For this week please read and contemplate the Resurrection narrative given to us in Mark 16. Like his gospel in general, Mark’s story of the Resurrection is short. Depending upon your lung capacity, you may be able to read the entirety of the story in one breath. Please read chapter 14 from N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God if you wish to dive deeper into the text.
When we read through Mark’s brief account of the Resurrection two major points should pop-out to us. First, the entirety of the story is told from the perspective of three women. These were the same women who had earlier witnessed the Crucifixion. Mark 15:40. However, at this time, Jewish tradition held that women were incompetent witnesses. The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, writing in about 95AD says “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.” Antiquities of the Jews, Bk IV, ch. 8, para.15. If you were to read back through Mark’s gospel (or any other gospel) no other story is told exclusively from the perspective of any women (save for the infancy narrative in Luke 2). And yet, for the central event in the salvation of the world, Mark’s account is entirely from these women’s observations and testimony.
Also noteworthy about the women being the first witnesses, is that the young man (angel?) in the tomb entrusts them with the telling the male disciples that Jesus was resurrected. In other words, the very central proclamation of the Church, that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, was first proclaimed (preached?) by women.
The second issue that comes out of Mark’s account is the reaction of the participants. Good Jewish women expected a general resurrection on the last day (see, John 11:24), but not immediately. They went to the tomb expecting a dead body, and there was not one there. Mark tells us that their reaction was one of amazement (v.5), trembling, astonishment, and fear (v.8). Mark says the women told no one (presumably because everyone would think them mad) and that they immediately fled from the tomb. Of course, we don’t know what the male disciples were thinking because they weren’t even there. In their reaction, we see that the Resurrection event is wholly unexpected and utterly surprising.
This surprise is also shown in the way Mark presents his story. The empty tomb is a fact in search of an explanation, not as a discovered proof of the anticipated Resurrection. In other words, Mark’s account doesn’t proclaim the Resurrection and then go in search of physical proof of the Resurrection. Rather, Mark begins with the concrete simplicity that the stone is rolled away and the body is not there. The angel simply says that “he is risen” without imparting any theology or metaphysical significance to the event. The strength of Mark’s account lies in this utter simplicity. We can read our Bibles, recite the Creed, and argue over the meaning of some word Paul uses (there may be 100+ of these words), but the very heart of Christianity doesn’t lie in these things. Rather, our faith, our religion, and our life are premised upon the simple Reality of an empty tomb and a statement that “He is Risen.”
The ending to Mark that we have from vv.9-20 is, most likely, additions to his book. The earliest manuscripts that we have of Mark date to the fourth century and do not include these verses, and none of the early church writers quote these verses. Many later manuscripts dating into the ninth century which do contain these verses, have notations that the ending is of doubtful authenticity. If verses 9-20 are later additions, the question is why did Mark end his gospel where he did and without a physical resurrection appearance? (See, Wright, p.618) Wright’s own theory is that Mark had an ending that was lost because Mark leaves certain issues unresolved such as the fear of the women or the restoration of Peter after his betrayal.
Another theory is that Mark intentionally never gave us a definite ending. When we approach the Scriptures in a contemplative manner, I prefer this theory. Unlike the other writers, Mark doesn’t attempt to put the ineffable into words. He doesn’t attempt to limit our understanding or imagination as to the nature of the Risen Christ. Rather, Mark invites us to write our own ending to the story based upon our own experience. Paul will describe his experience with the Risen Christ differently than will John. Mark leaves this description open.
Therefore, when you read Mark’s Resurrection narrative, imagine your own ending. How do you see the Resurrection? Is there a resuscitated body that everyone can see or something more angelic that only can be seen by those with eyes? Is the Resurrection simply a deification of his teachings? What do you see?
Primarily, however, Mark’s invitation isn’t merely to fill in the blank between the Resurrection and the Ascension (like the additional verses do). Rather Mark’s invitation is also to see the Resurrected Christ in your life. The angel tells the women to go. Where is your Jerusalem (or your graveyard) that you must first leave to meet him? Even Paul had to leave Jerusalem before Jesus appeared to him. What is the spirt telling you to leave so that you can see the Risen One? The angel says that he will appear to his disciples in Galilee. Where is your Galilee where you meet the Risen Lord? Where is the spirit telling you to go to see Jesus? What is your ending? (Presiding Bishop Michael Curry provides one answer to the invitation in this Video.)
Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer. You can see for yourselves that the place is empty. Now, go on your way. Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You’ll see him there. Mark 16:6-7 (Message)