The Big Ending

My Dear Shepherds,

I imagine this conversation with John Mark. “It’s such an honor to meet you! What a book you’ve written! I’ve preached through it all. Such vivid pictures of following Jesus! It really moves along, too.”

Thank you. I’m glad you like it.

“There’s just one thing—uh, well, the ending …”

What’s wrong with the ending?

“I’m not one to criticize, but I’m thinking Matthew or Luke could help you punch it up a little.”

What’s the problem? Why don’t you like it?

“Well, it’s like you lost the last page or ran out of ink? Do you mean to end with this?”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)

So how would you end it?

Mark always portrayed Jesus’ disciples as faithless and bewildered. “Why are you so afraid?” “Are you so dull?” “What were you arguing about?” They didn’t understand the meaning behind Jesus’ miracles, his attention to children, or how they could possibly deny him. Their failures put us as readers on notice, as if Peter himself is whispering, “Don’t think it couldn’t be you.” But a Gospel that ends, “they were afraid,” certainly leaves something to be desired.

Ah! But this Gospel doesn’t find its ending in that uninspired italic addendum of verses 9-20 in our Bibles, written some 400 years later. Mark’s Gospel has countless legitimate endings!

The short-lived, dumbfounded fear of those terrified witnesses is a set-up because we all know that it wasn’t long before the torrent of resurrection stories—all those raised to new life in Christ, and those who faced death fearlessly and are now united with Jesus, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of joyful angels.

My wife and I went forward at an Ash Wednesday service where my pastor friend, Jim, spread ash on our foreheads. “From dust you came and to dust you will return,” he said. “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Such mortifying words, so why his grin and that glint in his eye? Because, as Mark whispers to us, there’s more to the story than the ashen cross.

I was many years into the ministry before I learned that the ancient tradition of the church was to baptize new believers on Easter. I was intrigued with the idea, but I couldn’t imagine squeezing baptisms into a service already packed with favorite songs, two choir anthems, Scripture, and (most important to me) the Big Sermon.

But as it happened, a year later we had several people eager to be baptized so I preached a shortened sermon on this text from Mark and then let those being baptized conclude Mark’s “unfinished” gospel with their own resurrection testimonies.

I remember Drew’s most vividly. He had been a prodigal son, so rebellious that he’d been packed off to a rigorous, isolated high school in the Dominican Republic where he couldn’t get into so much trouble. After graduation there were seven years of rock bands and bartending till he took a soul-searching, music writing trip to Costa Rica.

The desk clerk in his little hotel invited Drew to a small Pentecostal church. There he started his journey back to the Father. Upon returning home he began reading Hebrews, listening to Christian music, going to a Bible study, and attending our church. It was then that that “Jesus Christ became my Lord and Savior,” the miracle which we reenacted when I lowered him under the water and lifted him to the joy and applause of the congregation.

And Mark winked.

Be ye glad!

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