Reasons to Celebrate

Scripture:  Mark 16:1-8

I do not know if you have ever sat through and watched the entirety of a movie’s credits, but they can be long.   It is not uncommon for credits to run upwards of ten minutes, especially if the film had a lot of special effects.   Given how hundreds of people are involved in the creation of the motion picture, I would think that the most of the major details had been ironed out before it got to the start of production, but that is not always the case.  For instance, the seventh Star Wars movie the force Awaken had a completely different ending filmed, and special effects added in, but it was removed from the movie before its release so that the ending better set up the release of the eighth Star Wars movie.  Other times movies were shown to test audiences, and the ending used was so unpopular that the director had to bring the actors back in to film a new ending, which is what happened with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.    Perhaps the most dramatic change is in The Shining.   The original ending of the movie was in a hospital and showed that the mother and child characters had survived and were going to be OK.  However, Stanley Kubrick decided this scene was unnecessary, and he decided at literally the last second because he had movie theater projectionists actually cut the scene out by hand and mail it back to the studio.   Tinkering with the ending is nothing new.  In 1686 Nahum Tate created a re-working of William Shakespeare’s King Lear to give it a happy ending, and for 150 years, Tate’s version was the only version performed on the stages of London.  We even find that kind of tinkering here, in the gospel of Mark.

If you followed along with the scripture reading in the pew bibles then you might have noticed that we actually did not go to the end of the chapter.  You might also have noticed that before verse nine there was a statement that “the earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9-20.”   This is because the oldest copies that have been uncovered of the gospel of Mark stop at verse eight.   Somewhere in the first couple of hundred years after Mark was written the ending got expanded.   It needs to be stated that does not mean that verses 9-20 were made up.  Likely these were part of the oral tradition of Jesus that was being passed down in the church.  To keep these stories of Jesus from being lost to the sands of time, and to “improve” the ending some unknown early church leader included verses 9-20.   By time the biblical canon was set,  there were not any objections to Mark and these verses, so by and large the church has always considered these additions to be inspired scripture.

This means though that as Mark wrote it, his gospel ends at verse 8.   It ends with “They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”   One thing to keep in mind is that the gospel accounts were not originally divided up in chapter and verse.   Originally they were not meant to be read in parts, but rather presented as a whole story-like a movie-from start to finish.   This means Mark intentionally chose to end with on a down note.   He chose to end with uncertainty and silence.     Like all of the gospels, Mark shares the good news of Jesus Christ.  It establishes his message, his miracles, and his claim to be the messiah.   The gospel of Mark is good news, so it ends with the women in silence to challenge the reader.   It challenges us to this day to confront the question, now that you have heard the good news, not that you know the story of Jesus, what are you going to do?

Mark challenges us to consider what we are going to do with the good news now that we know it.  Even though we are removed from the writing of the gospel by centuries, it is a question that is still worth considering.   Perhaps the best way to consider it is to ask ourselves, what do we normally do when we hear good news?   We celebrate!   We share it with everyone.  We hoot, we holler, we cheer.   If you want to see what celebrating looks like then watch the [Specific NCAA} game this afternoon, because I guarantee there will be a lot of cheering and celebrating for the winning team.  We tend not to celebrate the good news of an empty tomb with the same gusto that we celebrate a college team winning any game played with a ball.  When we say “Christ the Lord is risen” we do not go bananas the way we would if we saw a 3-point buzzer beater win the game.  The idea of celebrating Jesus with that much cheering, usually does not occur to us.    If our team wins a big game, we do not hesitate to talk about it to others, and ask “Did you happen to see the game?”, but for many the idea of starting a conversation about the eternal life Jesus brings is a terrifying proposition.   In this morning’s scripture, the women who come to the tomb are confronted with the best good news in the history of the world, and they do not celebrate.  They do not share it.   Perhaps the uncomfortable truth is that today, we are not really that much different.   Perhaps the reason we are not quick to share and celebrate the good news of Jesus is the same reason the women are silent in the gospel of Mark.

Celebration by its nature is an outburst.  We celebrate when an overwhelming joy escapes us and overtakes us.   Celebration is an outburst of joy.   If we are not celebrating the good news of the empty tomb, perhaps it is because something is happening to the joy we should be experiencing.  The story goes that a young boy had a stuffed bear that he loved very much.  Since before he could walk this boy had the bear with him everywhere he went.   As the boy got reached the age of 6, his parents were a bit concerned that he may be getting to old for such a toy, but at the same time knew how much joy it brought their son and they did not see any real issue with it.  One day, the boy was sitting on the porch playing with his bear while the mom was inside on the phone.   When the mom finished her phone call, she went back outside to discover her son crying quietly and the stuffed bear missing.   She asked “What happened?”   The boy motioned to the neighbor boy, a few years older walking away, and said “he took it away.”   Getting angry the mom asked “He took your bear?”     “No”, the boy replied and motioned to the bush where the stuffed bear had been discarded into.   “He laughed at me and told me that only little babies played with stuffed animals.  He made fun of me.”  The boy wailed as he continued, “he took my joy away! “

On that first Easter morning, the women who came to the tomb allowed the Romans, and the religious leaders who crucified Jesus to take their joy away.  That was the point of crucifixion after all.  It was intentionally designed to be a horrible way to die.  People were displayed on a cross to suffer as a way to use fear to keep other people in line.   So perhaps the women had good reason to be afraid, but they allowed the intentional fear of the Roman state steal their joy and prevent them from celebrating the risen Lord.

That leaves me to wonder what is stealing our joy away, because something is.   A 2023 Lifeway research study reported that 69% of protestant pastors “believe there is a growing sense of fear within their congregations about the future of the nation and world.”   This sense of fear about the future is greater among Christians than it is among the general population.  Perhaps the most troubling statistic from the survey is that it broke down the reported level of fear by denomination and the most fearful denomination were Methodists at 74%.   Friends, we are letting something steal our joy.   Like the women of this morning’s scripture, we are letting fear and outside influences scare us into silence and sit on the good news we have to share.

Perhaps we need to be reminded of what the good news is and we need to be reminded of the reasons why we should have joy.  The good news is that God so loved the world that he sent his only son so that all who believe in him will not perish but have eternal life.   The good news is that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.  This proves God’s love, and in the name of Jesus Christ we are forgiven.   By the blood of the lamb, we are saved.   Jesus has fully satisfied the penalty and fully defeated sin.   More than that, Jesus has defeated death.   The grave has lost its sting.  Because of Jesus we can live forever, reconciled with our Creator forever and ever in a world without end.   We are reunited with God and surrounded by his great love.   We need to celebrate that there is nothing (absolutely, positively NOTHING) that can separate us from that love.    My siblings in Christ, this is good news.  This is reason to celebrate.   This is a reason to be filled with joy.  That joy should be bursting out of us.   We should be celebrating because Christ the Lord is risen today!

Fear should not be a companion to our faith.   74% do not need to have a sense of fear about the future.  I know that our culture is moving towards becoming post-Christian.  Even though there are more people who do not identify with any religious tradition than ever before, the tomb is still empty.   I know that the world is changing and has changed.  Things feel different than they did twenty, thirty, or forty years ago.   I know that change can be scary, but no matter how much things change-one thing stays the same:  The tomb is still empty.  I know that we are in an election year and a lot of people have a lot of big feelings about that.  A lot of voices are trying to stoke fear around that, but it does not even matter who sits in the white house because the tomb sits empty.   We do not need to be fearful and worry about the future, because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.   He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.   No matter what happens, the tomb is empty.

We should not let fear of tomorrow, steal our joy.   However, even if we do not there is so much else that can deplete joy, which can make it hard to celebrate.   We get pulled down by financial difficulties, we get pulled down by broken relationship, and we get pulled down by a bleak medical diagnosis.   We need joy.   On Easter we celebrate the empty tomb, our ultimate reason for joy, but every Sunday is supposed to be a “little Easter”.   One of the main reasons why should gather for worship every other week of the year is because we need to be regularly reminded of our reasons for joy.  We need to regularly be reminded that Christ, not death, is victorious, and that the grave has lost its sting.   We need to be reminded that no matter how hard life gets, we have a reason to celebrate, and we have a reason for joy.    In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes about celebration that “celebration can be an effective antidote for the temporary sense of sadness that can constrict and oppress the heart.”   When we take time to celebrate the fact that God loves us so much that he paid the ultimate price to redeem us, how can we not feel joy.   When we celebrate it puts everything in perspective.   Even though we may be walking through the valley of darkness, celebrating reminds us, that there is a Light of the World that no amount of darkness can snuff out.   We are reminded that no matter how hard the difficulty, no matter how bleak the outlook, no matter how hopeless we may feel we always, always have a reason to find joy.   That is this:   God loves us and he proved this love through Jesus his son, the risen Lord.

In Philippians 4:4 Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!”   As Christ followers, as an Easter people, may we be joyful.  May we have reasons to celebrate.   May we not let people, the culture, or our circumstances take our joy away.  Instead, may we choose to celebrate.   May we celebrate the gospel, and may that outpouring of joy flood all aspects of our lives.  So may we not be silent.  May we not keep the good news to ourselves.   May we proclaim our truth as an Easter people may we proclaim the good news whenever and wherever we go:  The tomb is empty and Jesus is risen!





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