Change really is the dreaded “C” word isn’t it? For some reason change, any kind of change, always seems hard. My own observations and experiences have taught me that the type of change, good or bad or somewhere in between, doesn’t seem to matter. This past week I’ve thought of all kinds of examples – like marriage, the birth of a child, graduation from high school, college or graduate school. Or losing a job, changing careers, or going back to work after a long hiatus. Change comes about in all of those situations and even though there are good elements it is still hard on everyone involved.
There is, though, one kind of change that seems to impact us more than any other - the change that comes from loss, especially the loss of a loved one. It can even impact us for the rest of our lives. In my own life, I can still remember the summer before my senior year in High School when my Pop died. I remember being the last one to leave the funeral home the night of the visitation and the first one to arrive the next morning just so I could sit beside his body and spend a little more time with him. Although I talked to him as his body laid in the casket, most of that time I spent was silent - I couldn’t really find words. As the tears ran down my cheeks I trembled, and even though people were around I found myself not wanting to talk with anyone. I just wanted to sit beside his body. Luckily for me, the adults in the funeral home that night and again that next morning gave me the space to do what I felt compelled to do, and make no mistake, I was compelled. I don’t think my sitting alone with his body was some rational decision I made late that night and early the next morning, I just remember knowing I had to do it.
As special as those moments were for me then, and my recollection of them is now, I’m not sure I ever prepared to live my life without my Pop. I guess all these years later I find it a little bit funny to think that even as I sat silently beside his body, I never thought about my New Normal - You know, my New Normal of living my life without him. I believe that is one reason I talk about him so much, or look for reasons to share stories about him, or try to teach my children lessons he taught me. Here’s the thing, the New Normal is always the end result of change, especially the change that comes from loss. And no matter how badly we don’t want it, most of us here today must know by now that the one thing we can count on being consistent in our lives is change. And all change brings New Normals.
I’ve come to understand the New Normal as the last stage or phase in the overall process that begins with change. Sometimes we reach that New Normal quickly and sometimes it takes years. Sadly, or rather frustratingly, this means for those of us wanting set formulas about life we will not find them here. There is a process we must all go through, and while the stages or phases of that process are the same, the time frame for moving from one to the next isn’t. Now, people a whole lot smarter than me… people who have dedicated their life’s work to understanding change and how it impacts our lives… have said there are four stages we all go through with every change we encounter:
The Shock stage is where we typically find ourselves saying, “uh, Oh” and when we say this there is an emotional reaction like excitement, fear, or curiosity. As a result, this first stage can be stressful. Then we move to the stage of Grief where we typically are missing the past. While grieving we might start to realize that we’ve actually become attached to the thing we’ve lost. It is like this thing, or this person, or this role we have, has become who we are, as though it is an actual reflection of ourselves. There can also be some level of excitement and hope at this stage, if you can begin to see new possibilities. After Grief, comes Acceptance… Here we find the strength to approve the change and begin to take on the challenge of adjustment. Ultimately, we end up at the New Normal where we get comfortable again until the next “change”. Now reaching this comfort never means it’s easy, it just means we make adaptation part of our life’s routine.
The conclusion of Mark’s Gospel makes me think a lot about these stages of change, and how we human beings experience change. As each day passed during Holy week, these thoughts became stronger and stronger. As I sat with this text wanting to better understand Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome’s silent response and how that response serves as the conclusion to this Gospel, I desperately wanted to know more. It seems I am in good company, though, because this abrupt conclusion to Mark’s Gospel has apparently troubled scholars throughout the years. So much so, that early Christians added to the story so that Mark’s account would seem more complete. You see, when we end the story at v. 8 what we are left with feels abrupt and incomplete. Listen again, v.8 “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” A little side note, we could insert trembling for terror, but no matter what, in Mark’s Gospel that is the end of the story. After hearing from the young man in white, they fled the tomb, trembling, and spoke to no one.
While all four Gospels tell the resurrection story, this abrupt conclusion is unique to Mark’s. Let’s take Matthew’s Gospel – there we find Mary Magdalene and Mary running quickly from the tomb to tell the other disciples the angel’s message. Like Mark, Matthew does say they were frightened, but unlike Mark, Matthew also says they were full of joy. Matthew’s account goes even further though, because the resurrected Jesus does show up in Matthew when he meets the Marys and has a little conversation. There is no appearance of the resurrected Jesus in Mark’s account. All we are told is that three women fled in silence.
Yet I have come to find a certain beauty in this abruptness because the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel is precisely what keeps bringing me back to the way we human beings deal with change, and it starts to make more sense to me. When I think about the first stage of Shock… the “uh oh” response that is rooted in emotions like fear or excitement. And how this will eventually lead to Grief where we long for the way things used to be because we miss them. You see, when I connect this human tendency with Mark’s telling of their response, I begin to understand them so much better. And even though I may think I always want the nice and neat conclusions, I become more fully aware that such conclusions don’t always come so quickly. I find myself loving Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome even more because now I empathize with them. Maybe it was the shock, or maybe it was the grief that caused them to tremble silently, but no matter what, this abrupt conclusion is no longer problematic because
Now I can better understand…
Now I am better aware …
Now I am more sensitive …
Now I am vicariously experiencing their feelings and thoughts…
And when this happens their story becomes my story.
And maybe that was part of Mark’s plan… to let those of us who come later realize that we too are included in Jesus’ story of Resurrection. After all, nowhere do we read Mark saying this was the end of the story.
Could it be that Mark wanted us to know that taking time to process change is ok? Being in shock… trembling and grieving… momentarily unable to speak are all ok, but most importantly that is not the end of the story. Where other accounts might provide more, or some have felt the need to add to the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel, the mysterious abrupt ending of v. 8 might just bring us into the most life changing, love-filled, story of redemption ever told… the story of Jesus’ resurrection.
Take time to be in shock. Tremble when compelled. Grieve and be silent when needed. And no matter what, let Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James and Salome’s similar response remind you that the story doesn’t end there. Open yourself up to the mystery of Mark’s abrupt conclusion… and do so knowing full well that on this day, you and I are joining people all over this world in celebration of the resurrection, and that alone might just be proof enough that these three women reached the stages of Acceptance and a New Normal, even though Mark’s Gospel doesn’t tell that part of the story. You see, celebrating the resurrection each and every year might actually be all the proof we need. That, it seems, can happen when we experience the abrupt conclusion of this Gospel. That is what happens when we embrace the mystery that is inherent in concluding Mark’s Gospel with v. 8, all we really need is to know is this resurrection is still being celebrated thousands of years later. Our presence here today, a day dedicated to the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection, is all the proof needed.
This ending, where the three women who came to the grave run away in fear, is so strong that it might make us forget the ringing proclamation that Jesus has been raised and that he has already arrived in Galilee where he is waiting for them and the disciples. But to forget that is to dismiss out of hand the proclamation of the young man in white. So instead, let us remember that proclamation because when we remember, when we let it sink in, we may realize that this puzzling ending is not pessimistic or skeptical about the risen life of Jesus.
We may realize that their response is simply what we people do when we experience change.
We may realize that on that first Easter morning they were in the midst of experiencing change upon change, and even though Mark doesn’t walk us all the way through to their New Normal, we have gathered here today as a sign of faith that they experienced it.
As one scholar writes, “The story leaves many wanting more resolution but has the restraint not to give it away cheaply.”  This, I believe is important, because to give it away cheaply is to remove the stages of change experienced by those three women and by us. We have to journey to reach our New Normals, and that is OK. We need to selflessly love each other along the journey… We need to respect that our journey to acceptance and New Normals is just that, it is our journey, not someone else’s. There is ultimate beauty in this process because when we enter into the power of God’s coming kingdom, when we enter into the journey, we experience the resurrected Jesus who meets us where we are and leads us into the New Normals of Grace, of Love, of Mercy.
These are the New Normals that Easter brings… These are the New Normals that Resurrection promises… And that my Brothers and Sisters is Good News!
 Ruge-Jones, Philip, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3611