Easter B

April 2, 2018

Divine Comedy

Mark 16:1-8


1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 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.


The title of my sermon this morning sounds like a famous book that I’ve never read. The Divine Comedy is actually a long poem that was completed by that Italian man named Dante in 1320. I’m guessing few of us here have actually read it, but it’s something most of us have heard of on some level. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I’m guessing most of us have heard of Dante’s inferno, which comes from this poem, The Divine Comedy. Dante’s poem probably isn’t what we would call laugh out loud funny, but it fits the Greek notion of literary comedy which means that it has a happy ending. I’ve never read it, so I can’t speak to the happy way in which it ends, but I’m guessing that’s the case.


The Gospels all fit that classical definition of comedy in that they each have a happy ending – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, but I think there’s some actual comedy in this morning’s reading.


I don’t know if Mark intended to be funny, but he may have. I think we often miss some of the comedy in the Bible either because it isn’t translated in a way that conveys the comedy, or we are inclined to think that humor could never be incorporated in the transmission Godly information. Of course we know that isn’t true. Most of us have had profound truths communicated to us in a funny way.  Granted, I’m inclined to think that one of the most important things we do in life is to find amusement in the way things operate, but I think what we are dealing with this morning is an amazingly amusing story.


The particular detail I want to call to your attention is the reaction of the women to the situation. We don’t know a lot about these women, but from what I can tell, these three women, Mary, Mary, and Salome, are the people who remained the most faithful to Jesus throughout his ministry. They didn’t flee from the situation as we know that some others did when things became dangerous, and they were on hand to witness the terrible suffering that Jesus endured during the crucifixion. These women are about the closest thing we have to heroes of the story, and they were still focused on what they needed to do to serve Jesus on the first day of the week when they could go back to the tomb and properly prepare his body.


So they’re on their way to the tomb and they’re wondering how they are going to roll the stone away from the entrance because of course there weren’t going to be any men around, but they get there and they discover that the stone has been rolled away and that there is in fact a man on hand. They don’t recognize this man, but he’s wearing a white robe. And this man has a very clear message for them. He says: Don’t be alarmed. I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here – he has been raised! Look, here is the place where he was placed. Now go and give this message to the disciples, including Peter, ‘He is going to Galilee ahead of you; there you will see him, just as he told you’


Granted they don’t know this man, but he’s wearing a white robe, he tells them not to be alarmed and to go and deliver a message.


And the very next verse, which is the last line in the original version of the Book of Mark, goes like this: So they went out and ran from the tomb, distressed and terrified and they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.


I mean it’s not exactly gut busting humor – it didn’t generate a series of jokes that begin with the line, Three women walk into an empty tomb … but this is sort of funny to me. Mark end’s his gospel by saying these three faithful women flee from the scene of the resurrection in fear and they don’t tell anyone what they had seen after they were told not to be afraid and to tell people what happened. Like I said, I don’t know if Mark intended to be funny, but he certainly chose to end his account of Jesus in a curious way.


People without a sense of humor got together and decided that wasn’t a satisfying ending to the gospel and they tacked on a couple of more paragraphs – you’ll find those extra words in your Bible, but in my opinion it’s not an improvement to the story.


I like the original ending. It reminds me of how things generally work and how people are. We get scared of the wrong things, we talk when we need to be quiet and we don’t say anything when we need to let people know what’s going on. This is the world I occupy. This is who I am! And I’m so grateful that this version of the story is there for people like me.


Clearly the extent of our folly isn’t very funny. The manner in which Jesus was crucified is about as far from comedy as you can get. The life story of Jesus of Nazareth was more like a classic tragedy than a classic comedy. Classic tragedies generally reveal the way in which the conditions of this world line up in ways that cause terrible hardship and loss. We human beings often play critical roles in creating tragic circumstances, and that was certainly the case in the way that Jesus was treated.


The story of the life and death of Jesus is nothing short of a tragedy, but it turns out that the people who thought they knew what they were doing had no idea what they were up against. Those who put Jesus to death thought they had enough power to control the message that Jesus had come to deliver, but it turns out that their undertaking was the laughable thing. The way he was misunderstood and ultimately executed was profoundly tragic, but the resurrection of Christ revealed the ultimate ineptness of evil. The details of the crucifixion are sheer horror, but the overall story is a romantic comedy.


Taken as a whole, the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the story of God’s profound and prevailing love for frail and flawed human beings. It’s a wonderful story for people like Peter, people like the three women, and people like us. It’s even a story about God’s love for people like the high priests who plotted against Jesus, like Judas who betrayed him, and Pilate who condemned him. The resurrection story is not a story of condemnation – it’s the story of God’s love overwhelming the forces of evil.


In all likelihood, Mark didn’t end his account of Jesus in the way he did in order to be funny. I think he more likely ended his gospel the way he did in order to motivate us to continue the story. And that’s what a good comedy always does – at least that’s what it does for me. When I read a book or watch a movie that ends with some kind of surprising joy I find myself motivated to do what I can to cooperate with the people who were trying to do the right thing. I usually lose my heroic intentions by bedtime, but I’m guessing most of us find good endings to be motivational.


And the way Mark ends his gospel is particularly motivating. The women who first went to Jesus’ gravesite were doing the right thing. They were doing what others were hesitant to do – which was to publicly associate themselves with Jesus, but the way they responded to the instruction they got from the man wearing a white robe wasn’t exactly the model of faithfulness, so what we see is the opportunity for us to conduct ourselves in better ways. These women didn’t deliver the good news that Jesus has been raised in the best way possible – maybe we can do better.


And sometimes we do, but it’s not easy to maintain a grip on the good news that we get from the resurrection story. Life doesn’t generally feel like a romantic comedy. We encounter a lot of screwball antics, but we probably experience more punches than punch-lines. Life isn’t always so funny, and while God has shown that love prevails over evil – bad things continue to happen. In the short term, twisted minds continue to generate evil plots, disease flourishes, selfishness happens, loneliness thrives, and loved ones die. Perhaps when those women fled from the tomb they were feeling like one more horrible thing had occurred and they just couldn’t take it anymore.


I know there are times I just want to run away and not say anything to anyone, but Mark’s message is for us to trust in the nearness of God’s kingdom regardless of what appears to be happening. Maybe in order to understand the last line in this gospel we need to remember the first thing that Jesus is reported to have said in the Gospel of Mark. It happened right after his righteous predecessor, John the Baptist, was arrested. Jesus came in to Galilee and said:


Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!


The fact that John the Baptist and Jesus both were arrested and executed speaks to the fact that this world is rarely receptive to the good news of God’s nearness, but the resurrection story tells us that it’s true. This world continues to be a messy place to live, and it’s not ordered in a way that reflects the nearness of our loving God, but Mark wants us to join him in trusting that it’s true. Mark wants us to understand that Jesus is in our midst and is going before us in order to meet us in the places where we live.


It’s a funny thing the way this often plays out. While the nearness of God’s kingdom hasn’t fully undermined the pain of death and the prevalence of evil – it’s often in response to painful situations that we experience that nearness of God. Mark wants us to trust that this will always be true, and we should order our lives around this truth. We don’t need to flee in fear and silence, but to go boldly ahead and tell what we trust to be true.


You can’t blame the three women from fleeing in fear and silence. I’m thinking that’s how many of us would have responded to the situation. We do dumb things when we are scared – we do funny things when we are scared, but we have the luxury of thinking about this thing from the comfort of our sanctuary, and we can do better than fleeing and not telling anyone what we have heard.


I’m guessing those women had a hard time living down their less than composed response to the news that Jesus was out of the tomb and going ahead of them to Galilee. There’s nothing wrong with responding to an amazing truth in an uncomposed way, but there is something wrong if we have no response to the good news that Christ is alive. The odd ending of Mark is to be the beginning of a new story for all of us. It’s the story of how we choose to live when we know that love prevails, and that God can redeem any situation. It may not be laugh out loud funny, but it should at least bring a smile to your heart, and thanks be to God for that.



One Response to “Easter B”

  1. Earl Says:

    Easter has always been my favorite Sunday of the year, it always confirms my thoughts and belief. One brief side note, the Preacher at Trinity Sunday morning made an interesting comment about the three women, he said it was his belief that if it was not for the women he didn’t believe many churches would exist today.

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