Ευαγγελιον (The World Changing Good News)

Mark 16:1-8

            In the movie version of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, the three main characters are the children Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire. In the beginning of the story, we learn that the Baudelaire’s parents were killed in a mysterious fire, which also burned down their mansion. The children are bequeathed to a “close” cousin, Count Olaf. Now this Count Olaf is a bad dude. His only real interest in the children is the massive fortune that Violet is supposed to inherit when she turns 18. However, Olaf learns he won’t inherit the money and starts treating the children horribly and begins to devise a plan to kill them. Fair warning: this is a really dark movie. For a “family” movie, it has a lot of bad things happen

And now that I’ve laid out the beginning of the movie for you, I think it’s only fair that I tell you that I am going to be giving away most of the major plot lines of this movie. However, I won’t be telling you everything that happens, so please do see this amazing movie if you haven’t already.

After the first attempt to off the children, in which Olaf leaves the siblings in a locked car on the train tracks, the state deems that Count Olaf is not fit to take care of the children anymore – while ignoring the blatant evidence of attempted murder and the whole thing is chalked up to bad parenting instead – the Baudelaire children are sent to an uncle who is a herpetologist, a snake scientist. And while this uncle is eccentric and wild, he’s extremely kind and just overjoyed to be the new charge of the children. He tells them how much he loved their parents and how excited he is to have the children live with him. But despite this promising beginning, Olaf tracks the Baudelaire siblings down and kills off that uncle, blaming it on a snake. The children reveal Olaf’s plan, but he’s in a disguise, so the police and child welfare officer believe it’s someone else, not Count Olaf.

Next, the children go to an eccentric aunt who has several irrational fears. I mean, this woman is afraid of everything under the sun! She lives in a house that contains just about everything she’s afraid of, but she’s also terrified of realtors, so she won’t move away from her dangerous house! Count Olaf also finds the children here, again in disguise, and gains the trust of the aunt; only to leave her in the middle of a lake to be dispatched by a large swarm of bloodthirsty leeches – I told you, this movie is DARK! After this, the children are sent back to Count Olaf’s care, only to discover he’s developed another devious plan to gain access to the inheritance.

This time, Olaf, who believes he’s a good actor, develops a play in which the main characters will get married. He forces Violet into the role opposite of him, as the bride, and hires a real judge to play the fake judge and obtains a real marriage certificate for the marriage scene. Long story short, through much effort, the three children again spoil Olaf’s plans, and in doing so, find out that Olaf killed their parents!

But despite the success of ruining Olaf’s plans and not being killed or married off, there’s one looming plot line that continues to make itself present – the Baudelaire’s parents are dead. And time and time again, whenever there’s a glimpse of happiness for the children, or a reason to not be so glum, the depressing and staggering reality of what has happened is brought forth. Their parents are dead. Even in times when their hopes are lifted with their herpetologist uncle or paranoid aunt, they remember that their parents are no longer with them. Time and time again, the children are stuck in a world of seemingly hopeless despair. At the end of the movie, they are standing in their burnt out mansion and they are just broken. Here’s where that hopelessness hits the hardest, when they are left in the shell of a house that they called home with their parents. There is nothing left for them in this world. It is all gone.

Now the text that I chose for today is an Easter text. And in case you haven’t noticed, it’s July. I’m using a text that’s a little bit out of place in our liturgical calendar. But that’s OK. We need reminders throughout the year of what Easter really means.

To really get into where we are in this account in the Gospel of Mark, we need to understand that the hopelessness of the Baudelaire children is the same hopelessness in the real life of the disciples. Jesus has just been crucified. He was beaten, tortured, and nailed to a cross, left to die. The disciples saw their worlds shattered. The man they had been following for three years is dead and, as far as they know, everything they came to believe was all for nothing. Peter has denied three times. Judas is on the fast track to suicide. The women of this story see Jesus cry out to God, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” and take his last breath.

Jesus told them all what was going to happen. He said he had to die for the Scriptures to be fulfilled. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the person the disciples and women believed to be the Son of God, the Messiah of the Jewish tradition had been murdered by the very people He came to earth to try and save. Everything that they hoped and believed in has been dashed against the rocks. They are in a darkness and despair with which we cannot even begin to relate.

This is where we find the three women as they are headed to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with oils. Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome are heading to the tomb to do what is customary with a loved one’s body. There’s no joy in the long walk to the place where Jesus is buried. The worry about the stone in front of the tomb is most likely that awful small talk where you still have no idea how to deal with grief in a group setting. That is the modern-day equivalent of standing around in a funeral home and talking about the weather or how the Razorbacks will fare this coming Saturday. This is depressing because it indicates how the women still don’t know what’s going on or how they should be acting. It indicates how near and dear this grief is to them.

When they get to the tomb, the shock is not that the stone is already rolled away – that’s probably just confusing and weird, but maybe someone else had come to anoint Jesus. After all, Jesus was beloved by others besides them. The shocking part is walking into the tomb and seeing the young man sitting there, dressed in a white robe, and he seemed like he was expecting them! The way he talked to them was so frank and matter-of-fact, he was clearly waiting on someone to show up and discover him sitting in the tomb to tell of Jesus’ resurrection. “Do not be afraid; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified,” he says to them. “He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place that they laid him.”

This message, from this young man, this messenger from God, tells the women a few things. First, it says, “Hey there! Didn’t mean to scare you! Listen up! I have something to say! Something that’s really, really, really important!” Then, the young man confirms that they are in the right spot and this really hadn’t been a bad dream. “Jesus died,” he tells them, “but he is no longer here. You can see where they laid his body, but he is no longer here. He has been resurrected. Ladies, this is big news.”

Now, this doesn’t seem like a big deal if you just look at the surface language. The way it’s written in the Gospel of Mark has a “matter of fact” tone to it. But really think about what’s happening here. Jesus died. Jesus had been dead for three days! Then, this strange young man is sitting in the tomb and tells these three women that Jesus isn’t dead any more. He uses language that is explicit in its indication that Jesus had actually died and had actually been brought back from the dead. The combination of the man sitting in the tomb and delivering this message is so utterly mind-blowing that the women bolted from the tomb in terror and amazement! This is so extraordinary that these women were scared beyond words! It says right there in verse 8 that, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (It’s here that I should mention that verse 8 is the point where most Biblical scholars believe the original transcripts of Mark ended; that the additions you see in our Bibles today are added from later discoveries and probably weren’t written by the original author of Mark). For argument and brevity’s sake, we’ll just assume here that the terror was momentary and they did come to their senses and tell folks, probably including Peter, what happened after some time had passed.

But what does this message mean? Even if we take the added on verses of Mark, this resurrection story is the shortest of all of them. So what does the resurrection, as told to the three women by the young man, mean? In the language used by the young man, as I stated earlier, there was a clear indication that Jesus was brought back from death. This wasn’t something that was a simple healing; this was something that was divine. This news, this good news is world changing.

The three Baudelaire children are standing in their burnt out mansion, and as I mentioned before, they’re really feeling the despair here. This is where it is hitting the hardest of the whole movie. Their house is gone. Their parents are gone. Their lives are gone. But then… something amazing happens. Something shocking. Something great. Something confusing. Something world changing. The bell that indicates the mail has arrived rings and a letter, addressed to all of them, arrives in the mail. Klaus notes how it has postmarks from all over the world. It has stamps from England, Rome, Kenya, Iceland, and many more. This is the letter that was mentioned earlier in the movie that their parents had sent their children when they were off on an adventure in Europe. It was “The Letter that Never Came.”

The children open the letter and Violet reads it aloud:

“Dearest Children,

Since we’ve been abroad we’ve missed you all so much. Certain events have compelled us to extend our travels. One day, when you are older, you will learn all about the people we’ve befriended and the dangers we have faced. At times the world can seem like an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe us when we say that there is much more good in it than bad; all you have to do is look hard enough. And what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events may, in fact, be the first steps of a journey. We hope to have you back in our arms soon, darlings, but in case this letter arrives before our return, know that we love you. It fills us with pride to know no matter what happens in this life that you three will take care of each other with kindness and bravery and selflessness as you always have. And remember one thing my darlings and never forget it: that no matter where we are, as long as you have each other, you have your family and you are home.

Your Loving Parents.”

This letter to the children is the world changing good news. Just like the resurrection in Mark, it fills them with some hope, albeit very confusing hope. The women, just like the children, had no idea what to do when they found out about the resurrection, but they knew Jesus was no longer dead. The Baudelaire children have to figure out what to do now, because they are still essentially on their own. When the women leave the tomb, they are frightened and confused. They likewise have no idea where to go or what to do with the news they’ve received. But despite the confusion of the messages, there is hope. Despite the fact that all the characters just suffered a debilitating and devastating loss of loved ones, they are left with a message that death has not won. The violence and cruelty of the world does not reign supreme. Earthly horrors did not silence Jesus’ message and the message of the Baudelaire parents. Instead, they were messages that continue to live on in the characters of the story. They are messages that continue to live on through us.

That’s the world changing, good news. Hope lives on. The violence of this world does not win. Thanks be to God for that Good News.

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