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?   

Good Friday, Gospel of Mark

Along with many other women (Mark 15:1-41)

At the first church I served, there was a service in the evening on Maundy Thursday that began with communion and ended with Tenebrae. They did not have a custom of worship on Good Friday. What they did have was a rough and rustic cross that took the place of the brass one during Lent.

I was over-eager, and glad to be serving this church, and possibly at my most pious ever, and I felt like I ought to do something. I planned a service for noon. I chose poetry and scripture. I copied and pasted three Taize chants into a bulletin. I created an, I hoped, evocative arrangement on the altar. I arranged chairs in the chancel, where we could sit at the foot of the cross.

Then I waited to see if anyone would come.

The nursery school had been in session that morning, and four of the teachers came to join me, church members all. Another woman arrived just as we were sitting down.

Some women were watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (the younger one) and Joses, and Salome. When Jesus was in Galilee, these women had followed and supported him, along with many other women who had come to Jerusalem with him. (Mark 15:40-41, CEB)

Three women are named by Mark, along with many other women. It wasn’t supposed to be a service just for the ladies, but somehow it felt appropriate. There we sat: Martha, Joanna, Ginny, Jan, Marcia, and Liz. I don’t know if they were there for me, or for Jesus, but I was glad for the company as I tried to bear witness. Our six chairs formed a horseshoe open to the cross.

It must have been the same for the women, named and unnamed, clustered together. There must have been some comfort in being together even as they witnessed his horrifying death. They had each other as a shield against the jeers of the crowd, as a reminder that his love was real and could not be killed despite the worst the world could do.

We’re living in a Good Friday world. We need to hold onto each other. Who would you want to be with at the cross?

Thank you, God, for the people who bear witness with me as I strive to stand for you. 


Gospel of Mark, Lent

Presente (Mark 14:32-72)

At the rally before March For Our Lives here in Harrisburg, a Latinx college professor spoke of the tradition in which the dead are named aloud, and those who are witnesses respond, “Presente,” to indicate that although those we knew and loved are gone in body, they are not forgotten. The names of the students and teachers killed at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School were read, and after each one we did as he instructed and responded, “Present.”

He came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay alert for one hour? Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37-38, CEB)

Peter and the others were present in body, but their minds had gone to sleep.

There are times when emotions are heightened and life is fraught, and just going to sleep feels like the safest, even the sanest, thing to do. But Jesus is asking more from us. (It only gets harder for Peter; by dawn he will be denying Jesus altogether.)

In ministry, and especially if we serve a congregation, this day may be full of obligations, logistics, and technical difficulties. Are the slides ready for worship? Is the gluten-free communion bread in the house? Have we visited all the homebound folk who only wish they could attend a service in person, and will we be counting up the parents and children who have taken a vacation instead of spending Holy Week with their church family?

My hope for you all today, whatever your situation, is that you can find a little time to sit and watch and pray with Jesus. Be awake to what happened then, and feel it happening now. The world wants to rewrite him into a representative of the powers and principalities, but we know better. We know the powers and principalities were the ones who wanted him dead, the ones who killed him.

Find your moment. Say his name – Jesus! – and declare him “Presente.”

Ah, Holy Jesus, may I be awake to you and declare your presence. Amen.

This is both my Lenten blogging and a devotion for the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.

I’m 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 the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

Gospel of Mark, Lent

And they all said the same thing. (Mark 14:12-31)

One out of twelve betrayed him.

Eleven out of twelve denied him.

We may think of Peter as the great denier; after all, four out of four gospels give us a building narrative ending with the cock crow.

But I think there is a more universal truth contained in this parable about faithfulness.

In Mark 14, they have eaten dinner and had a conversation about betrayal, and now they have gone out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus said to them, “You will all falter in your faithfulness to me. It is written, I will hit the shepherd, and the sheep will go off in all directions. But after I’m raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else stumbles, I won’t.” But Jesus said to him, “I assure you that on this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But Peter insisted, “If I must die alongside you, I won’t deny you.” And they all said the same thing. (Mark 14:27-31, CEB)

But, but, but … they all said the same thing.

In Mark’s gospel, no one gets it right. They all disperse. Even the women who come to the tomb run away, frightened. We needed three more gospels to put the pieces back together, to give people a sense of hope, to tell a story that people want to believe and hold and share. No wonder the early church folk chose more than one!

And no wonder they kept this one.

Because we all say the same thing: we will never leave you, Jesus, we will die for you, Jesus, there is nothing we care about more, Jesus.

We are the eleven out of twelve, constantly. We can only hope to never be the one.

Jesus, for all the times I say I will be there, yet I am not, forgive me. 

I’m 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 the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

Gospel of Mark, Lent

Crush It (Mark 14:1-11)

Nothing in Mark’s gospel happens in random order. He lays the story out carefully and uses exactly as many words as he wants and no more. Jesus has just warned his closest disciples to “Keep awake!” (Mark 13:37), when we learn that the religious leaders are actively seeking a way to arrest Jesus and kill him.

Next we find ourselves at dinner in Bethany, in the household of Simon (possibly a leper, certainly a sufferer from some skin disease, possibly already healed by Jesus), where dinner is being served. A woman came, or came in, with an alabaster container full of nard – a fragrant, expensive ointment – and now things get confusing for the casual Bible reader. Although this is the oldest recorded story of a woman anointing Jesus, the versions we are more likely to have heard, thanks to the Revised Common Lectionary are Luke’s and John’s. It’s understandable, I guess, given that there is a bit more narrative contained in the other two.

It’s also understandable because in this story the woman employs a different kind of agency, a disturbing agency. Whether she came into the house, or came into the room from another part of the house, she arrives with a goal, and she crushes it, both literally and figuratively.

Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease. During dinner, a woman came in with a vase made of alabaster and containing very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke open the vase and poured the perfume on his head. (Mark 14:3, CEB)

One of the alternate translations of the Greek word for broke is “crushed.” The alabaster vase or jar would have been round at the bottom, with a neck narrow enough to be broken in order to release the ointment. The woman came in ready to break it open; she came in ready to crush it on behalf of Jesus Christ.

Doing something that is actually awesome does not guarantee the acclamation of the gathered body, however, and “some” started to say she had wasted the ointment, that she should have sold it instead and given the money to the poor.

How many women who perform prophetic acts or speak prophetic words hear something just like this? Pastors, you know what I’m talking about, those times when it seems like people would prefer Clergy Barbie in the pulpit instead of the scholarly person of faith called to their community. If only that woman could have kept in her place, performing the kind of mild, charitable acts that offend no one. Instead, she made a scene, crushing the neck of the alabaster jar and filling the house with the expensive scent of perfume meant to cover the stench of death.

No wonder the men in the room looked for a way to criticize her. They don’t want to face what is coming. They want to dream of their own divine elevation. They want Jesus to be quiet already about dying. They have left him alone with what he knows. Only this woman steps forward to say, without words, “I understand. I am with you. I honor you.”

Jesus praised her, and according to Mark, he assumed that people would still be talking about her down through the years wherever the gospel was proclaimed. Instead, Luke and John moved her to the feet of Jesus. Luke made her an unreliable witness, a woman of the city, demonstrating her own need to be forgiven. John domesticated her, making her one of the sisters of Lazarus, part of a family scene. And the crafters of the Revised Common Lectionary left her out; in Mark’s version she appears only in the full reading of the Passion liturgy, and in Matthew’s nearly identical telling, the Passion liturgy begins just after her story.

She’s there for me, though, every Holy Week, and she? Keeps crushing it.

Holy One, this day, give me the courage to crush it, for Christ’s sake. Amen. 

In the interests of full disclosure: I’ve written about the anointing woman before, starting with an exegesis paper in seminary and more recently in this space two years ago. I’ve led three retreats over the past year about the stories of women who anoint Jesus, which are found in varying form in all four gospels. (And I would gladly do so again, so please consider this an advertisement of my availability to come and lead a retreat day or weekend for your congregation or clergy group.)

I’m 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 the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.