The Resurrection of Our Lord (3/12/2009)

Lessons:    Acts 10:34-43 or Isaiah 25:6-9     Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24     1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43     St. Mark 16:1-8 or St. John 20:1-18

Prayer of the Day:     God of mercy, we no longer look for Jesus among the dead, for he is alive and has become the Lord of life. Increase in our minds and hearts the risen life we share with Christ, and help us to grow as your people toward the fullness of eternal life with you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

16:1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." 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.

St. Mark 16:1-8 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

How does St. Mark's Gospel actually end? That may seem like a strange question, but we actually do not know how Mark intended to end his Gospel. There are a number of very old copies (hand copied by scribes, hundreds of years ago). They can be found in museums, universities, research centers and private collections throughout the world. If we compare them to one another, we find that there are at least five different endings represented in the various manuscripts. Some include a summary verse that follows verse 8. Some include a long section (verse 9 through 20) that follows verse 8. Some include both of these endings. Some include the longer ending (9-20) with additional material about halfway through it. And some end, quite abruptly, with verse 8.

On Sunday, when we turn our attention to St. Mark's account of that first Easter, we'll end with verse 8 - the last verse that many scholars say can reliably be attributed to the pen of St. Mark. Mary Magdalene and Mary (the mother of James) bring spices with them to properly anoint Jesus' body for burial. On their way, they wonder who will roll the stone away from the door for them, but when they arrive they are alarmed to find the stone rolled back, the body of Jesus gone, and "a young man dressed in a white robe" sitting there. He tells them not to be alarmed, Jesus has been raised. The young man then commands them to tell the others that Jesus will meet them in Galilee, as he promised. And the Gospel ends with these words:

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.  [St. Mark 16:8]

It is a surprising ending - even a disturbing ending. The greatest news ever told is offered to these women, and they flee for terror and amazement, and say absolutely nothing to anyone. End of story. End of Gospel. It seems so unfinished - so unresolved. It is no surprise that if (as many scholars have concluded) this was the last verse of the original Gospel, so many subsequent copies included additional words that helped the reader to know that the story didn't end with terror and amazement and silence.

But what if the original actually did end with verse 8? What if Mark's telling of the story ended with terror and amazement and silence? What if he had intended to leave the story un-ended - unresolved? That presents an interesting possibility: that Mark knew any written account of what Jesus sought to accomplish among us could never tell the whole story. It could only tell the beginning of the story. (And interestingly enough: that is what he tells us he is intending to do: see Mark 1:1.)

No, the written Gospels in our Bible can't tell the whole story of Jesus' ministry, because the whole story hadn't been completed by the time they were written. As a matter of fact, the whole story isn't complete yet today. It continues to play out in the lives of those who read Mark's Gospel, whose hearts are gripped by God's promise, and who become disciples of Jesus Christ. The end of the Good News can't be found in the pages of our Bible. But the continuation of that Good News can be found in your life, and in mine, as we are touched by this story, inspired by the Spirit, and moved to live our lives as witnesses to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

I've come to believe that Mark's original Gospel ended with verse 8. I believe Mark shaped it that way to remind us that the Good News never ends - but it continues even today, as the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives our lives purpose and meaning. Do you believe that?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Gospel:

  1. Which of the various endings to St. Mark's Gospel seems most likely to have been the original ending (16:8, 16:8b, 16:8b-20, 16:9-20, 16:9-20 plus "And they excused themselves...")
  2. Why might Mark have written an account that doesn't seem to end?
  3. Why might ancient scribes have added material to the end of Mark's Gospel?

Connecting with This Week's Gospel:

  1. How do I feel about a resurrection account that ends with terror, amazement, and silence?
  2. What would it mean for the Good News to continue, through the events of my life?
  3. Who do I know, who doesn't have a relationship with God, and how might the "Good News of Jesus Christ" continue through my efforts to share my faith with that person?