Saturday 4 April 2015

Sunday, April 05, 2015 - Easter Sunday - How will you end the Gospel of Mark?

To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col3:1-4; Mk 16:1-8

The director of a play wanted to involve the audience as much as possible. He tried various strategies. In one scene, the characters in the play would come on stage from among the audience. In another scene, some of the members of the audience would be invited to come on stage and be part of the play. While these strategies worked to some extent, he was still not satisfied. Finally, he came up with a brilliant idea. He stopped the play just before the ending he had envisioned, and let the members of the audience write their own endings. This is exactly what Mark does in his Gospel.

The Gospel of Mark begins with a clear sense of direction. We know right at the beginning that it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, the end is surprising and even stunning. The women who witnessed the empty tomb, after the burial of Jesus, say “nothing to anyone for they were afraid”. How could Mark end his Gospel in so abrupt a manner? This ending leaves so many questions unanswered. If the women said nothing, then how did Mark come to know? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Were the women hallucinating? Did they dream what they saw, or did they really see? In order to answer these questions, which were already raised in the first century, some scribes added another ending to Mark, in which the risen Jesus appears to a variety of individuals or groups. They did this in order to round off the Gospel and give it a “reasonable” ending. It is clear that these verses are an addition and that the original ending of the Gospel was with the silence of the women.

What then would be Mark’s point in ending the Gospel in so abrupt a manner? It is very likely that Mark’s intention is that of the director who wanted to involve the audience in the story. It is very likely that Mark wants to inform all those who read his Gospel that they, and not the women, will continue the story and determine its ending. The readers of the Gospel are now the messengers of the resurrection of Jesus, and Jesus continues to go before them. This interpretation is borne out by the fact that Peter and the disciples “know” that Jesus will be raised.  They know Jesus goes before them to Galilee because Jesus himself told them this before his passion (14:28). Mark wants to inform the readers that a tomb, which is regarded as a place of death and decay, cannot contain or hold Jesus. The empty tomb is a striking symbol of the fact that Jesus has robbed death of its power. The sting of death will no longer be felt. The Gospel of Mark ends in the way it does because it is a story that is not yet over.  It is a story that continues today, even 2000 years after Jesus rose from the dead.

This is significant because this ending says to us, today, that where there was despair, there is now hope; where there was sorrow, there is now joy; where there was the cross, there is now the crown; where there was death, there is now new life.  The ending says that, even in the midst of persecution, even in the midst of seeming defeat, even when things do not go as we want them to go or as we plan them to go, we can be confident that God continues to be with us, walking ahead of us, guiding our path, and lighting our way.

This is confirmed by Peter’s speech to the members of the household of Cornelius in which he summarizes the life and mission of Jesus.  Peter affirms that Jesus has been raised and that he and others of his group are commissioned to be witnesses of this fact. The raised Jesus will continue his work of forgiving sins.

This is why the Colossians’ are advised to set their hearts and minds on things that are above, and not on things that are below. They have been raised with Christ and so must live those transformed lives that God has gifted to them.

This, then, is a call to each of us as well. We who believe in the resurrection of Jesus are called to continue the story begun by him. We are called to be witnesses to the fact that, in Jesus, God has given, to all who are open to receive, life in all its fullness. We are called to witness to the fact that a life lived in fear, or in selfishness, is a life that is not worth living. We are called to witness to the fact that, because Jesus walks ahead of us, hope will always replace despair, justice will always replace injustice, selflessness will always replace selfishness, joy will always replace sorrow, love will always replace fear and, life will always continue to win over death because the cross is not, and can never be, the end. This is why Mark leaves his Gospel open ended. Will we write the ending with courage and hope?

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