I hate endings that leave me up in the air! I want to know what happened, I want a ‘happy ever after’ ending, so I can sleep at night. I want to know that right triumphed, the heroine or hero made it through, the story needs to make sense by the end so I can put it down and move on.
Mark’s Gospel (16:1-8) doesn’t do that. Itis the earliest and first of the Gospels written after Jesus’ death. The other Gospel writers, all give endings which make sense when we read them. The two additional endings given to Mark clearly show that I’m not the only one who struggles to make sense of the final words Mark himself wrote as he finished writing at the end of v.8:
So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them: and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
But this abrupt ending made me reflect on what might be making me anxious, and it invites me to think about what makes this ending appropriate for Mark; and so it leads me to ask how might this be the right ending for you and I.
The young man dressed in a white robe, sitting in the tomb has told the women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, to go back to Galilee with the other disciples, including Peter, and, ‘there you will see him, just as he told you’.
It is after this instruction the women flee.
Mark’s brevity and lack of explanation is partly because the story following the resurrection still remains to be told.
Details of the resurrection, the meetings and sightings were still emerging among the small communities of believers and followers in the months and early years after Jesus’ death. In reality, the story was still being written then, as it is today.
Easter is neither a well-documented historical event, nor is it a poetic metaphor for renewal. It is ‘a great mystery of faith’.
The ending invites us to think and reflect in complete freedom; and to respond in ways that don’t have to be ‘correct’ or appropriate or structured.
No matter how much glorious light we want the ending to provide, and Mark does tell us the sun has risen when the women go to the tomb, an important fact, as all the Gospels tell us it disappeared as Jesus died. As at the heart of the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, is the darkness of unknowing.
We are told the tomb is empty of Jesus. We are given a promise Jesus will meet us if we go where he has gone.
Are we prepared to journey to that place of unknowing as Jesus’ disciples?
Mark’s few words about the traumatic nature of Easter stands very differently to the relentlessly sunny, cheerful, forgiving, bland, politically correct repackaged gospels we see offered in our world today.
There is something to be very nervous and deeply scared about as we look at our faith and how Jesus showed us a different way of living, when it genuinely and absolutely should disturb the peace of the world and our country, our culture, our communities, our relationships and our faith, if we honestly follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
It stands in contrast to the relentlessly cheerful and optimistic good news told of a Jesus who is white, privileged and currently American, which has been rewritten as so much propaganda for our country and others around the world.
In this post truth reality, Jesus stands as the proud bearer of a nationalistic and violence loving gospel.
Where God is created in our own image, rebranded and made acceptable, so we can limit and privilege ourselves and distance ourselves from God’s radical, revolutionary message.
What am I saying?
No one seems to appreciate the irony, for example, of being patriotic to a saviour who was tortured by legitimate state authority and is worshipped where judicial murder still exists.
No one seems to feel queasy about proclaiming allegiance to an innocent man who was judicially executed.
No one seems to see, for example, the story of our refugees as in anyway connected to a man who was himself a refugee, who was ridiculed, mocked, unjustly held for no crime and then killed.
No one seems to recognise the brutality of domestic and family violence, the appalling desire for guns and power, for state violence, the miseries of privilege and the pleasure of scapegoating the poor and impoverished, and where poverty is accepted, as in any way being at odds with a man who was actively non-violent.
A man who resisted violence; who spoke of love and was compassionate, forgiving and who accepted the consequences of his behaviour including torture, a sentence of death and who was killed. Who was, above all things, a disturber of the peace, including our peace.
What on earth has happened?
Mark shows us along with the other three Gospels, in all the Easter accounts, the risen Jesus makes not a single recriminating comment about the past, no demands for explanations, no desire to settle the score or to punish or kill the one who has offended or challenged.
Christ comments on the disciples being slow to believe he is living, but he never blames them for betraying him, for being scared, for not understanding or for continuing to behave in ways that show Christ’s words and way of life has really made little or no difference to us at all.
Our thinking, our words and behaviour show a breadth and depth of wilful blindness that enable us to ignore the message of Christ, so no wonder we run away.
Do you shout: ‘Christ is risen; he is risen indeed’? Or do we say it shakily, with uncertainty, acknowledging our own desire to crucify him and keep him dead instead so he does not disturb our peace?
The risen Christ shows us a world positively designed and structured for mercy, according to a new pattern laid down by an innocent man who returns from the dead without blame for the guilty, the sinner or the criminal, a God whose love for us pours out of the empty tomb. No wonder we struggle to believe.
If Easter is true in this way, it carries an extraordinary ethical and political obligation for all of us who desire to follow him to the cross and beyond.
It proposes a way of relationships, both intimate and global, that is a long way from how empires behave today, with score-settling, hatred and violence, meanness and vindictiveness, cruelty, oppression, and discord. The terror of realising and accepting all Jesus has said is true. He is risen! God is alive with a message of salvation, of love and of living differently in God’s creation.
No wonder the disciples ran away.
As we contemplate the empty tomb, the ending of this Gospel, says comprehensively God was at work in Jesus, is still working through Jesus; and any expectation of completion of the story rests only with God. All things must and will come to fruition with God alone.
Our task is to go to Galilee together to wait.
The future is God’s; God does things for all creation that burst into our lives if only we can listen and see. Just so in Jesus’ resurrection. God raised Jesus, as God will do with all the dead in Christ. This is what God is able to do, as the promise and guarantee for the expected and believed future for us.
This becomes the foundation of Christian hope now.
So, it is important we do not believe the ‘happy ending’ is dependent on humans and our own limited capacities to ‘finish the story’, write the ending, or even to finish what Jesus started.
We don’t find our own way on our own. All hope and our way is dependent on God, Jesus’ God who can and will finish the story, for and with Jesus, whom God raised from the dead.
So, my sisters and brothers in Christ, the invitation is to go to Galilee where we will find Jesus waiting for us. We have been told Jesus has already gone ahead, and we need only to keep our eyes on Jesus as we step beyond this Gospel ending, to see Jesus as Jesus continues to tell our story.
Will you keep me company on the way?
The Lord is risen.
He is risen indeed. Allelujah.