The Unfinished Easter Story

Mark is my favorite Gospel for the Resurrection story. I’m not sure you’re actually allowed to choose a favorite resurrection story, but I’m doing it anyway.

The entire resurrection story of Mark is only 8 verses long:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb  and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (16:1-8; NIV)

Most Bibles include a longer ending of Mark, which includes several appearances of Jesus to various followers of his, but most scholars agree that this was a later addition to the text.

But why would there be an addition to the text of Mark? Why did early editors decide that verse 8 wasn’t a good enough ending for Mark’s Gospel?

Even in English, we get some measure of the abruptness of the ending.  There is no satisfactory conclusion. No meeting with the apostles. No reappearance of Christ at all, as a matter of fact.  The Gospel seems unfinished. Even those who know about his resurrection are not rejoicing – they’re afraid.  The story just doesn’t seem complete.

In Greek, the abrupt ending is even more pronounced.  Verse 8 ends with the Greek word gar was is equivalent to the English word “for”. Even though we have a few English sentences that end with for (e.g. “What are you waiting for?”) most of my English teachers in school were only too happy to remind me that this was not proper grammer, and that you should never end a sentence with a preposition (a rule I still don’t understand).

In Greek, ending a sentence with the word for isn’t a common occurrence.  Ending a paragraph with the word is even less common, and to date, we have only found 3 Greek books that end with gar (including the Gospel of Mark). Clearly this isn’t a common construction.

So if this is the intended ending of Mark, why is it so abrupt?

For this, we look at Plato.

In Plato’s dialoge with Protagoras, he includes the text of a speech that Protagoras made.  The speech ends with the word, for.  This construct was so unusual, that Plato has this to say:

For a good while I was still under his spell and kept on looking at him as though he were going to say more, such was my eagerness to hear. (Protagoras, 328D)

With such a construction, Plato has a hard time believing this is the end of the speech. It cannot be. Instead, the weight of the speech moves from the speaker to the audience. It is now the responsibility of the audience to carry out the message. Though the speech is over, the message continues.

And in the Gospel of Mark, it is likely this is precisely the ending that the author intended.  When we hear the end of the Gospel of Mark, we’re supposed to remain “under the spell” of the story.  The book may be over, but the story continues!

And this is where we find ourselves for Easter.  On Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. It is a great moment of celebration for the church, but it’s not the end of the story.  The ending of the Gospel of Mark is a transfer of responsibility from the author of the Gospel to the audience.  When we hear the story, we are supposed to be unsatisfied. Satisfaction implies conclusion. There is no conclusion because the story is not over.

It falls on us, then, to carry the story out. We must carry on the work of Christ. We must reveal his resurrection in the world. We must complete the Gospel.

Because the Gospel of Mark doesn’t actually end in 16:8. The Gospel doesn’t end on a note of fear and silence. The Gospel will end in celebration and rejoicing. But it falls on us to bring that about.

We carry the resurrection story with us, not merely as listeners, but as active participants. We are the ones carrying the story to its conclusion!

May we carry the Gospel with us, completing the resurrection story in everything we do, bringing the risen Christ to all the world.

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