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Belmont United Methodist Church in Belmont Massachusetts

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The Nonending - Rev. Wimmer - April 12, 2009 - Mark 16:1-8


The Nonending
Easter 2009

After some attempt to fix the ending of Mark, most scholars of the New Testament think that it really did end in the middle of a sentence. The ending in the original language is even more abrupt than the one we have in translation. If you were to translate the original literally it would say To no one anything they said; afraid they were for . . .

For what? Even in the English version, which we heard this morning, it is a nonending. There is no explanation, no conclusion. They were afraid which if you think about it was a perfectly reasonable response to what they were experiencing at the time.

Thomas Long in the Century this week tells of how Donald Juel in his commentary on Mark tells the story of one of his students who had memorized the whole of Mark in order to do a dramatic Broadway style one man play before a live audience. If you are going to do this Mark is probably your best bet as it is the 'Hemingway' of the gospels— not much introduction (you may have noticed over the years that we don't read Mark at Christmas. That is because Christmas does not make it into Mark), no conclusion, no speculation, little explanation, just a bare accounting of things as they were.experienced or remembered by one no-nonsense writer of words. Anyway at the students first performance after he finished with the abrupt ending he just stood there feeling very uncomfortable shifting from one foot to the other until he finally said Amen! and everyone applauded and left. Thinking about it later he realized that his giving the audience an ending betrayed the intent of the text so at the next performance when he reached the final word he simply paused for a brief moment and left the stage in silence. The result was that the audience was obviously uncomfortable and uncertain about what to do. Was it over? Perhaps not. And perhaps that is the point: it is not over. In any case, it was the nonending that everybody took with them when they finally left.

I don't know about you but when I read a novel I want all the loose ends tied up. I want to know what happened to each character for better or worse. I don't want to be left wondering. I suspect we want our gospel that way too though I confess that it is the novels and short stories that end so neatly with everything explained that I immediately forget about. It is the one that leaves me wanting more that I remember, that stir me up and leave me uncomfortable but strangely more awake and alive if only because I am not satisfied. The thing with the resurrection of Jesus is that if we have all the nice endings, the post resurrection appearances, scenes of reconciliation and forgiveness, the final instructions etc we tend to sentimentalize it, even put it aside as a done deal that happened to somebody else and is now a nice story that even gives us a basis for a belief of sorts but which doesn't really enter our own struggle, our own day to day battle with the blows of the universe. For if we are left merely satisfied and comfortable we really are not paying attention to the incredible event of this day nor to the reality of our own lives. It is kind of like how Dillard described those water color people on her Sunday Schools walls: The Bible's was an unlikely, movie set world alongside our world. Light shot and translucent in the pallid Sunday school water colors on the walls stormy and opaque in the dense and staggering texts they read us placidly, sweet-mouthed and earnest, week after week, this world interweaved our waking world like a dream Nothing at all to be afraid of. As she said, Fear not little flock this seems apt for those pious water color people so long ago those blameless and endearing shepherds and fishermen in colorful native garb whose lives seem, pure because they are not our lives. They were rustics, silent and sunlit, outdoors, who we sentimentalize and ignore. They are not in our world.

Our lives are complex. There are many things we must fear. We are nobody's little flock.

In fact we are more like the real people in Mark's gospel who run in fear from the cemetery wondering what has happened and what is happening and what will happen next? Unless of course we are not afraid anymore, just numb.

If Easter leaves us wondering why we just can't feel anything about it, whether it be the real terror of the women who ran from the empty tomb or that exuberant joy that we know we should be feeling about what has happened then Mark's is the gospel for us because Mark, says Thomas Long, is trying to impart a different kind of Easter joy, trying to reveal another dimension of the Easter faith. One perhaps that is real, not sentimental, that includes our real fears and opens us also to real joy that we can actually feel on the other side of the fear. Perhaps what they were afraid of was that deep unspeakable fear that lies hidden in all of us-that the love they had come to believe was possible enough to really count on was not true at all, had been overwhelmed yet again by evil and death and the only thing that is really true is death itself. Death without meaning, death for its own sake as the way it is, the big nothing. Real joy comes from facing down the terror of the big nothing and holding on long enough to see the light flickering mightily against the void. Wendell Berry in his poem Sabbath Songs wrote:

I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.

I have no love
except it come from Thee.

Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.

If this Easter morning is about anything it is about this: love is not lost in death, love is not lost, love is still the meaning of life, life still has meaning, nothing can separate us from love, love will not abandon us, love holds the future even now in every present moment, love is life and life is Easter's gift of grace that meets us in our terror and alienation, in our lovelessness, and calls us home from wherever we have wandered. Love will save us. Love will save us always. Only love will save us.

Thomas Long points out that the young man in our reading this morning in Mark's abrupt last words says Go tell his disciples, he is going to Galilee, there you will see him. Is it a coincidence that this same gospel of Mark begins with these words: Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God? Is it possible that Mark's nonending has in fact come full circle to the beginning in a story that has no ending. The Jesus in Mark is never understood. Perhaps Mark wants us to hear that God's saving action, God's love is always hidden in the world, ambiguous, unexplainable by the obvious and expected ways going so far as to be crucified in weakness and to vanish in thin air whose story does not end but continues hidden in us, in our weakness, in our broken hearts, in our longing for love, hidden there waiting to rise to new life in us as if . . . .


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Belmont United Methodist Church is a Certified Welcoming Congregation


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