Sunday, March 27, 2016

"It Gets Better...It Gets Better"

I love my pastor friend Jim. He is so full of funny stories. There's not a Wednesday morning clergy breakfast that passes by without Jim lifting our spirits with some funny story of some unusual thing that happened to him. If you listen to Jim's stories long enough, you might think that he has more weird experiences than anyone in the world. But I don't think that's the case. I think he has mostly normal experiences like the rest of us, with a few unusual things mixed in. But it is his weird attitude and perspective, rather than the actual experiences, that makes everything seem comical. Jim can take an everyday occurrence and make something special out if it. He can take an unusual experiences and make a stand-up comedy routine. His catch phrase, as he rubs his hands together in delight is, "It gets better... It gets better!"

Mark's gospel is the same way, when the writer gives the narrative of Jesus' victory over death. Now, the resurrection of Jesus was far from an everyday occurrence. Jesus had resuscitated people as a regular part of His miraculous ministry, but resuscitation and resurrection are very different things. Resuscitation is breathing life into an inert body, restarting the heart, getting the blood pumping again. As remarkable as that is, with modern medicine, it's also commonplace to us. Resurrection is something entirely different. Resurrection is not just reanimation. It's transformation. It's the energy of God so filling a dead person that they are completely changed into a glorified and eternal form. This is what happened on Easter Sunday. It was as if God was taking the disciples' despair and saying, "It gets gets better!"

This is what God does in the dark places of our lives. When death seems to rule and destruction tries to reign, God speaks life to our souls and whispers, "It gets gets better!" Just as God through Jesus brings life out of death, so the Lord speaks rejuvenation to those tomb-like spaces in our lives, whispering reassurance and resurrection. Yet, sometimes, even when God works a miracle of renewal in our hearts, we don't even know what to do with it. Like the disciples in Mark 16:8, we experience a miracle and then, instead of beginning to operate in a new way, we run and hide, overwhelmed and afraid. This is when God, like my friend Jim, leans in and repeats, "It gets better, it gets better!"

Originally The Book of Mark ended with verse 8 (NLT): "The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened." Although true, this story lacked a good ending. It didn't have the punch that Jim's stories have, much less the impact that the first gospel ever written ought to have. So later writers came behind Mark and added a longer ending, one that proclaims that it gets better than running away and hiding in fear. The second ending of the book of Mark (v. 8b, NLT) reads:  "Then they briefly reported all this to Peter and his companions. Afterward Jesus himself sent them out from east to west with the sacred and unfailing message of salvation that gives eternal life. Amen."

Of course, this is a better ending than the first. It ends with obedient disciples rather than fearful ones. But still it lacks any true resurrection appearances of the Lord. So a third, more lengthy, ending was later added to the Gospel of Mark. Verses 9-20 describe Jesus appearing to Mary Magdelene, and again to the two disciples walking in the country. Finally he appears to the eleven disciples, upbraids them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, but then commissions them to go out and preach the good news. The book ends with the Ascension, and the disciples obediently doing what Jesus commands. "See--it gets better, it gets better!"

Sometimes your life doesn't go the way you want. The story of your life falls short of what it ought to be. The good news for you is that your tale isn't done yet. There's still time to write a different ending. God's message for you is one of resurrection and not defeat. The message of Easter is one of ultimate victory, and the reassurance that "it gets better, it gets better!"

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