Mark’s gospel begins at chapter 1, verse 1, with these words: “The beginning of the Good News”. It ends with some confusion, no matter how you slice it. Later manuscripts add an alternative ending, in an effort to wrap up Mark’s version of the story in a more consistent and maybe more satisfying way, but all of the earliest texts end at the same place our gospel passage ends today: the women disciples who have gone to his tomb, finding an angel instead of Jesus’ body…fail. They fail at the task the angel gives them. They run away in terror and amazement, they don’t say anything to anyone about their discovery. There’s no account at all here of the resurrected Christ appearing to anyone, no story about the friends meeting him at Galilee as he promised. It just…ends. The beginning of the Good News ends, with terror and amazement and confusion.
So on this day, with our fanfare of music and alleluias and choir and flowers and feasting and an egg hunt: on this day of resurrection, the gospel text we have here is actually pretty…discouraging.
The three women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, walk at dawn to the tomb with spices and oil. They plan to bathe and anoint and re-enfold his body in the shroud, and then, finally, to leave him again, this time for good.
I have to wonder how far they’ve gotten on their journey before one of the three raises what seems like a pretty obvious question: How is this actually going to work?! After all, the women watched on Friday, as his body was laid in the tomb they now walk toward, they watched strong men roll a stone into place blocking the entrance. They know they can’t move it on their own. But however far they’ve gotten at the point when this question comes up, they keep going. Nobody turns back to find a strong male disciple to make this effort possible. Nobody recruits someone along the way as the sun breaks the horizon.
As it happens, their question doesn’t matter after all. Because when they get there, they find the stone already moved. Instead of Jesus’ body, they find a stranger dressed in a white robe. This unexpected stranger appearing at an unanticipated time before these unprepared women says what strangers dressed in white robes tend to say in Scripture: “Do not be afraid.”
But they are afraid.
And so, instead of going to tell the others that Jesus has been raised and that he calls them to meet him in Galilee, just as Jesus promised he would, just as the stranger has commissioned these women disciples to do, Mark’s gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome run away. They don’t say anything to anyone.
The beginning of the Good News…
…and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
I will confess in this moment to writing several completely different versions of this sermon in the past week and a half. You’re getting the third effort, here, born yesterday morning of my own frustration at the disparity between the celebration of this day and, honestly, a certain disappointment with the gospel text. (Really? These women who followed Jesus, who took care of him and the disciples, who probably funded their ministry along the way, who stuck around when everybody else ran off, who saw him die, and who watched him laid in the tomb…Really? They said nothing at all? To anyone?)
And so, I honed my skills of avoidance and procrastination over these last days. There has been plenty to do: preparation for worship, a dog that needs walking, bags to pack (even dishes to wash, revealing my deep commitment to procrastinating, to avoiding)…and in the midst of it all, there was a certain new show I found on Netflix.
Perhaps you have heard of the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, Senior Prophet and CEO of Savior Rick’s Spooky Church of the Scary Apocalypse, also known to Yelp users in Indiana as Dernsville’s worst wedding deejay. The Reverend (in this show) is the wicked character who kidnapped four women. He keeps those four women, unfortunately termed in national media coverage as the Indiana Mole Women, keeps them hidden away for more than a decade in an underground bunker.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the show’s title character, is one of those Mole Women. In an interview with Matt Lauer (whom she keeps calling Bryant, because – fifteen years ago…) Kimmy tells the world: “Reverend Richard told us there was a nuke-ya-ler apocalypse, and everything was destroyed, and the earth was scorched, and there were lakes of fire and stuff…”
But all that is just the beginning of what happens. There’s the neighbor’s response to the Mole Women’s discovery: “Unbreakable!” he says. “They’re alive! It’s a miracle! Females are strong as hell,” which gets remixed into a song that goes viral as an internet phenomenon (it serves as the theme song for the show; I defy you to listen to it and not sing it in your head for at least the rest of the day). There’s Kimmy’s landlord, played by Carol Kane, who places an ad for her “garden maisonette” apartment…without exactly telling the man who will be Kimmy’s roommate first. And there’s Kimmy’s roommate, Titus Andromedon (not his real name, surprising no one), who has a sketchy record of repeatedly doomed auditions for the Lion King on Broadway.
And all of that – all of it! – is only the beginning. It’s messy, and it’s funny (Tina Fey writes and produces the show, so there’s that), and everyone fails. It’s comedy, but it’s comedy about something devastating. And there is no pretense about the devastation of all that has been lost, of everything that deserves to be grieved.
The beginning of the Good News, Mark’s gospel begins. It’s all and only the beginning. And what if resurrection is less about definitive statement and doctrine, and more about an invitation – to live? What if that is our role in the resurrection, to continue it from that crazy abrupt and unsatisfying ending, to give it shape and substance and life and story with the substance of our own lives, in the shape of our own stories? That sounds more satisfying to me than another eleven verses added on to Mark’s gospel to wrap it up neatly, force it to bear more semblance to the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Those three women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome – those “ascribed custodians of the crucifixion” had to have continued their own stories beyond this gospel account. They never left him in his life, and they return, however imperfectly, in his death. They’re confused and afraid at the beginning of the Good News of his resurrection – but remember, this is only the beginning. There’s more. There has to be more. In the words of the Mole Women’s neighbor: “It’s a miracle! Females are strong as hell.” These women have already mustered the “grit that allows human life to keep going” in moments of violence, in the face of death. They walk together on that morning at dawn, “traumatized, determined women (who stand) as witnesses to God’s truth.” How could they do anything other than persist, by God’s grace, even in this frightening and confusing moment? How could they finally do anything other than accept God’s invitation to new life?
One of the very first scenes of the show in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has a SWAT team member taking Kimmy by the hand. He leads her up out of the underground trailer that has served as the women’s bunker in captivity, and he brings Kimmy out into the world she had been told was “scorched by nuke-ya-ler apocalypse, with lakes of fire, and stuff.”
“It’s here,” she says, as she looks around at the blue sky and the fields and the people. “It’s all still here!”
And that is just the beginning of the Good News.
 Serene Jones. “Mark 16:1-8, Theological Perspective” Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. 354.
 Ibid. 354.
 Ibid. 356.