Readings for Easter Sunday: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 12-24; I Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8
They said nothing.
To no one.
They were afraid…
That’s how Mark ends his gospel.
It’s abrupt. It’s an unsatisfying.
Resurrection with no body. Instructions to go and tell and meet, but the women only go.
Mark literally ends in the middle of a sentence. Ends with a preposition.
The story seems unfinished.
In fact, Mark’s ending seems so strange that later writers attempt to finish it for him. Scholars agree that Mark 16:9-20, the longer ending of Mark, with Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene, the disciples, two followers on the road, commissioning and ascension, was a later addition. Someone wanted to finish the story, to give it a happy ending – Jesus is met, the gospel is proclaimed.
Then there’s the ‘shorter ending’ of Mark. This ending lives in limbo somewhere between verse 8 and verse 9, sometimes hiding in the footnotes of our study bibles, and sometimes not even included. It reads: And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Not a bad ending. It neatly finishes the story, but scholars agree that the writing is not Mark. It’s merely another attempt to give the story closure.
What are we to make of this odd little (the shortest of all the gospels) resurrection story?
First, notice the fear in this story. When I first read the story, I thought – wait we’ve been talking about fear all thought Lent. This is Easter – we should be done with fear!
The women are worried – how will they roll away the stone.
Their worry turns to alarm, when they find the stone is already rolled away and a messenger from God waiting for them instead of Jesus’ body.
This messenger tells them to not be alarmed, that Jesus is risen and to go and tell his disciples and Peter to meet him in Galilee, as Jesus had told them before he died.
So the women go – actually they don’t just go, they run for their lives.
But they don’t tell.
They say nothing.
They are terrified, because….
Mark doesn’t tell us why.
We could guess though.
Maybe they think the disciples won’t believe them. Maybe they are worried that Peter will laugh at them. In fact, that is what happens – in the other gospels, the women go and tell and the disciples dismiss their report as female hysteria and wishful thinking.
Maybe they are just so afraid of the supernatural signs – the large heavy stone rolled away without human intervention, the glowing young man who begins his words to them with the typical angelic greeting, “do not be afraid”, the obvious fact that Jesus is not there. The miracle shakes them to their core and they can’t say anything until they’ve had time to think about it.
Maybe it’s not the stone rolled away and the empty tomb at all that terrifies them. Maybe the truly terrifying thought is what Jesus’ resurrection means.
After all, he predicted his death three times – each time ending the predictions with “and in three days will rise again.” It’s clear the women didn’t really believe Jesus on this point – they came that morning of the third day to care for Jesus’ DEAD body, not to greet their LIVING Lord.
Suddenly they are standing there in an empty tomb, with no corpse to anoint, hearing the angels say “He is risen – round up the troops and have everyone go to Galilee to the meeting place Jesus told you about.”
And just as suddenly, it becomes clear to them – Jesus knew what he was talking about.
Jesus knew what he was talking about.
That means Jesus was serious.
He was completely serious whenØ he taught about the Kingdom of God,
Ø when he forgave sins,
Ø when he said love your enemy,
Ø when he said the greatest will be servant,
Ø and the first will be last,
Ø when he said that you have to lose your life to gain it
Ø and to take up your cross and follow him
Those weren’t just guidelines, great goals to try to attain. Not just pleasant dreams – oh, how wonderful the world would be if everyone would live that way. Nope.
Jesus was completely serious.
The Kingdom of God IS here – now. The empty tomb proves it. The future suddenly is wide open – there is another way – Jesus’ way.
All the rules of how the world works were crushed under the stone that was rolled away.
The women were there to follow tradition, to do things in the proscribed manner – the way it’s always been done. They don’t know how to act when the body that they should anoint walks out of the tomb. They don’t know how to live in this kingdom that Jesus has spent the last three years proclaiming.
It’s scary stuff.
And Mark leaves us right there with the shocked terrified women.
Mark leaves the story for us to finish.
We know that the women did tell.
We know that Jesus was met – in the garden, on the road, in the upper room, at the seashore.
We know that the disciples did go, and tell, and teach and preach and spread the good news everywhere.
Mark knows this too, but the women telling and the disciples preaching is not Mark’s concern.
And that brings me to the second point – Mark wants his readers to know that Easter is just the beginning. At the end of the story that has no ending, Mark sends us to Galilee, back to the place where we met Jesus for the first time.
Mark sends us to the beginning, to hear again how the gospel begins, to understand that the Jesus we find in Mark’s gospel is exactly who the resurrected Jesus is– one who teaches with authority,
– heals the sick, calms the storm,
– feeds the multitudes,
– forgives sins,
– stands up against unjust systems and oppression,
– calls us to follow him
– and sends us to prepare the way of the Lord.
This story doesn’t end – ever.
If we live because Jesus lives, if we are baptized into his death and his resurrection, if we are his body, the story continues – through us.
Mark sets out, not to tell the whole story, but to tell the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. Mark knows that he can’t tell the whole story, he can only tell the beginning of the good news. This good news of Jesus Christ doesn’t end with the resurrection. It doesn’t end with Jesus appearing to his followers. It doesn’t end with Jesus returning to heaven.
Easter is not the end of the story.
Easter is just the beginning.
And that’s enough to leave anyone speechless.