Cotham Parish Church
Sun 1 Apr 18 / Easter Day (B)
Acts 10.34-43 / Mark 16.1-8
May I speak in the name of the risen Christ. Amen.
Mark’s gospel is famous for its abrupt ending – the last verses of
which we had in our reading just now. It finishes with the empty
tomb, a young man who seems to be an angel, and the only
witnesses (the two Marys and Salome) scared witless:
So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had
seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid
(Mk 16:8).
That’s it – end of gospel! No appearances of Jesus behind locked
doors, on the road, at lake-side breakfasts or ascending on
mountains. It finishes on the perfect cliffhanger – we know the story
doesn’t end (can’t end) there, but that’s all we’ve got. It’s a bit like
the film The Italian Job, with its final scene of the coach teetering on
the edge of the cliff. We are left hanging – and very curious to know
what happened next.
And because we are used to the continued narratives of the other
gospels, it feels like something is missing, that maybe some of the
story’s been lost. And many theologians have thought that – some
of the earlier ones were so convinced that the ending had been lost
that they had a couple of goes at reconstructing it, mainly by
summarizing the narratives found in the other gospels.

And so they seek to spare Mark’s blushes, as it were – for how
could you have a gospel without a resurrection appearance?
But what if this was where Mark meant his narrative to end? In a
sense it’s immaterial, because that’s all we’ve got whether he meant
it or not, but if the abrupt ending was intentional, it suggests that by
skipping straight to the other gospels to complete the story, we
might be missing something important. And what might that be?
Resurrection by remembering the story
What if Mark is saying that in this text as we have it, we have
everything we need – that we don’t need the accounts of the first
resurrection appearances in order to enter into the death and
resurrection of Jesus? (Now this isn’t to do with whether those
appearances happened or could have happened, but whether Mark is
trying to do something different.)
Perhaps Mark is saying that the clues are all there in the story he has
just told, with its abrupt ending – and that if we want to make sense
of the empty tomb we will need to go back to the beginning of the
story. The angel tells Mary and Mary and Salome that if they return
to Galilee, where the whole story began, they will see Jesus. Could
Mark be saying that it is as we return to the beginning of this story of
Jesus and re-experience it with the empty tomb before us that our
eyes will be opened?

As we remember his encounters with people, his healings, his
teachings, his repeated predictions that he will be handed over and
killed and after three days will rise again, his trial and death – what
clues do we find – what sense do we come to about who Jesus is and
what has happened to him?
So perhaps Mark resists drawing all the threads together for us
because he wants us to keep mining the story for clues – clues that
will lead us to what he begins his gospel by describing as ‘the good
news of Jesus Christ’.
Resurrection by re-enacting the story
But surely it is more than this – more than just re-assembling a
jigsaw puzzle, more than just remembering. Mark doesn’t just want
his hearers to cast their minds back to where the story started in
Galilee, but to find themselves within the story – to re-live its
pattern – to re-enact it.
As theologian Robert Beck puts it in his book on Mark’s Gospel:
Its unfinished quality is intended… The Gospel story explicitly makes
reference to the yet-to-come story of the disciples. It addresses the reader
and says, ‘This is to be your story…’. The disciples are invited to… return
to the starting point of the narrative… and to begin their own enactment
of the story [as a] testimony to Jesus’ continued presence and [as] the
continuation of that presence. The story will not die.
It is as if Mark is saying to his first hearers, and down the centuries
to us: if you want to see the resurrection, it will not come by my
telling you a couple of appearance stories, but as you respond to the
call of Jesus, like those first fishermen (1:16), as you pray in the
wilderness (1:12, 35), as you sit down for dinner with tax collectors
and sinners and other undesirables (2:15), as you allow yourselves to
be challenged by the parables about what the kingdom of God is like
(chp 4), as you respond to human need that you encounter, as you
serve one another rather than exercising power (10:43), as you give
up time, money, possessions, comforts for the sake of others
(10:28), as you re-enact the giving of his body and his blood (14:22),
as you risk conflict with religious and political leaders in the cause of
truth, as you struggle, as you suffer, as you die. As you do these
things you will see and taste the resurrection.
Mark seems to be saying that Christ’s resurrection is not so much a
concept to be grasped, but a reality to be experienced. It is not
about believing six impossible things before breakfast. The
resurrection will be encountered by living in the way of Jesus, not by
meditating on an empty tomb. ‘He is not here,’ as the angel says –
‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee’.
This is the act of faith, that resurrection – new life, transformation –
will come as we enter the story and seek faithfully to re-enact its
pattern in the context in which we find ourselves.

As the Christian activist Shane Claiborne has said:
(For) even if the whole world believed in resurrection, little would begin to
change until we began to practise it. We can believe in CPR, but people
will remain dead until someone breathes new life into them.
Resurrection by resuming the story
So Mark’s abrupt ending encourages us to go back and re-enact the
story, but it also does something else. It makes it clear that this is
not a finished story. There isn’t a static ending which allows us to
close the book and say ‘phew I’m glad that all worked out well in the
end’. The reader is called to re-enact the narrative, but also to go
beyond it into the unscripted – into the unknown, guided by the
same way of being that has been revealed in the story up to this
And this of course is what we see the disciples and the early church
doing, in the accounts that follow events after the end of the gospels
– in the epistles, and in the Acts of the Apostles. We see these early
followers of the way facing new and unfamiliar situations and
challenges. We see them making some mistakes and some inspired
decisions. Sometimes they seem lost and confused, and sometimes
they seem to have a strong sense of what is needed now to be
faithful to the preceding story.
Peter & Cornelius
And we see this played out in today’s reading from Acts chp 10. Up
until this point, the early church has had no inkling that the good
news of Jesus Christ might be good news to anyone except Jews.
But then Peter has a vision instructing him not to call profane what
God has called clean, and is called to the house of the gentile
Cornelius who wants to listen to what Peter has to say. Peter puts
two and two together, and what we heard is his speech to Cornelius
and his household, in which he tells them that he now ‘truly
understands that God shows no partiality’.
And we see him retell that narrative so familiar to Peter – of how
Jesus of Nazareth was anointed by God and went about doing good,
preaching peace and healing all who were. Peter declares himself a
witness to all Jesus did – and to his death and rising on the third day.
A fairly standard rendition of the gospel.
But then Peter adds flourishes emphasizing his new grasp of the
enlarged scope of the gospel: it is now for ‘anyone’ in ‘every nation’ –
Jesus is ‘Lord of all’ and judge of all, and ‘everyone who believes in
him receives forgiveness’.

He has used his experience of following Jesus as a springboard. He
has recognized that while this is new and unfamiliar territory, this
response to the gentiles is in keeping with and indeed makes sense
of and fulfils all that came before. His rootedness – his immersion in
the way of Jesus has equipped him to take this radical step with
The Church and the future
And this has been the story of the Church ever since – called to
continue the story in a way that is both faithful and innovative.
Again, we have seen some mistakes and some inspired decisions.
Sometimes the Church has seemed lost and confused, and
sometimes has seemed to have a strong sense of what is needed
now to honour the preceding story. The campaigns to abolish
slavery, and child poverty and to drop third world debt have been
obvious high points. Yet many blind spots remain.
It is a curiosity that while the Church has frequently led the way on
socio-economic equality, it has so often dragged its feet on equality
for women and LGBT people, and on facing up to accusations of
abuse, as we’ve seen in the news recently.
The Church of England has for some years proclaimed ‘five marks of
mission’. The fourth of these is:
‘To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of
every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation’.
Unfortunately, the practice still falls some way short of the
aspiration. Sometimes the Church struggles to extend the grace and
truth found in Jesus and discovered by Peter at Cornelius’s, and
those unjust structures can be inside the Church, as well as beyond
it. But this is our calling, both individually, and together –
‘To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of
every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation’.
So, following the challenge of Mark’s gospel, we remember, we reenact,
and we resume the story of Jesus. Picking up the story where
Mark ends, may we we seek to live in the way of Christ, as we seek
to faithfully re-play and extend the pattern of his life and ministry in
our life and our ministry, may we too encounter the reality of his
resurrection – and our own.
As the New Zealand theologian Dorothy Harvey puts it:
Resurrection is always a mystery, always a miracle, but often we do not
recognize resurrection when it comes to us. When all that separates and
injures and destroys is overcome by that which unites, heals and creates in
the ordinary routine of our daily lives, resurrection has taken place.