United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“The End of the Story”

 March 31, 2024

 Rev. Rebecca Migliore


        I’m sure that some of you got to the end of our Scripture reading and thought—that’s it?  That’s the end of the story?  Where are the appearances of the resurrected Jesus?  Where is the joy at seeing him again?  Where is the energy that pushed the early Christian church to go to Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth?  Where is the Easter message that I expected?

        Maybe nowhere is the voice of the different gospels so apparent as at this juncture—the end of the story.  And what you heard me read is probably the ending that the writer of Mark intended.  Before someone decided that you couldn’t end the gospel there (and added a few more verses to make it more “acceptable.”)

        But I have always liked this open ending to the story.  It makes its point.  The story is now in your hands.  What will you do with it?  Will you be like some, terrified and saying nothing to anyone?  Will you keep it safe, like a precious jewel that only you can enjoy?  Or will you be propelled into a new way, a new life, wanting and working for a new world?

        I once had a friend tell me that before she read a book, she would always turn to the last few pages and read them—to see if she wanted to spend the effort to read the rest!  No, no, no, I thought.  That is part of the experience—not to know how it will all work out.  In some books, the reveal at the end is shocking, or unfulfilling, or satisfying.  For example, I just finished reading James McBride’s “The Heaven and Earth Grocery Story.”  It starts with a mystery—bones are found in an old well.  The police are called in, but then hurricane Agnes obliterates the scene, washing away all evidence.

      The rest of the book you spend wondering, who was in the well? and how did they get there?  It takes until the last few pages of the book to figure out--who and why and how.

        The writer of Mark has pushed us, pell-mell towards this conclusion.  We have been going breathlessly, immediately, from one story to another, from one place to another, from one encounter with Jesus and his ministry to another.  And we arrive, gasping, at the empty tomb.  And it leaves us only with more questions.

        But doesn’t it seem so like our own experience?  Not many of us, 2000 years later, get to hear angels telling us the news “He is Risen!”; Not many of us get to see Jesus in his resurrected form; Not many of us get to sit down to dinner with him; Not many of us get to embrace the one we thought we had lost.  We are more like Thomas, the one who missed out on the reunion, and we want to see proof! (a Scripture we will explore next Sunday).  We are more like the women in this story, unsure of what to make of it all.

Maybe Mark envisioned this ending with us in mind.  Maybe this writer began to imagine that in years to come, there would be those who grappled with how you make sense of something that is so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable.  In Mark’s gospel we are not reading about what others got to see and feel and know about resurrection.  We are right there with the rest, at what we thought would be the end of the story, and what we find is that it is only another beginning.

Here is one of the things I love about preaching.  In trying to research and tease out the meaning for us today of a particular passage, I learn new things.  Things that might give a deeper layer to my understanding.  Let me share one of those things I learned this week from Audrey West at Working Preacher.  It is based on a Greek phrase: “opiso mou.”  It could be translated, follow me, but the raw translation is to come or go “after me” or “behind me.”  And it appears in Mark at various places.



Jesus calls the disciples at the very beginning of Mark to opiso mou—Follow me.  And they left their nets and their boats and their lives and did just that. 

Opiso mou occurs at what is considered the dead center of Mark, the crucial scene—when Jesus asks not just “Who do people say that I am?” but “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter makes the bold claim, “You are the Messiah!”  But when Jesus begins to teach them about what Messiah might mean, being rejected, being killed, rising again—Peter tries to “rebuke” Jesus, because who wants to hear that!  And Jesus responds “opiso mou Satan” or get behind me Satan.

And just after that, when Jesus is explaining why he snapped at Peter he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (opiso mou).

And here at the end of the gospel, the young man who is in the tomb, dressed in white, tells the women that Jesus is risen. He is not here.  Go, tell the disciples and Peter that he is “going ahead” of you—opiso mou.

Follow me.  Get behind me.  Going ahead of you.  Are all translations of that same phrase “opiso mou.”  If we think about it, it does make sense.  I mean if we are following Jesus, he is ahead and we are behind.  And when Peter tries to rewrite the story of what Messiah means, Jesus steps forward and says, let me lead, you should follow—I’ll go ahead, you come behind.  And when Jesus talks about what we as disciples are to do, what it might mean to take up our own crosses, there is that phrase again—follow my lead, I’ve gone ahead, you come after me.

So when we get to this odd ending, when the young man says Jesus has gone ahead—I think we are supposed to strike our heads and say, “Of course.  That is always what Jesus does.  Jesus takes the lead, and we follow.”  Opiso mou.

 Did you notice that when the message is given to the women, the young man says, “go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee.  There you will see him, just as he told you.” 

The disciples and Peter?  Isn’t Peter a disciple?  Was Peter singled out because of his denial?  Was Peter singled out because he had been the one first willing to say who Jesus was?  Or was that young man (and Mark who is telling the story) very subtly reminding the women, and us, the readers, the hearers, what Peter would certainly remember “opiso mou”—the words that Jesus had hurled at him!  Get behind me.  You come after me.  I go ahead of you.

And what did Jesus attach to those words?  The images of the road the Messiah might have to travel—being rejected, being killed, rising again.  Yes, Jesus had been ahead of us, once again.    The question is—what do we do with the story that has been told us.

I think opiso mou is a great phrase to hold onto.  In some ways it is the ancient version of “What would Jesus do?”  When we are living our lives, when we are faced with decisions, when we are struggling for answers—opiso mou.  Follow me, says Jesus. 

You have my example.  You can read the stories.  You can talk with others.  You don’t have to be the vanguard, you don’t have to use a machete to blaze a trail, because I have gone ahead of you.  There is nowhere you can find yourself that I have not already gone.

It's like Jesus is our Google maps, the blue line that we can trust will lead us in the right direction, even if we have to reroute, time and time again. 

And that directive—go tell the disciples and Peter holds up another wonderful message—remember you are not alone, you belong to a community.  Go to that community.  Travel with that community.  Revisit the places where Jesus showed us all a better way.


And remember most especially that from the very beginning Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is near at hand.”  It is as close as the person next to you.  It is the final destination.  And Jesus has promised that he is already there.  He has gone ahead.

In Mark’s gospel we are left on Easter morning with an empty tomb, with something to remember, and with a promise.  The empty tomb (and the young man in it) announce that there is a surprise.  Death no longer holds sway.  God’s intention for our world is (as Sherlock Holmes would say) “afoot.” 

We are to remember opiso mou, that we are to follow.  Jesus is leading the way.

And the promise is that we will see Jesus, just as he told us.

What better news could we hear?  The story is not over.  The story has just begun.  And we are part of that wonderful story.  We have been invited to follow, and that will turn our lives upside down.  We have been invited to join with others in preparing the way.  We have been invited to participate in the coming of God’s reign in our world.

Christ is Risen!  Christ is Risen Indeed! 

And He calls, “opiso mou.”  May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.