We Know How the Story Ends

Scripture: Mark 16: 1-8
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
April 16, 2017

The last time we gathered together was Good Friday.  It is a day when we remember Jesus crucified.  A day when despair is profound.  Pain is abundant.  Death has the final word.  There are a few occasions in my life when I have preached on Good Friday.  But it is my least favorite day to preach.  What does one say?  Hope is lost.

But Tony Campolo tells a very famous story about an unforgettable Good Friday sermon he once heard.  I tell you the story in his words.  He says,  “I belong to an African-American congregation and I love to preach in that congregation because this congregation always let you know how I am doing. Good, bad or indifferent.  If I am good, they say, ‘Keep going!’  If I am bad, they say, ‘Help him, Jesus.’

“Once a year, my church has something called to a Preach Off — 6 -7 preachers preach to see whose best — now we never say that, we say, ‘It’s for the glory of God.’  But we know what it’s all about.  Now, I don’t want to brag but I was good and I knew I was good.  I could feel how good I was.  People kept saying, ‘Preach it, Brother! Amen! Keep Going!’  The more they said that the better I got and the better I got the more they said that and I was feeding on it.  I was getting better and better.  In fact, I got so good I wanted to take notes on me. And when I came to the end, the place was exploding — there was cheering, shouting, hallelujas.  I felt terrific.  The place was going crazy.  And I reached over and squeezed my pastor’s knee.  I said, ‘Pastor, you are next.  Are you going to be able to top that?’  And he said, ‘Son, son you just sit back.’  And that guy got up there and for the next hour and a half he did me in.  He did me in with one simple line, ‘It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!’  

It’s Friday. The disciples are hiding and Peter’s denying that he knows his Jesus. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday.  Pilot’s struggling.  The council is conspiring. The crowd is vilifying.  But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. Jesus is beaten, mocked, and spit upon. But Sunday’s coming.

It’s Friday. Jesus is hanging on the cross, heaven is weeping and hell is partying. We need to remember it’s only Friday, but Sunday’s a coming.”  

It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming — that same line was preached over and over again — for 30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour, an hour and a half later “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”  That same line over and over again  At the end of the message the pastor shouts out:

It’s Friiidaaaay!

And the whole congregation responds:

But Sunday’s Coming! (Story told by Tony Campolo at a National Pastors’ Conference, San Diego, 2003)

Yes, I think that must be the best Good Friday sermon ever preached.   Now it is Sunday.  The stone is rolled away.  The tomb is empty.  Jesus is alive!  It was Friday, but now it is Sunday!  And may I suggest, that Sunday is not just a nice ending to the story of Jesus, but it is the beginning of our story.

Of the four Gospels, the resurrection story we heard this morning is probably the least popular.  Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome come to the tomb.  They discover that the stone has been rolled away.  They see a man dressed in white and he says to them, “Do not be afraid.  Jesus has been raised from the dead.  He is not here.  He is alive.  Go and tell the disciples.”  So, they went out and fled from the tomb, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

So anti-climatic.  There is no appearance of Jesus to Mary in the garden.  That is  found in the Gospel of John. There is no excitement of the women rushing to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive. That can be found in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels.  But the original ending in Mark simply says, “They went out and fled from the tomb…and they said nothing to anyone.”  No wonder, someone came 50 years later and added a second ending to Mark’s gospel!  The first ending is so anti-climatic.  It is flat!

Or is it? Perhaps Mark intended the ending just like he originally wrote it.  Maybe Mark’s original open end is the best way to end the gospel. The focus moves from an event that took place 2000 years ago to what we will do and believe in our lives today.  That is the real resurrection power. The resurrection is not just a nice ending to the story of Jesus, it is the beginning of our story. Can we trust that the same God who brought resurrection to the life of Jesus brings resurrection to our lives too?  In the midst of our life’s Fridays, can we trust that our Sunday’s coming?

I remember going through an entire week filled with Good Fridays.  There was denial.  There was betrayal. I felt like I had been emotionally crucified.   In the midst of it all, a wise, elderly woman in the congregation, a saint of the church sensed my challenges.  She gave me hug and said, “Take heart, Jill.  The good news is we know how the story ends.”   We know how the story ends!  In other words, she was saying to me, “I know that you are going through life’s Fridays, but Sunday’s coming!” This is also the same woman who told me that the book of Revelation can be summed up in two words:  God wins!  We know how the story ends.

A favorite resurrection image in modern literature can be found in Alice Walker’s  The Color Purple. It’s the story of two sisters:  Celie and Nettie. Celie is forced into a marriage to an abusive husband. and Celie and her sister Nettie go to live with this man.  The abuse continues.  Celie begs her sister Nettie, the most precious person in her life, to leave and make a new life for herself.  Though this is a gut-wrenching decision, Nettie leaves – but she promises to write to Celie.

Days, weeks, months, years pass.  There are no letters.

Celie is devastated and she concludes that Nettie must have died.   There was no word from Nettie; what other reason could be there be that she had not heard from Nettie?  Nettie must be dead.  Celie’s pain was abundant.  Her despair was profound.  Death had the final word.

Then, one day, Celie stumbles across a packet of letters Nettie.  Celie’s husband had hidden the letters from Celie.  He wanted her to live in pain and despair.

One by one, she pulled these tender letters from their envelopes, Celie could hardly believe her eyes.  Nettie was alive!  Her words of love poured like a healing balm upon Celie’s wounded soul.   She read the final letter in the stack:

“Dear Celie,” Nettie wrote, “I know you think I am dead. But I am not. I been writing to you, too, over the years, but your husband said you’d never hear from me again and since I never heard from you all this time, I guess he was right. There is so much to tell you that I don’t know, hardly, where to begin…. but if this do get through, one thing I want you to know: I love you, and I am not dead.”

Celie knew about life’s Fridays.  She knew about pain, despair, agony and grief.  Little did she know, though, that Sunday was comin’!

On this day of the resurrection, I think God would want us to hear these words,

“I love you…and I am not dead.”

O God of New Beginnings,

You are the promise of hope!  You are the immensity of love!  You are the wellspring of joy!  And we have in you the greatest power of the universe. When we go through life’s Fridays, may we trust that our Sunday is coming.    This we pray, in the name of the Risen Christ.