Easter, Gospel of Mark

In which we try to put a bow on it (Mark 16:9ff)

“Endings Added Later”

That’s what scholars call Mark 16:9-19.

The very unsatisfying ending, in which the women run away in fear and tell no one, could not be left alone.

The one verse version turns them right around, saying

They promptly reported all of the young man’s instructions to those who were with Peter. Afterward, through the work of his disciples, Jesus sent out, from the east to the west, the sacred and undying message of eternal salvation. Amen.

Convincing, but not very detailed.

The longer version skips over that version of verse 9 and recapitulates stories from the other gospels:

  • Mary Magdalene alone sees him, as in John, and tells the disciples, but they do not believe her, as in Luke.
  • There is an abbreviated Road to Emmaus story.
  • Jesus appears to the disciples and tells them some things we would expect and some others that have inspired – well, practices, including snake-handling.
  • Jesus ascends.

My guess is that the average listener would hear enough of what sounds familiar not to be taken aback if hearing the adding endings read aloud, if not reading along in a Bible with that headline, “Endings Added Later.”

Those women must have told someone. Right? Otherwise, how did the disciples know to go and find him in Galilee?

I said in my last post that I think it’s valuable to sit in the fear and uncertainty and shock of the resurrection. Accepting it too readily, speaking about it glibly, does not do it justice. But neither does grabbing these tidbits from other sources to “complete” Mark. He told the story in his own particular way for his own specific reasons.

You may have played the parlor game where this question is asked, “If you could have dinner with any person from history, who would it be?” Jesus is a popular answer, and so is Shakespeare. I know I’ve answered with Jane Austen. But wouldn’t it be fascinating to have a meal with the person who wrote down these stories in the oldest form we have them, who told them with elaborate economy?

It’s Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary, so there is more Mark to come. I’ll hear it preached, and I’m working on a sermon to include one of my favorite stories, to preach for Day1 in a few weeks. Without working too hard to put my bow on it, I will say this. Mark leaves us asking who Jesus is and needing to look back to find the answer. The story continues, even now.


Happy Easter! I’ve been reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. You can find links to earlier posts here. 

Easter, Gospel of Mark

They began the night before (Mark 16:1-8)

The last chapter of Mark actually begins the night before:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. (Mark 16:1, CEB)

Sometime in the early evening, then, as soon as the shops were open again, Mary and Mary and Salome ventured out of wherever they had been staying on this trip to Jerusalem, and they bought what they needed to honor their dead rabbi. Somewhere in the middle of a day of grief and fear, they made a plan to go out together, or maybe they each decided and then they all met at the door. “You?” “You, too?” “Yes.”

They began their preparations the night before, getting ready to perform the final acts of care for their beloved Jesus, just as they had been providing care for him while he traveled and taught. They had established roles in the community, and they must have really mattered to his inner circle or, since they were women, we would know nothing at all about them.

We have the advantage, every time we hear this story, of knowing how it ends, with an empty tomb, and some number of men or angels declaring that Jesus has been raised from the dead, some scene indicating divine action. Two out of four gospels give us an appearance by the risen Lord to the women, but this is not one. Here and in Matthew, they are instructed to go, and tell Peter and the others the good news of the empty tomb and a future reunion in Galilee.

They began the night before, ready to do things they knew how to do, things they already understood, things that even in the midst of terrible grief they could rely on themselves to carry out, the rituals attendant on a death. Now that they had different orders, how did they respond?

Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)

When you began getting ready last night, if you’re like me, you were thinking about the rituals now attendant on Easter Sunday: laying out clothes for church, putting together baskets for little ones, making note of who might appreciate a phone call or a text, cleaning up the kitchen to make way for holiday cooking, or mulling over whether to accept the general invitation to join the choir in singing the “Hallelujah” chorus at the end of the service.

They began the night before, ready to go through the motions, because that was what they knew how to do.

Maybe, like the women, you woke this Easter morning grieving for yourself, or for the world, but knowing you could manage these rituals, even so.

As much as we might like to relieve the pressure of this disappointing ending, maybe we ought not resist it. Maybe we could just sit with it for a minute, having sympathy for these women torn by witnessing the worst news and now stunned to be shown that the story is not over. How were they supposed to explain a missing body and a promise that Jesus would meet his friends back in Galilee?

I don’t think it should surprise us that the women couldn’t follow their new instructions right away. How well do we handle it when God wants more from us, when God wants things for which we did not know to prepare? How ready are we for God to be waiting for us on familiar ground, with unexpected work for us to do?

I’m 56 years old, and my world view has been changed drastically in the past ten years. I don’t count on the things that I used to deem reliable, nor do I hold to the same standards I was taught. The things I prepared to do and be no longer seem applicable. I have to believe that is good news even if it scares me a little.

They began the night before, but the women woke to a world that had changed forever.

May it be so for us this Easter day.

Give us courage, Holy One, to meet you in the world and do the work that lies ahead. Amen. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Happy Easter! I’ve reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I also sometimes refer to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find links to earlier posts here. 

Come back tomorrow for the alternate ending to Mark.

 

Gospel of Mark, Holy Saturday, Lent

The stone (Mark 15:42-47)

If you have ever lost someone you loved a lot, it’s not hard to imagine how the women felt on that Saturday, that Sabbath day. They woke up in the morning, if they slept at all, having to remember something they wished they did not know. Their teacher, their leader, their friend was dead. No doubt they woke up thinking about where Jesus’ body had been taken by Joseph of Arimathea.

He rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was buried. (Mark 15:46b-47, CEB)

I picture them picturing the stone, the entrance, the tomb, the path that would get them to it. I picture them planning anything at all that might feel useful, important, healing. I picture them feeling like any people do who have lost a treasured friend or family member to violence.

I picture them, and I think of the grandmother of Stephon Clark and the mother of his children, and the family of Alton Sterling, and the girlfriend of Philando Castile, and the Mothers of the Movement. Like the women who followed Jesus’ body to his tomb, they have lost dear ones to state violence.

So add to the grief a natural fear of what might come next for those who had been seen with him.

Imagine being grieved beyond measure and also afraid that the same forces responsible for executing the one you loved might be coming for you next. Imagine feeling that there is no safe place to be. Imagine wondering if your lament will draw unwanted attention. Imagine wondering if you can every trust anyone again. Imagine wishing the stone could seal you in, too.

“My God, my God,” he said, “Why have you forsaken me?” My God, my God, how can we trust you?