In the end, we are the ending!

Mark 16.1-8

Christ is risen: 

Christ is risen indeed!

Three women go to a tomb with spices to anoint a body. That’s what they did in those days, in that place. Jesus’ body had been taken down from the cross in haste, to avoid it hanging on the Sabbath, and it hadn’t been anointed. The women were coming out of a duty born of love, to pay their last requests to Jesus, whose story had started so well, and ended so devastatingly badly.

But the women were used to washing and anointing dead bodies. They’d knew what to expect—they’d done it many times. They knew grief. This was hard, Jesus having been crucified and all, but they would shed their tears and see it through to the bitter end with every bit of their considerable strength of character. This they could cope with, this they has steeled themselves for. This they expected.

What they got was something else. They approached the tomb, realising they’d forgotten the detail of just who might roll the heavy stone from the entrance, when they found the tomb open.

They peer in, and see a young man, dressed in white—in their time, this was the robe of a martyr. He is sitting on the right side, the place of authority. He tells them that the Crucified One has been raised from death.

He tells them to tell the others that he is going to Galilee, where they will see him. This isn’t what they expected at all. Their resolve evaporates, and they run off, saying nothing to no one.

That’s where Mark’s Gospel ends. It’s the original cliffhanger.

You know, Mark has a great beginning! The first words are

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The first two words of the Gospel are “The beginning”—that’s a clear-cut beginning! But Mark has no end.

Or rather, it has this cliffhanger ending. Jesus is not there—he has been raised—and the women lose it. It’s not what they expected at all. Where do we go with that ending?

When the Gospel of Mark started to be copied, and spread to other places, people found this cliffhanger ending hard to take. So other endings were attached. You can see them if you look at your pew bible. They are called the Shorter Ending and the Longer Ending of Mark, and they have square brackets around them. Very few bible scholars believe they were part of Mark’s original story.

These endings are not what Mark wanted. Mark wanted us to feel something like vertigo, a dizziness of unfulfilled expectations. Christ is truly risen—but others encounter that resurrection through believers like you and me.

Christ is not seen within the pages of Mark’s Gospel because Mark wanted to make it clear that we are the living members of Christ’s body.

We are the way people will know Christ is risen. How? As we follow Jesus to Galilee, which stands for the place where we serve others in Jesus’ name.

You want to be the means by which others know Jesus is truly risen? Love as Jesus loved. You have intellectual doubts about the resurrection? Reach out to others and serve them in Jesus’ name, and you will know Jesus is alive.

Mark isn’t somehow having it both ways, saying Jesus isn’t really risen. But in his world, which was the world of Rome in the 60s of the first century, Christians were persecuted. Nero was the caesar. Being a Christian could get you killed, and you didn’t have physical sight of the risen Lord to comfort you. You had your faith in the Crucified One, who had died and is risen. You had faith that could help you to follow him, wherever that led.

It’s the same for us. In our world, few are granted visions of the risen Lord. We live in a world very different from the world of Jesus, but a world in which the Crucified One is still Lord. He is the one we follow, it is in his name that we live and work as the Church.

In the end, we are the ending of Mark’s Gospel. It is our feeble efforts, linked to his grace and the power of his Spirit, that reach out to a world that still needs to hear: Christ is risen: Christ is risen indeed!

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2 Comments

Filed under RCL, sermon

2 responses to “In the end, we are the ending!

  1. Greetings Paul,

    The pericope ends, like some other pericopes in Mark, at a point where the followers of Christ appear to be on the brink of an insight, but don’t quite get there. As the end of a pericope, that works. But as the end of the entire account? After the forecast of a post-resurrection meeting in Galilee in 14:28 and 16:7? Jesus is forecast as risen and the grave is empty — but what about those disciples, last seen abandoning Jesus? I don’t think a viable case can really be made that Mark deliberately ended with “efobounto gar.” Robert Gundry, Ben Witherington III and Robert Stein, among others, have made pretty convincing cases against that idea. It takes a lot of squinting to make the abrupt ending at the end of 16:8 look deliberate, when one thinks of all the options that Mark had, and when one recalls the strong tradition that Mark wrote to preserve the remembrances of Peter. I don’t think that Mark or anyone else in the early church would consider the narrative of Jesus’ resurrection to be a good place to spring a literary trap on the readers.

    I am glad to see that you consider Mark 16:9-20 to be part of the Word of God — although there is no reason to call the Shorter Ending in any way the Word of God; it is clearly spurious and extremely poorly attested.

    You are invited to read more about these disputed 12 verses at http://www.curtisvillechristian.org/MarkOne.html and I would be glad to send you a research paper (130+ pages) on the subject if you would like to learn more about it. There is a lot of misinformation floating around about the endings of Mark, and we ought not to let ourselves be accomplices in its dissemination.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  2. Thanks James,

    It’s certainly a matter of debate as to where the ending of Mark originally occurred. I’ve opted to read it ‘as if’ 16.8 is the end, and I think it preaches. I certainly don’t see it as a ‘literary trap’; I think a case can be made for it to be a help for believers in a time of persecution. As Brendan Byrne suggests, “they could draw comfort from the indication that failure was not the end of the story but simply part of the story, that there could be forgiveness, restoration, and the beginning of a new discipleship based on a more realistic sense of the cost of association with Jesus”.

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