Mark 16:1-8 (Friday)
On the Sunday after Jesus was crucified, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James & Salome went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. They went first thing, right as the sun was rising (as early as they could and still respect the Sabbath). When they reach the tomb, they find the stone rolled away and a young man in white telling them Jesus was raised from the dead and was no longer here. He tells them go and tell Jesus’s disciples and Peter that “He is going ahead of you to Galilee to meet you there.” So the two women fled from the tomb in astonishment and trembling, saying nothing.
And that is how the oldest versions of Mark end. That’s it. All the rest of chapter 16 (verses 9 – 20) were added afterwards. No appearances of the risen Jesus. No commission to the world. No ascending up to heaven. Just an empty tomb and silence.
What in the world is Mark doing?! If this were a movie, it would easily be one of the worst movie endings of all time. And that includes some pretty unsatisfying movie endings (Inception, X-Men 3, Matrix Reloaded…). BUT, as we’ve seen, Mark isn’t a crummy writer. Remember his artful use of “stay alert” and his plot timings in the Temple? Mark knew how to craft a remarkable story and to tell it with purpose. I believe that Mark was up to something here that makes me like this older ending more than the extended one (it’s like the original vs the extended edition). Here’s my take on Mark’s original ending.
First, we – as the reader/audience – are in the know. From the very beginning we know that Jesus has been raised and that the church emerged as his followers continued his work. So we know what happened. Because we know that the church exists and that the disciples continued the work, we know that Mary & Mary weren’t silent forever. The word spread and the gospel message grew. I think that Mark is using our knowledge of this as a way to emphasize the irony of this moment and as a challenge for the audience to do what they know wasn’t done: DON’T BE SILENT! Spread the good news! From the first verses, Mark is preparing us to speak out; to be the voice in the wilderness shouting out. We are meant to take the message forth to take up the responsibility we know we have but that is left unfulfilled in the text.
Second, the audience is meant to experience the suffering and despair of the crucifixion – not just for Jesus but for his followers as well. Mark leaves us unsatisfied as a tool for helping us step into the shoes of those who were living this out in real time. We experience the uncertainty and trepidation that comes with uncertainty. BUT we still must move in light of that uncertainty. Which then becomes faith. Faith is belief in things unseen. In Mark’s gospel, that faith is put into the text literally with the absence of the risen Christ. If Mark wasn’t written until the disciples and witnesses of Jesus were all dying, then it was for an audience that would have never seen Jesus face to face. Their faith isn’t based on some encounter with a man but an encounter with his love in the community he started. Mark’s original ending helps us feel the void of uncertainty (what happens in our lives all the time) but also move us to a faith that is open to uncertainty and still demands that we act anyways.
Finally, I think that Mark is leaving the story in our hands. The man in the tomb says, “Jesus is going ahead of you; there you will see him.” Jesus isn’t in heaven in this story. Jesus is out there – in the world. Waiting for us. We have to go find him. We have to search for him. We have to take this story and find Jesus in the love and grace and truth of a community that is searching together in the world. This is my favorite idea in Mark; that this ending calls us to go forth and live a life for Christ so that we might find him. But where can we find Christ? We’ll find him in the orphan we adopt, the prisoner we visit, the poor we protect, the immigrant we give refuge, the sick we heal, the hungry we feed, and the oppressed we redeem. I know that Jesus is in heaven now, and I can’t see heaven. But I can see the Kingdom of God – the good news he came to spread – break into this world bit by bit when I live out the life I was created to live. Jesus is out there, waiting for us to come and serve and find him.
Now Mark says, what are you going to do? Will you remain here, quiet? Or will you go and be a part of the work God is doing?