Reflection: Easter Mystery, Easter Gift
Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
We all love a good mystery. Even when we know the ending, we still enjoy Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and Father Brown. Mysteries abound in scripture. One of them is the ending of the gospel of Mark.
In the text we hear on Easter Day, the beloved women of Jesus go to the tomb on Sunday morning, wondering who will roll the stone away. When they arrive at the tomb, it is standing open. They see a young man in white who tells them that Jesus has been raised. The women are surprised—shocked, is more like it—and they run away, telling no one because they are scared. And the gospel comes to an end on that unresolved note.
However, for much of Christian history, Mark’s gospel goes on for another several verses. These verses include confirmation of Jesus’ resurrection, his meeting with Mary Magdalene and other apostles, and his ascension into heaven. This is the familiar conclusion common to Roman Catholics, the King James Version, Lutherans, and Calvinists. That degree of canonical agreement would seem to settle it.
It hasn’t. As biblical textual scholars have become more learned, scrupulous, and sophisticated, the consensus is that the longer ending just isn’t right. It doesn’t show up in the earliest complete manuscripts of the Bible. And the extra verses—the verbiage and grammatical structure—aren’t like the rest of the gospel. The longer ending seems tacked on, presumably because ending the resurrection account in a moment of suspense was an early biblical theological problem that needed the solution of a neater, tighter narrative ending comprising twelve more verses.
Today, we students of scripture are more comfortable with questions without answers. Imagine: What would we have done on that first Easter morning? Well, running away, afraid to tell people the tomb is empty because we don’t understand; a strange man told an even stranger story, and we don’t know yet what to think; so, we’re scared out of our wits—that all seems very human and reasonable. The original writer of the gospel of Mark understands the power of mystery, and allowing persons of faith to fill in the rest of the story in their own way.
Personally, as a scripture student, I’m glad that Mark left things hanging. I believe that faith begins where Mark left off. And I think that’s more than fine: It’s an Easter gift.