Formations lesson for April 20: Resurrection and Life
April 3 2003 by David Stratton , Mark 16:1-8

Formations lesson for April 20: Resurrection and Life | Friday, April 4, 2003

Friday, April 4, 2003

Formations lesson for April 20: Resurrection and Life

By David Stratton Mark 16:1-8

I once heard a preacher say the command that Jesus gave to His followers more than any other was this: "Do not be afraid." So it seems strange that Mark's gospel would end with some of Jesus' followers fleeing the empty tomb in fear. The other gospels include joyful sightings of the risen Lord, but Mark ends with a freeze-frame of women running in shocked and fearful silence. Why?

Could it be that Mark's ending invites us to ponder more deeply the earliest reaction to the discovery of the empty tomb?

A shocking discovery Jesus died on the cross and His body was placed in a tomb cut out of rock (Mark 15:33-47). The final chapter of Mark's gospel opens with several ladies on their way to anoint Jesus' body with aromatic oils, which was an ancient Jewish burial custom (v. 1). The women were discussing the difficulty of rolling away the large stone covering the entrance to the tomb when they looked up to discover that it had already been removed (vss. 3-4). They went inside only to be alarmed at the sight of a young man in a white robe (v. 5).

The young man told the ladies to be calm and then he delivered the shocking news that Jesus was not in the tomb because He had been raised (v. 6). The women were instructed to go and tell the disciples, including Peter, that the risen Jesus was going ahead of them to Galilee (v. 7). Peter may have been singled out in the message in order that he might know that he had been forgiven of his denial of Jesus.

The passage ends with the women fleeing the scene, "for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid" (v. 8, NRSV).

The end? It is very likely that verse 8 concludes not only our passage but also Mark's writing of the book that bears his name. Most translations include a notation like that in the New International Version: "The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20." Some who study this matter have concluded that Mark deliberately ended his gospel with 16:8. Others theorize that Mark's original ending has been lost.

Be that as it may, the manuscript evidence indicates that the original autograph of Mark's gospel (or what survives of it) ends with scared, silent women running from the empty tomb. So we are left to ponder the meaning of this abrupt ending.

Pause at the first reaction The first time I read an Ernest Hemingway story it seemed to end before it was over. Mark's gospel leaves me with the same impression. Yet the finale comes at precisely the right moment.

The sudden ending of Mark's gospel will not let us rush ahead to the joy of Easter. We have three gospel accounts in which the women spread the news of the empty tomb. Three gospels leave us cheering at sightings of the resurrected Jesus. Yet the three gospels also reveal the initial shock of those who found the tomb empty.

The abrupt ending of Mark does not conflict with the resurrection accounts of the other gospels. Rather, this conclusion reminds us to pause at the stunned and fearful silence that is also a prominent part of the Easter story.

The empty tomb marked a radical shift in the world. Mark's ending compels us to feel the shockwave for a moment. Before the flood of joy, this gospel would have us sense the initial movement of spiritual tectonic plates.

Certainly we will celebrate the joyful news of the risen Lord on Easter. Yet the joy cannot be complete without some awareness of the full depth of the implications of the resurrection of Jesus. Recovering the shocked and fearful silence of those running women at the end of Mark results in louder cheering at the reports of Jesus seen alive.

Let's spend a moment meditating upon the "terror and amazement" of the empty tomb so that we will experience more fully the joy of the resurrection appearances of our Lord.

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4/3/2003 11:00:00 PM by David Stratton , Mark 16:1-8 | with 0 comments
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