The Rest of the Story
(Easter Sunday, Mark 16.1-8)
The young man said to the women, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here” (Mk 16.6).
In the name of the Father, the Risen Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of the richest blessings in my life is that my grandfather on my mother’s side lived to be 95 years old. And therefore, I knew him not only as my granddad when I was growing up. But he also was a good and wise old friend in my early adult years.
We always called him Poppy. And Poppy was truly a great guy – a man that I always looked up to. I appreciated many things about Poppy - his strong faith; his gentle nature. And I really admired the fact that he was one of those rare people who never lost his temper. And I mean never. I never heard him raise his voice or say an unkind thing about anyone. He was a man who really did count his blessings every day, and he just never complained. And I admired (actually envied) that in him – and I still do.
Of course there was also one other thing that drew us together. Because we shared a common love for as long as I can remember. See, he was a professor at UT for his whole career, so we would sit and talk about Longhorn football for hours at a time.
I miss Poppy. One of my fondest memories is a trip that we made together - back to his home state of Nebraska - for a family reunion.
I guess it has been about 20 years ago now, so the details are a little fuzzy. But I clearly remember what a wonderful gift it was to drive my grandfather around from place to place as we visited family and looked at where he had grown up so long before.
I remember that in one town – I believe that the name of it was Minden, Nebraska, Poppy and I went to a museum. I called it, the Museum of Old and Worn-out Farming Equipment. I am sure that Nebraska must be the only place that people actually go to such museums. But anyway, as we looked at the rusty old plows and other primitive farming implements, Poppy told me all about how he used them as a boy growing up on a farm in the early 1900’s.
And as I walked with him and listened to the stories of his past, I knew I was blessed. Blessed, not because I was learning about old farming equipment, but because I was getting to hear part of my history also.
Of course, we also visited several graveyards on that trip. They were typical small town graveyards. Most of them needed weeding, and some of the tombstones of my ancestors were so old and crumbly that it was hard to still read the vital information that had been recorded there. Of course Poppy could remember who they all were and how we were related. And he told me which ones of them were saints and which ones were rascals.
And in the stories that Poppy told me as we walked among the tombstones, I heard stories of my life also. One of the graves we visited was that of his wife, my grandmother. It was somewhat eerie, because right beside her grave marker, was an identical stone with his name and birth date on it – all that was missing was the date of his death.
I couldn’t really listen as he talked about my grandmother – my mind was already racing ahead to the next time I that I would probably see that grave again – when we came back to bury him and the tombstone would be completed. And as I looked around that small overgrown graveyard in rural Nebraska, I asked myself the question: “Is this where it all ends?”
Is this what our lives are all about?
And I was very very afraid that the answer was YES.
The three women got up early on that Sunday morning to visit the tomb. As soon as there was enough light to see, they made their way to the outskirts of town and walked along the rocky paths toward the cave where he was buried. And I am sure that as they walked, they also talked about all that had recently gone on in their lives. How things had been turned upside down for them - again.
They had just witnessed one of the most horrifying sights imaginable. Watched as the man they called teacher and Lord was hung on a cross to die. The one who taught them about God’s unconditional love; the man who had filled them with hope for the future; and had promised them a new life in God. The one that they just knew had been sent by God to change the world, was now gone. Crucified on a cross.
The women felt like they had died with him. They were devastated - devastated to the core of their very beings. Devastated that their lives, that had so recently had new promise and fresh hope, were now right back at the bottom, again.
But despite their disappointment, the three women were determined to do one last thing for Jesus. They would anoint him properly. It was the one way that they could give him back some of the dignity that had been taken away from him on that horrible cross.
And so together, they headed up the mountain with their spices and their oils. To say one last goodbye their Lord.
But wouldn’t you know it. Once again, their plans were interrupted by God. Because when they got to the cave that had been Jesus’ tomb, nothing was how they expected it to be. The heavy stone that protected the entrance was mysteriously rolled away. And the body of Jesus was missing. Instead a young man, undoubtedly an angel, was there to give them the message:
“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”
They must have wanted to scream at him, “What do you mean, do not be alarmed? Here we are trying to pay our last respects so that we can get on with our lives, but now we find ourselves right back in the middle of turmoil?” How can we not be afraid: Why doesn’t God just leave us alone? Haven’t we already been through enough?”
Of course they were afraid. Afraid of what this empty tomb might mean for them. Afraid that their lives were once again more complicated and uncertain than they could face. And not only that, they had to face life now, without the one who had previously given them so much hope.
So they ran away in terror and amazement. Ran from the empty tomb because, at that moment, they thought that empty grave was where the story ended. They ran because they did not yet know the rest of the story.
And that is where the gospel writer Mark leaves it. Like a movie that refuses to reveal whether or not they all lived happily ever after; Mark’s version of the Easter story ends with an empty tomb, and with terror and amazement.
And we are left to work out the ending to the story ourselves.
But we have an advantage over the women at the cave, because we know the rest of the story. We have the stories of the resurrection appearances to keep us from being afraid. We know that Jesus conquered death so that we would have the hope of eternal life. We are not just discovering an empty tomb and wondering what happened to the body. WE KNOW THE RESURRECTION. And we celebrate all that it means for us.
Because through Christ’s victory over death, our lives have also been changed and will never be the same. Because we share with him in life everlasting.
You know, there are graveyards and tombstones scattered through all of our lives. Literally speaking of course, there are the ones like I saw in Nebraska, of the people who we love that are no longer with us.
But there are also other graveyards in our lives. There are the graveyards of unfulfilled dreams. There are the deaths of lost relationships. The graves of squandered or lost opportunities. And the tombstones of lives lived without meaning.
The Easter question. The Easter question is whether or not we are going to let those graves be the end of the story. Or, do we offer them up to God to be resurrected? Do we give into our fears of the uncertainty of life and the finality of death – or do we proclaim our faith that there is more to the story? A life yet to come!
The Easter resurrection tells us that we must set our minds on God, and not on earthly concerns. Look again at the words of Paul this morning from Colossians. He said, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Paul wants us to do more than just hear the story of the resurrection. Paul is telling us to live the resurrection.
And we want to not only live the resurrection, but live it to the fullest. And I say that knowing that are risks – that there is danger in a trying to live the life of Christ. In fact it may be as risky today as it was to those women disciples at the cave. The resurrection does not take away the risk of the cross. But the resurrection does make it worth it.
“Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Just to finish my story about my granddad.
When Poppy died, we had the service in Austin, so I never have gone back to see that graveyard in Nebraska and that headstone with Poppy’s final date engraved on it.
But it’s not important now. Because he’s not there. And I know for certain that graveyard is not where it all ends. Because I know the rest of the story.
Jesus Christ is Risen today, alleluia, alleluia!