This year in the cycle of liturgical years we are primarily using the Gospel of Mark for our Sunday readings. But then this particular Gospel is the shortest of the four canonical texts and so it requires “a little help” to fill in the whole of the year – especially during the long stretch of Ordinary Time between Pentecost and Advent. This year, as per normal for Year B in the cycle of readings, the 17th through the 20th Sundays or Ordinary Time is from the Gospel of John.
Tonight the gospel reading for the Easter Vigil is Mark 16:1-7
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’”
Certainly it is not as robust and detailed as the Easter morning account from the Gospel of John, but it tells the story of the Resurrection in clean and simple prose. Even though we read the Markan account at the Vigil, on Easter Sunday, the gospel is from John. If I ever get to be the one who sets the Lectionary Readings I will let Mark have “his day”, but…. I will include one more verse: Mark 16:8:
“Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
In the oldest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark, this is where the entire text ends. It is only in later copies that we have the so-called “longer ending” of Mark (John 16:9-20). While I am adjusting the Lectionary for Easter in Year B, I might just add verse 8.
At first blush one might think, “Well, this is a bit of a downer ending for an Easter Sunday morning.” And you would indeed have a point, but I think Mark also had a point. Think about it. All through the Gospel of Mark those closest to Jesus, continually miss the point. Peter confesses that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, but when Jesus predicts his passion and death, Peter rebukes Jesus. At another passion prediction, the apostles end up arguing about who will be the greatest in the kingdom of God. And when the predicted passion and death have happened, and all that awaits them is the promised Resurrection – why do we expect the apostles to change their pattern. They have been confused about most things, have not really told anyone about Jesus, and should we be surprised that they “fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” – they fail to spread the good news.
Maybe that is a great place to end an Easter Sunday gospel and the whole of Mark’s gospel in case we are exactly like the apostles – don’t fully understand and fail to spread the good news. Fail to share the good news of Jesus because we are a bit afraid. Of what? That someone would think we are a people of faith? That we believe? That we are an Alleluia people? We can be afraid, but so afraid that we fail to speak of the wonders we have heard.
Verse 8 is a good ending. It should give us pause. It is easy to be an Alleluia people here in church. But Mark’s first ending invites us to pick up where these women left off and share the good news announced by the messenger at the empty tomb.
The story of what God is doing in and through Jesus isn’t over at the empty tomb; it’s only just getting started. Resurrection isn’t a conclusion, it’s an invitation. And Jesus’ triumph over death, sin, and hate isn’t the happy ending. Rather, Mark’s Gospel is all about setting us up to live resurrection lives and continue the story of God’s redemption of the world.
It’s only the beginning, and we have a part to play. We have been on the bench too long. It is time to get into the game.
So, yes, Mark’s original ending is incomplete – and rightly so – its only the beginning.