I am going to repeat the last line of the Gospel reading we just heard, which is the very last line of the Gospel of Mark in the earliest manuscripts. The women “went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The end.
That is an unsettling way to conclude a Gospel! Last week our Contemplative Prayer Group used this passage for our reading. We read it through, sat in silence for a minute, and then shared our first reactions. We read it through a second time, waited another minute, and again shared our reactions. We read it through a third time, waited yet another minute, and shared our reactions once again.
Here’s what I took away from that exercise. This really is an unsettling ending for a Gospel, and it just gets more unsettling the longer you think about it. What was Mark thinking?
Mark knew the story did not, in fact, end with the women saying nothing. Mark knew that our risen Lord appeared to the women, that Christ blessed them and sent them off to proclaim the good news. Mark knew that the women eventually told others what they had heard and seen. Mark knew that the story kept going. So why not tell that part of the story, the Easter part of the story?
We get a clue to this “ending” in the very first verse of Mark’s Gospel, which is like a title: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Mark didn’t set out to write the complete story of Jesus Christ. Mark just gives us the beginning of the story, the story of Jesus’ public ministry through the crucifixion. Mark didn’t end the story because the story of Jesus Christ the Son of God hadn’t ended.
So Mark leaves it to others to tell the next chapter in the story. And that’s what the Apostle Paul does in our reading from Corinthians. Paul tells us our risen Lord appeared to a whole series of people in that first generation of disciples: to Peter, to the apostles, to a group of 500, to James, and then to the apostles again. “Last of all,” Paul adds, “as to one untimely born, Christ appeared also to me.”
Thankfully, that’s still not the end of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. After Paul, the next generation of Christians encountered the resurrected Christ in their own way. They added their own chapter to the unfolding Christian story.
So did every generation between now and then.
And now it’s our turn. It’s our turn to add our own chapter to the story of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It’s our turn to encounter the risen Lord as He appears to us.
We get a little glimpse of Christ every time we see new life emerging around us. That’s easy these days. It’s especially easy if you happen to be married to Carrie. She is on Spring, and she makes sure I don’t miss it, which I might otherwise do.
For us, the first sign of new life every year is the running of sap, followed shortly thereafter by the opening of Sugar Shacks. We had to be careful this year, of course. But Carrie wasn’t going to let a little thing like a global pandemic prevent us from enjoying pancakes with fresh maple syrup.
(I should add, because there always seems to be some confusion on this important point, that pancakes with syrup are not a sweet. They are a breakfast food with a condiment. That’s not the same thing as a sweet. At least, that’s what I tell myself every Lent!)
Now flowers are beginning to bloom. So far at my house, we have one daffodil. I’ve always liked daffodils, but I appreciate them now more than ever because they were the flower of Saint David.
All around us Spring has sprung. And even if that’s not surprising, it happens every year, after all, Spring still feels a little bit miraculous to me. I associate all the new life of Spring with Christ and the resurrection. That means we can experience Christ’s presence in some new way virtually every time we go outside.
But here’s an Easter story that doesn’t happen every year. It comes, of all places, from the Northampton newspaper. Last week, the Gazette carried an article about the work of hospital chaplains caring for Covid patients. It featured a Congregational minister named Peggy Kelley.
Hospital chaplaincy is hard anytime. I did it for a few months on my way to getting ordained, and couldn’t handle more than about twenty hours a week. Hospital chaplaincy is a LOT harder during a pandemic, and many chaplains, including the Rev. Kelley, do it fulltime.
Chaplains need strength. So, before visiting patients, the Rev. Kelley prayed for God to be with her and to guide her as she tried to serve God’s people.
The covid patient she visited in the article was despondent, and understandably so. His prognosis wasn’t great, and he was quarantined from everyone he loves. He barely spoke to his nurse, other than to ask for a Catholic priest. What he got was a Protestant woman. Not a promising beginning.
But they prayed together. And Jesus showed up. The man began to cry. So did the Rev. Kelley. So did the man’s nurse, who was Jewish. A Catholic man facing death, a Protestant chaplain, and a Jewish nurse shared a moment of pain, but also a moment of intimacy and of hope.
The nurse described what that moment meant to her. “I was sad for him, but I was also like, ‘Please give me strength; I need all the help I can get.’” She added, “Wow, I actually felt God—that was crazy!”
I don’t know what will happen to the chaplain, the patient, or the nurse. But in that moment, our risen Lord was there.
Christ was there bringing together people who might otherwise have been separated by religious differences. Christ was there giving comfort and strength to people who needed help, all in their different ways. Christ was there in that holy moment offering new life in the face of death.
That’s Easter. That’s another chapter in the story of Jesus Christ the Son of God. The same Christ who appeared to the women at the tomb, and then to Peter and James and the 500 and the apostles, and later still to Paul even though he was untimely born, appeared to that patient and chaplain and nurse.
And the same Christ appears to us as we experience new life here and now.
Christ appears to us in the prospect of worshipping together in our sanctuary once again for the first time in over a year.
Christ appears to us in the family baptisms we’ll celebrate after the service each of the next three weeks.
And Christ is here, with us as we gather in person in his name for only the second time in several months, as we share the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, as we prepare for an Easter Egg Hunt, as we prepare for our first coffee hour in more than a year, and with no Lenten restrictions!!
The story of the Good News of Jesus Christ the Son of God keeps on going. That’s what Easter means. And we are blessed to be part of that story. We are blessed that, as to ones untimely born, Christ appears also to us.
And so I say, Thanks be to God! Alleluia, alleluia!!
 Faith Pinhop, “I actually felt God,” Daily Hampshire Gazette, March 27, 2021, C1.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan