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Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson
Title of sermon: An Unexpected Ending
Readings: Psalm 98, Daniel 6.6-23, Mark 15:46-16.8
Date/time/service: Sunday 15 May 2022, 4pm, Choral Evensong
Last night, as you settled down to watch the Eurovision Song contest, perhaps you were expecting the usual ‘nil points’ for the United Kingdom, or perhaps you were expecting political voting to hold sway, as I believe it occasionally does- so what on earth happened!? Ukraine won and we came second- our best result since 1998! The narrative we have been so used to, was happily and miraculously subverted by a spirit of generosity across Europe! It’s almost as if a new chapter has been opened in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest. Isn’t it wonderful, when things don’t turn out as you have come to expect?
The acknowledged ending of Mark’s Gospel, which we have heard read this evening, suggests that after being told by an Angel that Jesus was risen from the dead, the women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, fled from the tomb in terror and amazement, and said nothing to anyone. For they were afraid. We are left wondering what happens next. We are left with a closing down of the story. It’s over. The tomb is empty, the women flee in fear. Is this the end? According to the Gospel of Mark it seems so.
The Gospel writer is though deploying a dramatic device to cause the reader to question where this story really ends, because as we read and hear this story again, two thousand years later, we suddenly realise that of course, the story did not end with the women fleeing in fear and remaining silent…our very presence in this place today, suggests that the women may have fled in fear, but very soon afterwards they shared with others what they had seen and heard, they had good news to proclaim and they did just that.
Mark is actually telling us that the story continued, and you are only reading this story, or hearing this story, because it did not quite end in the way that is implied. What actually happened, beyond the written words on the page, is a story of the risen Christ subverting the ending that the world expected, subverting the ending we have been given. Death was not the end of this story- there was more to come, another chapter. This story did not end in silence, it ended in song.
A similar subversion of an expected narrative happens in the Book of Daniel, Daniel is thrown to the lions for praying to God, and is miraculously left unharmed, because an Angel commands the lion to shut its mouth leaving Daniel unscathed. These are unexpected and curious turns of event. Daniel too- through his faith in God, subverts the expected gory ending of the narrative. His story had more to give. He had more to say. This kind of narrative turn is one we experience throughout salvation history. There is an apparently inevitable outcome, but God subverts our human expectations. All seems lost, but instead things start again, or new life finds a way through. The lost are found, the broken are healed, the outcast is restored, the last are first, the dead come back to life.
In the mighty anthem we have just heard- (For Lo, I raise up by Charles Villiers Stanford) a violent and corrupt people are ravaging through the Land and terror is all around, but God promises that a new world will be born, even if it seems a distant dream. ‘Be patient and wait for it’, God says, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. The anthem begins with loud drama, but it ends, perhaps unexpectedly, with the soft sound of peace. The Magnificat, which we know so well in this service, is also a narrative of subversion: the rich and powerful are knocked down from their pedestals and the poor and lowly are raised up. This is not the ending we might be expecting in a world driven by power, wealth and status.
In our own histories, we might often feel trapped by the endings that are imposed upon us, watching things unfold just as they always do, the same old, same old, imprisoned by the dictated narratives which keep being rolled out again and again. But we learn through Christ, that it does not have to be this way. The biggest narrative turn in scripture is probably spoken by that anonymous young man, dressed in white. ‘Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here’.
No longer can we predict the outcome, no longer need we be trapped by the usual endings that others may have imposed upon us, or the narratives we are predicted to inhabit, because the Lord himself, through the power of the resurrection gives us the possibility of a new ending and a different future.
The same Lord, from whom all good things come, gives us all the possibility of an unexpected ending and a new start. We all have more to do, more to say. The story of Christ – the good news we have been given, is a story of a birth in a stable, the story of a love given for all people, the story of trampling down death with the joy of new life.
We are invited to be part of this story, to live out this story, and to keep proclaiming it over and above the narrative frameworks which the world tries to impose upon us.
He has been raised. Alleluia.
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