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The "Ending" of Mark's Gospel



THE HOLY GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO MARK

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. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 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. 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." 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.

MARK 16:1-8


Easter Sunday Sermon (The Rev. Dr. Maryann Amor)

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.


This is the ending of Mark’s Gospel and it leaves a lot to be desired. Unlike the other Gospels, in Mark the risen Jesus does not appear to the disciples, he doesn’t walk down the street with them or show them the holes in his hands from the nails.


Then there are the women, the angel tells them to go and spread the good news that Jesus has risen, instead they run away in fear and tell no one. If this is supposed to be a resurrection account to compel people to follow Jesus some key elements are clearly missing. This is why, through the centuries, people have tried to fix the ending, writing longer versions, some of which have even made their way into our Bibles.


But upon closer inspection, Mark’s ending is actually brilliant and would be better interpreted not as an ending but as a beginning, a beginning that includes all of us.


To see Mark’s ending as a beginning we need to look at the entire Gospel. Throughout Mark, a key theme is Jesus’ identity, specifically his divine nature. However, this aspect of who he is, is complicated by other characters.


For example, Jesus repeatedly reveals his identity to his disciples, but they never figure it out. After Jesus makes 5 loaves and 2 fish feed 5000 people, the Gospel tells us that the disciples had not understood…even Jesus’ miraculous signs aren’t enough to help the disciples grasp his divine nature. This is why many people, including biblical scholars, describe the disciples as being stupid or dimwitted.


There are also characters who clearly see who Jesus is but are untrustworthy. A demon cries out, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” The demon knows that Jesus is God’s son, but if he were to share this knowledge, would anyone believe him? Would anyone trust his words?? Probably not.


Although Jesus is the Son of God in Mark, the characters around him are either too stupid to see this or they are so untrustworthy that they could not share this information with anyone. Couple this with characters having an amazing experience of an angel at the tomb of the risen Jesus, then running away in fear…and it really does look like the whole Jesus movement is doomed to fail. Who is going to share the good news? Spread Jesus’ words, his teaching, the resurrection?


But there remains one group of people, who have seen and heard all that Jesus has said, have engaged with his life from start to finish…who know who Jesus is because they have seen what the disciples miss, they have seen the truth in the demons’ words. This group has the potential to do what the characters in the Gospel have failed to do. The only ones who can fill this role are, in fact, all of us, the readers of the Gospel.


The ending of Mark’s gospel fails as an ending, but it thrives as a beginning…because that is exactly what it is, a beginning for all of us, right here, right now. We are called to take up the task not filled by characters in Mark, to share the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God, risen from the dead, to spread this beyond the walls of this church building. This means that when the angel speaks to the women today, he is really speaking to us, telling us: “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. 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."


Looking at our world today, it is critical that we take upon ourselves Mark’s call, that we listen to the angel. Around us, hopelessness is rampant, as climate change, the increasing cost of living, family divisions, images of war bombard us daily. We are more isolated than ever before, staring at our screens as we compare ourselves to others, our self-esteem decreasing with every new social media post. Anxiety, struggles with mental health and addiction, suicide, are part of our daily lives. So many of us can’t find the energy to get out of bed in the morning, wondering what is the point? Why even bother?


And into all of this heartache and pain Mark’s Gospel presents an image of a man crucified, but risen from the dead. A man who in immense suffering is not abandoned by God, but God is so powerfully with him that death is not the end of his story. The resurrection is the ultimate sign of hope, a gift to us and our broken world…Mark is calling us to wake up each morning holding onto this hope, knowing no matter how terrible the situations around us might be, God brings life, as God brought it at the resurrection.


We must allow the truth of Jesus risen from the dead, of God’s triumph over darkness to guide our lives. Because if we do this, we will be light to those around us, to those who are stuck in the brokenness of despair…if we live aware that all is not lost, that God brings life…then we will spread hope where none is found, faith where there is fear, love where there is hate.


So, on this Easter Sunday our Gospel reading is better seen not as the ending of Mark’s Gospel, but as the beginning. The angel is telling us, “Jesus has been raised; he is not here…go, tell…he is going ahead of you." Mark is calling us to make sure this message of Jesus doesn’t end with the disciples, demons, and terrified women, but that it continues, it spreads. Will you take up your part in sharing the hope of Christ risen from the dead, the hope of triumph over darkness, with our broken and hurting world?? Amen.


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