings. They stop right there at verse 8, “and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” Later editions, starting somewhere between 100 and 150 years later include either the Longer Ending, the Shorter Ending, or both. It’s likely that they were added by someone unsatisfied with the original ending. I think of it like a DVD with bonus features – Mark 16:8 is the director’s cut, and then we have two alternate endings (The ending the producers made them add on for wide release).

But I’m talking about the director’s cut today. The one that ends where they say nothing to anyone. Mark isn’t trying to leave us in suspense about what happened. First verse of the Gospel: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ (Christ is the Greek word for Messiah), the Son of God.” From the get-go, Mark has told us that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one who will save Israel, and the Son of God. And at the crux of the Gospel, in Mark 8, Jesus tells the disciples exactly what will happen, he will be killed and three days later rise again. We’re reminded of it at the end, too. When Jesus is on the cross, a Roman centurion says, “Truly this man was God’s son.” At no point does Mark try to hide or keep us in suspense about the identity of Jesus. We’re not supposed to slowly realize it over the course of the book, it’s written there from the beginning. This is the Savior of the world, and this is the story of how he saved it, dying on the cross and rising again in victory over sin and death. Mark isn’t trying to keep us in suspense about what happened to Jesus. The end is a foregone conclusion. The suspense of the book of Mark and of the ending of Mark is about everyone else.

I’ve been watching Westerns lately. There’s an old Western called High Noon. It’s a great story, and the making of it is a great story too, made in the midst of the Hollywood Blacklist, written by a screenwriter who was blacklisted in the middle of production. In it, Gary Cooper plays an old marshal, Marshal Will Kane, who has just married a young Quaker woman played by a young Grace Kelly, and he’s retiring to go and run a country store in another town. At his retirement party, just as he and his new wife are about to head out, he gets bad news.  Frank Miller, a man he’d put in jail 10 years ago has just been released, and is on his way to Hadleyville to meet his two brothers and take his revenge. Marshal Kane and all the townspeople have to decide what they are going to do, whether he will confront the outlaws or run away, whether the town will stand up or roll over.

Now High Noon isn’t your typical Western. There is hardly any action. There’s just one shootout, and it only lasts for a few minutes at the very end of the movie. But it is one of the most tightly wound, suspenseful films in history.

The suspense in the movie isn’t about whether or not Kane will do the right thing. We know from the beginning, that when the noon train arrives, Marshal Kane will be out to confront the outlaws. And it’s not even really about how the showdown will end. We know what happens at the end of a Western between good guys and outlaws.

The suspense of the movie is the question of who will go with him. The bulk of the film is made up of Marshal Kane going to various people in the town, to ask if they will join him in confronting the outlaws. One by one he goes around to each person in town, asking if they will join a posse to head them off. Each of them has to decide what they will do when the noon train comes. And this is where the suspense of the movie lies. The marshal will go out to confront (and defeat) the coming evil, but who will go with him?

This same question is asked by the ending of the Gospel of Mark. The question at the heart of the story is not whether or not the one Mark calls “Jesus Christ, the Son of God” will be victorious. The question is whether or not anyone will go with him to victory.

Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of God’s people. He does not act as earthly kings do, he does not lead an army, or control a vast economy. He leads with service, he rules with love and compassion. In his ministry, Jesus brings good news to the poor and freedom to the prisoner. And he proclaims anyone with ears to hear a new rule, that to defeat the powers of sin and evil you must love your God and love your neighbor above all else.

And over and over again he reveals that God’s love is stronger than all other powers in this world: strength, money, influence, hatred, indifference. He casts out demons. He heals the sick. He proclaims good news. And he tells his disciples three times that he will be killed and rise again. When Jesus goes to the cross to confront those powers, he goes forth to victory. When he goes to the cross he knows that he is going to rise again, for God’s love is stronger than death, God’s passion for us more fierce than the grave.

Easter is our reminder, that if you go with him, even when it looks like certain death, it ends in victory. The empty tomb. Resurrection. It ends in amazement and wonder, in tears of joy and praise, in the amazing truth that God comes through for those who put their trust in the Lord. If you take up your cross and follow him, resurrection is where it will lead.

When Christ went to the cross, he went not to doom, but to victory, for the kingdom of God leads to eternal life. He was victorious, for he confronted the powers of sin and evil that use the power of death and cruelty to control us and they could not defeat him. He was victorious, for he confronted the gates of Hell and threw them open, freeing all who are ruled by hatred and sin. He was victorious because he was hung up on a cross to die and yet he lived, for death does not have the final word, but God, and it is a word of life.

In our world, his victory is no less certain. God’s love is still stronger than death.
Wherever there is oppression and war,
Wherever there is hatred and cruelty,
Wherever there is injustice and want,
Christ goes to confront it with God’s saving love, and if Christ has defeated death, then so shall all of these things be defeated by Jesus Christ, Son of God.

The question is this: who will go with him? Will you?