Lectionary Guide: Easter 2024

March 31 | Resurrection of the Lord | Year B

Mark 16:1-8

Isaiah 25:6-9 | Psalm 114 | Romans 6:3-11

Summary of the Text

Eunice (“Junior”) McGarrahan

The Text

The Short Ending or the Long ending?

This is not the Easter story we’re looking for. The short ending of Mark is not what we want or expect on Easter Sunday. We want celebration, big music, and the call and response, “Christ is Risen!”…”He is risen indeed!” It’s not the story we want, but it’s the story we have…it’s the story we need. As we approach this text, we must first deal with the conversation surrounding the ending of this gospel.

Biblical scholarship generally dismisses the alternate endings of Mark on the basis that word usage and style in the section are not consistent with the rest of the Gospel of Mark. The debate, however, is not over. The question still remains, “Is Mark 16:8 the authentic ending of the gospel or is part of a scroll missing?” N.T. Wright (Mark for Everyone) and James Edwards (The Gospel According to Mark) think that the real ending is lost to us, so far. But they also think that verse 8 is what we have and must treat as the Word to us. Preaching on this text for Easter, then, has the opportunity to surprise congregations as it overturns expectations for Easter worship.

 

The Angel’s Rebuke

After the Sabbath is over, the women (Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome) purchase spice so that they can anoint the body of Jesus. As they head to the tomb, the expect a dead body, a closed tomb, and a heart-rending task. What they encounter is a missing body, an open tomb, and a young man – perhaps an angel – who tells them that Jesus is not there, that He has risen, and that they are to go to Galilee to meet Him. The messenger adds that the instruction to meet Jesus in Galilee is something that Jesus had told them. This sounds like a mild rebuke. Jesus had also told them three times that he would be killed but would rise again. They, however, weren’t looking for a risen Jesus. These words, therefore, are a reminder that the Word of God can be trusted.

An Invitation Instead of a Happy Ending

The other gospel accounts record resurrection sightings of Jesus…conversations with Jesus…meals with Jesus. In Matthew, we find an account similar to Mark’s. But the women in Matthew run and tell the disciples. They obey the angel’s instruction. In our passage, though, the women are too terrified to say anything. The last verse could reasonably be translated “…But they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them. And, afraid, they said nothing to anyone for…”. It is that ending that puzzles and intrigues us.

The other gospel accounts give us what appears to be a conclusion to the story of Jesus – a happy ending if you will. Mark’s ending is not a conclusion…it is an invitation, but to what? It helps to remember that throughout Mark’s account, the disciples are portrayed as dense. They just don’t get what Jesus is saying and doing. That describes much of our own discipleship. Like the women, we love Jesus and want to do His will, but a lot of the time, we just don’t get it. And like the women, we are frightened that we have failed to see what our relationship with Jesus is. Commenting on this passage, Tom Long wrote: “Mark is not about human potential. Mark is about the action of God…It is about a kingdom that arrives like a storm, a break-in, a revolution, and places upon us all the urgent task of finding ourselves in a new reality.”

The Context

The Reign of Nero

The first readers/hearers of Mark’s gospel knew about the resurrection. Mark is the earliest gospel and thus it is reasonable to speculate that some of these readers may have seen the risen Jesus. Thus, the gospel does not end with resurrection stories. The writer assumes that readers already know this. These early Christians were subjects of the Roman emperor, Nero. Nero’s reign was terrifying, and Christians were severely persecuted. The abrupt ending of the gospel raises the questions those persecuted believers may have been asking – “What next?” “Where is Jesus?” “What do we do now?” And this is what can speak to us powerfully this Easter.

 

Preaching Angles

Christ in Crises

Preaching this text can speak powerfully to those who are wondering, during crises, where Jesus is. They may be wondering if they can meet Him again. It is entirely possible that some listeners are mired in the grief of confusion of their own lives as they enter Easter worship. They are not ready for joy or triumph. Identifying with these women may help them know that they are not alone. Even the most devoted of disciples have fears and doubts. The words of Mark’s messenger can help them answer the “Now what?” question that disturbs them.

The Path of Discipleship

Finally, reflecting on what may seem to be a disappointing reading for Easter, the instructions to meet Jesus in Galilee open the door to faithful discipleship. Galilee was where Jesus began his ministry and meeting Jesus in Galilee signals that we will join him on his mission to live out the Kingdom of God in this broken world. It signals that in the power of the resurrected Jesus we can “prepare the way of the Lord” and “Make straight his paths.” It also “rescues” the dense disciples of this gospel – and us. Now that we know that Jesus is waiting for us to join him, we can return to the beginning of the gospel and read it yet again. But knowing the end of the story will make a difference in how we hear and follow Jesus.

Additional Texts

There are quite a few alternate or additional lectionary readings for this day. To keep things simple, however, Psalm 114 and Romans 6:3 -11 provide homiletical support for this surprising Marcan account. Psalm 114 recounts how God has always been doing the unexpected for the good of God’s people and for His own glory. The Romans text supports the understanding that in light of the resurrection, the lives of the followers of Jesus will be different.

Sermon resources

Key Quotes

The women’s response brings readers face to face with the mystery of faith. There are no heroes among Jesus’ followers. The hostility that put Jesus on the cross has reduced them all to flight and fearful silence. Nevertheless, God brings faith out of just such weakness and failure. Jesus did not need to come once again and choose a new team in some grand lottery for better disciples. Despite all the appearances, Jesus did accomplish the will of God through suffering on the cross. However imperfect our faith and however many times we remain silent when we should testify to the gospel, we can always return to the Lord. None of us can get so far away from Jesus that we cannot be touched by God’s healing presence.

Pheme Perkins, New Interpreter’s Bible: Mark, pg. 733

Mark did not know exactly what we would be scared of all these years later; he just knew we would be. By ending his gospel right there, right in the middle of a sentence, he also left us free to decide what to do about it. Will we tell or won’t we? Will we go got Galilee or won’t we? That is where the Lord Jesus has gone – not to the town of northern Israel, but to all the real places on earth that we have come from – where we bring up our children, earn our livings, pay our taxes, cast our votes. That is where God is raising the dead. If we want to practice resurrection, that is where we will go too.

Barbara Brown Taylor, Journal for Preachers, Easter 2008

Key Illustrations

Al Capone’s Vault

Do you remember Geraldo Rivera’s most famous fiasco? In 1986 he broadcast a television special entitled The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault. In the publicity leading up to the live opening of Capone’s vault in the basement of the old Lexington Hotel in Chicago, many speculated on what Geraldo would uncover. They expected bootleg liquor, Capone’s belongings, or, perhaps, even the bones of his enemies. Even the IRS was present for the reveal because Capone still owed $800,000 in back taxes.  Everyone’s expectations were shattered – the vault was empty!

Eunice McGarrahan, source: Chicago Tribune, April 20, 2023

Fearful Response to Healing

In the story of Jesus and the demon-possessed man in Mark 5:14-20, Jesus gives new life to that man. When the townspeople saw the result of Jesus’ healing – an entirely new man, almost unrecognizable because of his normality—they were afraid. They must have expected that this man would remain demon-possessed until the end of his days. But there he was, and the healing required changing how they did business in the village. The man was new, and the old economy was gone. Their response to the unexpected? Out of fear, they asked Jesus to leave.

 Eunice McGarrahan

Discussion Questions

  • What do we think of when we think of those who are “perishing?”
  • Are there ways that we might find comfort in being veiled from truth?
  • How does the world try to veil our understanding of Jesus as Lord?
  • Do you know someone—even yourself—who has gone from dark to light?
  • Do we make it clear that Jesus is Lord and we are servants?  If we keep that distinction in mind, would it make our witness easier?  Harder?

Liturgical resources

Call to Worship

Adapted from John 12 and Isaiah 60

Leader: Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you.”

People: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

Leader: “If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.”

People: “For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon us and His glory will appear over us.”

Leader: “While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

People: Nations shall come to our light, and kings to the brightness of our dawn.

(Jn 12:35-36, Is 60:1-3, NRSVUE, adapted for liturgical use)

Prayer of Confession

Save us, Glorious Christ, from every false understanding and motivation
Save us from the temptation to just stay on the mountain
Save us from the temptation to never engage
Save us from the temptation of trying to capture and control your power and glory
You are Mystery, You are Holy, You are God
Hear our confession as we bow in wonder and worship

Time of silent confession

Prayer of Confession for Transfiguration Sunday © 2021 by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia, www.revlisad.com

Assurance of Pardon

The grace of Christ is never deserved but always intentional. Receive this grace, intended for you and me—it has our names on it–this all-sufficient grace that turns our weakness, which has our names on it too, into God’s power, that made us in his image and remakes us into the image of Christ.

—Allen Thompson

Benediction

Isaiah 60:1-2

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will be seen upon you.

Go in peace.

Amen.

(ESV, adapted for liturgical use)

Detail of painting of Jesus stepping out of an open stone sepulcher, surrounded by light and flames of glory, making a sign of blessing and bearing a banner emblazoned with a red cross.
Detail of The Resurrection by Italian painter Andrea Mangega (1431-5016) in 1457-59. Oil on canvas. Musée des beaux-arts de Tours.
Jesus steps from a stone sepulcher in a blaze of glory, while soldiers lie dazed on the ground around the tomb.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

More Quotes: Easter Sunday

More Illustrations:

Easter Sunday

Eunice (“Junior”) McGarrahan

Eunice McGarrahan

Eunice (“Junior”) McGarrahan is Teaching Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs. She has served as an Associate for Theology in the Office of Theology and Worship (PCUSA), as associate pastor at The National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, as well as other churches in Virginia and Kentucky. After thirty years of youth ministry, Junior went to Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary where she received her M. Div. And Th.M. She received her Doctor of Ministry degree from University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, writing on the Eucharistic theology of the Heidelberg Catechism. She is married and the McGarrahans have one son who lives and works in the DC area.