Hope and fear: an Easter devotional on the Gospel of Mark, from Campus Minister Tim Wood
Take a look at the end of Mark’s gospel in your Bible. You will probably find something that says, the earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9-20 of chapter 16. Should verses 9-20 be included, or are they a late addition, added because someone didn’t love Mark’s abrupt ending?
If Mark meant for his gospel to end with verse 8, it does seem like an odd decision. The Easter account is told in eight short verses, Jesus is not seen or heard from, and the women involved are left trembling in fear and refusing to speak to anyone about the empty tomb and man in white whom they have encountered. Strange.
Isn’t the hope of Easter what this gospel has been working towards? Hasn’t Mark been telling us all about Jesus’ miracles, healings, and teachings so that when we get to this point, and see a resurrected Jesus, we will finally understand exactly who he is? He is God himself who has power even over the grave…and who promises that death will not be the last word in our lives, too! Where is the Hallelujah Chorus, the trumpets, the celebratory Easter flowers, the shouts for joy? Where is the confirmation for all who have followed this man from Nazareth, that their lives have not been in vain? Where is Easter? Come on, Mark, is this how you throw a party? Given the year that we have had, we could certainly use a party. Why doesn’t Mark give it to us? What are we supposed to do with this ending?
There is some interesting irony to be found here in these eight verses. Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus regularly tells those who have seen his power, his wisdom, his miracles, not to tell others what they have seen. But they nearly always do. Here, in the very last verse, when Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome are finally told to tell the disciples and Peter what they have seen, they tell no one! Ironic, and another element that makes this gospel ending strange.
Well, if we ever felt like the good news of Easter should remove us, in some way, from the reality of our world, Mark will not let that happen. His Easter story is left with two women not celebrating but fleeing, and still holding on to their very real earthly fears. This is Easter. Maybe we will feel similarly about our Easter this year—celebrating at a distance from our worshiping communities for the second year in a row, not able to celebrate the risen body of Christ with the body of Christ.
As I was reflecting on Mark’s short and unenthusiastic Easter account I began to wonder if this is exactly the account we need, especially this year. Every year we celebrate Easter and three days after we have yelled “crucify him” with the crowds, we shout “He is risen indeed!” We proclaim, and truly believe, that this resurrection changes everything. And then the weeks pass, and too often we fall into old patterns and worries about the kids, the finances, our jobs, our grades, our ailing bodies, and if we take a slow moment, we might realize that Easter actually hasn’t changed much for our day-to-day lives.
Many scholars believe that Mark’s gospel does end abruptly with verse 16:8. If so, it is as if Mark is reminding us that the resurrection, Easter, will not allow us to escape our world. Rather, it is here, in the grittiness and trials of normal life, that our faith and faithfulness find their home and their relevance. What does the incredible reality that Christ is risen mean for your hopes, your fears, your day-to-day life?
Easter resurrection does not offer an escape from this life, it gives us a glimpse of where faithfulness leads in this life. And, in the end, it is Jesus who is faithful for us. With that said, notice where Jesus actually is at the end of Mark. He has gone ahead of us. This alludes to two truths. First, Jesus has not left us, but he bids us to follow him. Second, we are not asked to go anywhere Jesus has not gone himself.
This year has been really hard for many of us, in so many ways. Maybe you have noticed it affecting the way you follow Jesus. Maybe you have a hard time feeling worthy of Easter and of Jesus’ love. If this is you, take comfort in what the man in white says to the women at the tomb. After telling them that Jesus has risen, he bids them to go and tell the disciples and Peter. And Peter. Peter is one of the disciples, why single him out? Maybe it is because after boldly proclaiming that he would follow Jesus anywhere, the darkness of Good Friday came and, consumed by fear, Peter denied Jesus three times. Go and tell the disciples and Peter. Peter may not believe it, but this good news is very much for him, too. You may not believe it, but the beauty, joy, grace, and mercy that is Easter is very much for you, too. Given this, why don’t we find some creative ways to celebrate Easter this year. Peace to you all—Christ is risen!
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?"
When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.
But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But 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."
So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.