Unfinished Easter

Mark’s abrupt ending leaves the story up to us

Apr 14, 2014 by

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Mark’s Gospel ends too soon. Or so it seems. “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

What happened to the happy ending? Did Mark fail to finish what he started? Did he lose the last page?

Even Mark’s earliest readers wanted a “better” conclusion. And they got it. Someone in the second century wrapped things up neatly, drawing material from the other Gospels and Acts. (Most Bibles note that these verses, Mark 16:9-20, are not original.) In this ending, the women announce the resurrection. Jesus appears to the disciples, proclaims the Great Commission and ascends to heaven. The disciples go forth and preach.

All of which is fine; we can find those stories elsewhere in Scripture too (except for the part about picking up snakes and drinking poison).

But it’s not what Mark wrote. Mark, it seems, wanted to leave us wanting more.

In fact, the abrupt ending is Mark’s unique contribution to the Easter story. He challenges us: What will we do when we encounter the empty tomb?

It is easy to judge the women who came to anoint the body. How could they not tell the disciples about the stone that was rolled away? How could they not pass along the message of the young man in a white robe?

But these questions are only the beginning of what we should ask ourselves about Mark’s cliff-hanger. In the Believers Church Bible Commentary volume on Mark, author Timothy J. Geddert suggests we should sense the evangelist turning the question back to us: “Having read to the end of Mark’s narrative, we too have been entrusted with the message of the resurrection. How can we keep silent?”

Geddert, professor of New Testament at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, points out that the young man tells the women — and, by extension, tells the disciples and us — how to find redemption after we have failed. We may have denied Jesus. We may have run away in fear. But now we get another chance. We can meet Jesus where he is going.

“Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him,” the young man says.

The women do not find the risen Christ at the tomb. But now they know where to look. They can catch up with him in Galilee.

Geddert writes: “Mark invites us, challenges us, to fix our eyes on Jesus, who has gone on ahead of us. We must follow him, obey him, go where he goes. Then we too will meet the risen Jesus.”

This is the beauty of Mark’s open-ended Gospel. Mark abandons us in middle of the action in order to present us with a choice. We stand with the women at the empty tomb. Will we flee in fear? Or spread the news?

Mark leaves his resurrection message unfinished so that we can write our own ending in our own life. It is our story now, to tell by following the risen Lord.


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