The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evensong      15th May 2022
For they were afraid
Jeremy Fletcher

Mark 15. 46 – 16.8
In your Bible at home, have a look at the end of Mark’s Gospel. There are different endings, because the earliest versions of Mark’s Gospel end abruptly. It’s almost as if the writer was interrupted, or as if the only copy of the scroll got torn and the proper ending was lost. The sentence doesn’t even end grammatically, though English translations tidy it up a bit. The Greek really needs an ending: a comma and a completion. Think of Mark 16. 8 as having an ellipsis, those three dots, as the ending.
From early days people have tried to complete not just the sentence but also the story, as if it was an unfinished symphony. There’s a number of these alternative endings, of which two, a shorter and longer one, appear in many Bibles. They try and tidy up the reputation of the disciples, stilling their fears and showing them to move triumphantly forward in the power of the resurrection. The longer ending is the one which says Jesus’s followers will handle snakes and drink poison and not be affected. It’s all about not ending badly, and not giving in to fear, and you can understand it. 
Let’s say that the scroll was not torn, the writer was not interrupted. Let’s say that, in a brilliant literary device, Mark’s Gospel does end on a low note: that the two Marys and Salome are so amazed and terrified that they can’t speak, so overwhelmed were they that the overriding emotion was fear. Let’s say that early church does get the news, just as the other Gospels describe how it leaks out and takes time to sink in. It takes Thomas a week at least. 
Let’s say that this news doesn’t fill them with such confidence straight away that they change the world overnight, but have to hide for 50 days until the Spirit drives them out and gives them words to say. Let’s say that, even then, the early church does not conquer all, but finds itself attacked and persecuted, the disciples scattered. 
Let’s say that Mark’s Gospel is compiled during a time where the Holy Land is under violent attack and occupation, such that the place where the passion, death and resurrection of Christ took place were eventually razed to the ground, and it was hard to bear the name of Christ. 
In all of this, the early church does not crumble. Marks Gospel makes clear that the twelve, the closest disciples, are just useless at catching on, and this is one more example. It’s not an auspicious beginning for anything. 
The early encouragements to grow in faith are written by Paul when he has the time to do so because he is incarcerated. John the Evangelist is sent into exile. Paul’s companions share with him in being attacked, whipped, beaten up and imprisoned. This is not the stuff of handling snakes and all powerful miracles. It’s not the stuff of carrying all before them. This is hard work on stony ground. Perhaps they might have felt they didn’t want to say anything to anyone, for they were afraid. Perhaps many early Christians were right there with Mark 16.8.
And yet, the resurrection, they knew, was true. Despite their fear, despite everything they knew about life being turned upside down so they didn’t know what to believe any more, despite living under the threat of being turned in to both Jewish and Roam authorities, despite being scattered far from home, despite the martyrdom of their first leaders, despite all this they knew the resurrection was true, and its story had to be told. 
Some Easters the sun shines and the world is good and the resurrection seems to flow through everything. Some Easters life is hard, and there is threat all around. Sometimes we can pray and speak confidently about the Good News of God in Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Some times we have to speak and live con fide, with faith, because it’s all too hard, and faith is all we have. There don’t seem to be any of the powerful signs the alternative endings of Mark talk about. 
There is so much we don’t know, and rightly fear. At the point when the world was given the knowledge of the life of God in all its fullness through a resurrection which conquered death once and for all, the overriding response was to be afraid, and yet to make the story known somehow. Can you imagine the Mary’s and Salome saying later: “do you know, I couldn’t say anything. It was all too much”. They clearly did say something at some point, because we know now. 
“For they were afraid”. In Greek it’s ephobounto gar. That’s not a denial of resurrection. It’s an acknowledgement that the resurrection doesn’t cure every wrong straight away. Indeed, to speak of it can get us into more trouble. It is not a denial of faith to recognise the overwhelming nature of the times, and our understandable fear, and the world altering message that God is in this in such intimacy that ultimately death will be no more, and suffering and crying and pain and mourning will be no more. 
In these times, acknowledging the fear, and knowing our minds will not compute the resurrection fully until we too are raised in glory, may we see, and believe, and be amazed, and know, and may the story, even despite us, get out there anyway. Alleluia, Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia. 

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