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. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.
3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But 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. 7But 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.” 8So 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 NRSV)
I worked a lot on the sermon for my preaching class and I was really excited about it. The scripture passage was really interesting … I learned a lot when I studied it … the passage challenged me … I felt like I had a catchy introduction … it seemed like everything came together just the way I hoped.
When I shared it with my class people seemed interested … there were even a few encouraging head nods. After the sermon we sat in a circle and talked through the sermon. My professor said the sermon itself was ok – then he compared the sermon to flying an airplane. He said I had a good take off. He thought the flight itself was pretty good, but the landing (if there was a landing at all) was really rough. He said instead of preparing people for the landing, making a runway approach, and easing into the ending, I had suddenly crashed and burned on the runway.
I took it to mean the sermon didn’t have a good ending.
I think my teacher’s critique made me more sensitive to sermon endings, but not necessarily any better at endings!
The oldest and most reliable manuscripts of Mark’s gospel stop at the end of chapter 16 verse 8 – they leave us with the Marys “[fleeing] from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” If this really is the ending it kind of leaves us hanging … after all the effort Mark has spent to tell us about Jesus, it seems like the story just drops off.
If this is really Mark’s ending, it is uncomfortable …
Like all biblical studies, there is debate about this. Surprisingly, bible scholars across the theological conviction spectrum, agree that something funny is happening with the way Mark’s Gospel ends. Some people believe Mark’s original ending was lost or destroyed. Some people are convinced Mark intended to end his gospel this way. There are theories that verses 9 though 20 of Mark’s sixteenth chapter came from ancient scribes who were so uncomfortable with the possibility of Mark’s Gospel ending with verse 8 they decided to help Mark a little with his ending.
Matthew, Luke, and John give a lot of detail to the beginnings of their Gospels, they give us background information and ease us into the action. They end their Gospels with more detail too. Mark just jumps into the story with John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the wilderness and he ends it with the empty tomb and the group of women fleeing the tomb.
As he tells Jesus’ story, Mark really wants us to know that Jesus is trustworthy.
Mark wants us to see that Jesus does what he says he will do.
Jesus warned his disciples all this would happen three times.
Three times Jesus told his followers he would be betrayed, he would be killed, and after three days he would rise again.
The first time Peter couldn’t stand to hear Jesus say this (Mark 8.31).
Peter hated the sound of it so much he took Jesus aside and rebuked him.
Jesus insisted, this was how it would be.
The second time the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about and they were afraid to ask him for more of an explanation (Mark 9.31-32).
The third time Jesus took his twelve disciples aside and told them, again, what was going to happen to him. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again” (Mark 10.32-34).
Jesus told his disciples about all of this three times and they couldn’t put the pieces together.
Jesus even told his friends they would desert him and Peter would deny him.
When Joseph of Arimathea removed Jesus’ body from the cross and laid it in a tomb all but one of the things Jesus predicted had happened.
He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot.
Peter denied him three times.
Rejected by religious leaders.
Condemned to death.
Handed over to the Romans.
As sad and painful as it was, Jesus had been true to his word.
Mary Magdalene and Mary, watched from a distance as Jesus was crucified. They watched Joseph of Arimathea lay Jesus’ dead body in a tomb that had been carved out of rock, they watched Joseph seal the tomb up tight as he rolled a stone up against the door of the tomb.
Then they waited.
Three days later, when the sabbath was over, early in the day, when the sun had risen, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Salome, went to the tomb. They brought spices to anoint Jesus’ body.
As they made their way to the tomb, they wondered who would help them roll that huge stone away from the tomb’s opening so they could get in.
It turns out they didn’t need to worry about it.
The stone was already rolled away, they didn’t need anyone to move it, they needed to do something else.
“As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.”
He told them not to be alarmed, the one they were looking for… the one who had been crucified… “Jesus has been raised; he is not here.” They should to go, tell the disciples (and Peter) that Jesus is going ahead to Galilee; they would see Jesus there, just like he said.
That’s the last piece.
After being in the tomb three days, in ancient eyes, long enough to be genuinely and verifiably dead, Jesus has been raised.
The Mary’s stepped out of the tomb … and they fled. Terror and amazement seized them. They didn’t say anything to anyone because they were afraid.
Maybe it is fruitless to argue and speculate where Mark’s gospel ends, because even if this is where the words on paper stop, this isn’t where the story stops. The story hasn’t ended … Reading this story almost two thousand years later, we know that eventually they must have said something, they must have told the disciples, they must have told Peter … because this news didn’t stop with them, somehow this news made it all the way to whoever it was who told the story to us.
Mark has shown us the things Jesus has said would happen, have happened. As we follow the story we see Jesus is trustworthy. Jesus is reliable.
What if Mark’s Gospel, what if the whole gospel story, is an invitation?
As Mark tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection he draws us into the story. He asks us to respond to the story. He invites us to participate in the story as it continues. Mark points us toward an invitation – will we trust Jesus? Will we live in relationship with Jesus? Will we let Jesus shape our lives … our hopes … our values … our relationships with each other? Will we join in this adventure by entrusting ourselves to Jesus and living lives that are shaped by his grace?
In the last part of John’s Gospel, he writes, “There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose the world could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21.25).
The gospels don’t end. They are ongoing stories. They are invitations to life in relationship with God.
Because of Christ’s resurrection, because death couldn’t stop his story, our stories are connected with Christ’s story and continue!
Christ is reliable and true … he reveals God’s heart and character to us … he shows the great lengths God will go to love us …
… will you be part of his story?