From the Gospel of 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.
The Shorter Ending of Mark
And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.
The Longer Ending of Mark
Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it
St. Mark. Painted miniature, Gospel head-piece. From Illuminated Armenian Gospels with Eusebian canons. Shelfmark MS. Arm. d.1
The author of the Gospel of Mark created the literary form of the Gospel, of sharing the life of Jesus in written form. Mark’s Gospel is the earliest of the Gospels, according to the majority of scholars, likely dated from the late first century. Mark himself was not a disciple, but one who came to believe in Jesus through the original disciples who travelled with Jesus, the same disciples Mark often portrays as clueless.
While almost nothing is known of the person of Mark, his Gospel gives us an image of Jesus as God incarnate who knows the Messianic secret, what it means to be Messiah. Secrecy is a key theme in Mark, perhaps because Mark the Gospel writer understood on a deep level a life committed to following the Messiah is always one of discovering, of becoming, and of learning.
The original ending of Mark is a cliffhanger. Jesus has been crucified and entombed. The women come that Easter morning to find the tomb empty except for a young man, presumably and angel, telling them, “He has been raised; he is not here.”
And the women flee in terror.
We have no meeting two disciples on the road and breaking bread with them, no breakfast on the beach, no showing of the wounds to the disciples. No resurrection appearances at all in the oldest ending of Mark. Just an empty tomb.
Some years later, another writer added the director’s cut endings, complete with Jesus appearing to the disciples, eating with them, calling them out for their cluelessness, and giving them a commission.
All the endings are important. The longer ending reflects a community who had lived into that truth, who had, perhaps, other gospels to read and other stories of meeting the Risen Lord. The writer (or writers) including all the ways their encounter with the empty tomb and their life in Easter had been lived: they went into the world and proclaimed the Gospel. It offers us a full and complete story, one that feels like and end, whereupon we can begin another story.
The original ending, however, is as important. It’s brevity and rawness reminds us how much of our faith in Christ and the experience of Easter itself is unsettling, even frightening. What does following a Christ crucified and risen mean? How does that meaning change as we live and move in our Christian life? What does this faith in the Messiah mean now that death no longer has the last word? This is scary, life-changing stuff without easy answers or tidy endings. And Mark understood that truth.
Gospel means “good news,” and for a story of good news to end on a note of fear is not obviously Good News, which makes me believe Mark quite cleverly underscores the continuation of the story. Death is conquered. There is no more definitive The End in this life of Resurrection. Mark reminds us to continue the story of life after what appears to be The End.
Mark, perhaps, understood that the real ending of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is still being written in the lives of each of us, of our Christian communities, as we live with the truth of the empty tomb.
Easter in the very text of Mark is not something that ends, neatly tied up with a literary plot device. We do not read of Jesus appearing in the lives of the disciples, sharing some hugs, then ascending while the credits roll. We read in the original ending of Mark a story that invites us to encounter the empty tomb, to be unsettled by that encounter, and then to pick up the quill and continue the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our own lives. A life committed to following the Messiah is always one of discovering, of becoming, and of learning.
We add our words to the story of Easter.
A spiritual autobiography is a writing of the significant events, communities, people, and moments that have influenced and shaped your belief in God and your life of faith. If you’ve never written one, or it’s been many years, consider writing a spiritual autobiography. One basic framework invites us to write about our faith in our childhood, our adolescence and college years, our young adult, and other significant age divisions.
Some questions to consider while writing:
- How did you come to know about Jesus and to engage in a faith community?
- Did you change faith communities or leave your faith community? What caused those shifts? What invited you to return?
- What did your family teach you about God and Christ? Your friends? Your coworkers?
- What significant events challenged or changed your faith?
- How has your understanding of Holy Scripture, prayer, and worship changed through the years and why?
- How have you lived out your Easter faith through prayer, through worship, and through ministry and how have those changed through the years?
- When have you been angry at God? Unsure of God? Committed to God?
- Which parts of Holy Scripture have resonated through particular years and times of your life?
As you write, realize that you are continuing to write the story of humanity’s encounter with the Resurrected Christ. You, too, are writing a story Good News.
For more about the Gospel of Mark, click here.