April 12, 2009

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie

Mark 16:1-8
Acts 10:34-43
1 Corinthians 15:1-11

If you open up a bible to the end of the Gospel of Mark, you will find that its ending is unclear. The earliest manuscripts finish with chapter 16, verse 8: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

But our Gospel translations have two added endings. The shorter one simply adds these words: “And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”

The longer ending goes on for eleven more verses in which Jesus appears to Mary, then to two disciples, and then he appears to the eleven disciples and commissions them to proclaim the good news to the whole creation. Finally, he ascends into heaven, and the narrator assures the readers that the disciples did indeed go out to proclaim the good news everywhere.

These extra endings are not believed to be from the original manuscripts of the Gospel, but they were added by editors in the late 2nd or early 3rd centuries. They incorporate incidents and ideas from the other Gospels and from the book of Acts. And more importantly, they change failure into success to end the Gospel on a positive note.

There’s no question of what happened, they assure us, the women went out and told what they had seen and heard. Jesus appeared to many of his followers, and the good news began to spread throughout the world. Despite their confusion, and despite their fear, we know that the women did go and tell. Despite the fact that they could not yet understand what they had seen, that they still had questions and concerns and worries, they must have said something to someone. As the shorter ending puts it, they must have at least told the news briefly to those around Peter.

And that telling made all the difference… I’m sure that it must have made a difference to those women, who first spoke the words carefully and tentatively:
Christ is risen?… He is risen indeed? In time, as their faith grew and as their confidence strengthened, they must have started to proclaim it more loudly with sure and certain hope: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Remembering those women this morning, and imagining their journeys in relationship with Jesus and all the decisions that they made along the way, makes me think about my own journey of faith and the events and experiences and decisions that have brought me to this time and place today.

I remember happy experiences in a loving family and a welcoming church where I felt at home. I remember church camping and learning to speak about my faith as a teenager. I think of the fact that I decided to attend church every Sunday when I was fairly young… probably mostly because I enjoyed singing in the choir, but I was there, and I loved being there.

I remember other decisions as well… to reject the kind of Christianity where everything is black-or-white, and where most people are judged and excluded. And of course, the decision first to make my life about following the way of Jesus, and then to answer the call to a ministry of Word and Sacraments in the church.

My life so far, and yours, has included many, many decisions: To answer a call, to take a job, to begin a relationship, to be faithful to a friend, to move to a new place, to participate in a community, to commit to love another person, to try something new and scary, to bring a life into the world, to put someone else first, to love a neighbour as we love ourselves, to love God, to follow Jesus.

Today is a good day to give thanks to God for all the events and experiences and decisions that have shaped our lives to this day. As eight individuals in our church community come forward today to profess their faith and become members of the church, we give thanks to God for all the things that have shaped their lives to this day. We give thanks for God’s presence with them on their journeys thus far, and for the Spirit’s guidance in their lives and their decisions.

We pause for a moment to give thanks for all the people that have been part of their (& our) journeys of faith… people like the women at the tomb, who went to tell what they had seen and heard… people like Peter who preached the good news about Jesus to Jews and Gentiles and people from every nation… people like Paul who handed on what he had been told and what he had come to believe.

And we remember and give thanks for people like our parents or our grandparents who taught us about Jesus and showed us God’s love, for our church school teachers and ministers who proclaimed the good news of the Gospel and helped us to understand, for the people who shared their faith with us, for the people who prayed for us, for the people who have been our older sisters and brothers in the family of God.

But what we are doing today is not simply an exercise in looking back at the journey and being thankful. Easter is a traditional time in the church for baptisms and professions of faith because it is a time for new beginnings. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! And Jesus’ resurrection means new life and hope for us as well.

Some today will be publicly professing their faith for the first time, so this really is a beginning. It is the beginning of a new adventure with God. Others will be re-affirming the faith that they have professed already in another Christian community. But this is still a new beginning for them. It’s the beginning of a new commitment to be a member of this particular community of faith… to be partners together with us in living out and sharing the good news of God with the world.

What happens here today, when eight people come forward to profess their faith, and when a congregation stands to profess our faith together once again… what happens is not just something that happens for a moment. It is a decision that is made… a decision in response to God’s amazing love for us. It is a step out in faith, despite unanswered questions, and despite fear about where this path may lead us.

But we do it in faith, trusting that God will journey with us, asking God to teach us by the Word, relying on God to feed us with the Bread of Life & the Cup of Salvation, and praying that God will guide us by the Holy Spirit, as together we walk the path that Jesus has marked out for us.

We don’t yet know the end of the story. But we know that it will not end with us being confused and shaking all over. It will not end with us being too scared to tell anyone what we have seen and heard. No, we will open our mouths together, to profess that we believe, until we have shared the good news with the whole world. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!