Mark’s Gospel ends: “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid”. But why? What is the Good News about that? My sermon for Easter Day explored what that means for us.
There is on-going debate over the ending of Mark’s Gospel. N T Wright, amongst others, argues that the original ending has been lost. Others, including Garland (1996 Mark NIV Application Commentary) think that verse 8 is the original ending. This is the interpretation that I favour, for reasons that I explain in the sermon! Garland’s commentary was very helpful in preparing this.
Easter sermon 2017; Mark 16:1-8
When I was young, there was a TV series on called ‘The box of delights’. It was about a small boy who was given a magical box and had all sorts of adventures with it. In the days before video, we made sure that we all watched it every week. I remember really enjoying it – right up until the final scene, when it was revealed that the whole thing was dream. I was really disappointed. It felt frankly like a bit of a betrayal. So, thank you for allowing me to get this off my chest!
And then we come to the ending of Mark’s gospel: “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid”
As endings go, that’s quite a rubbish one, isn’t it? It’s not as bad as the box of delights obviously, but it certainly wouldn’t get past Hollywood. It doesn’t really resolve anything, and we’re not told the everyone is living happily ever after. The film version would definitely change it!
And, just to prove that there’s nothing new under the sun, it didn’t get past the first few scribes who copied the book either. Pretty soon they felt that they needed to give it a better finish, a bit more of a happily-ever-after sort of an end, which is why we’ve got 2 other different endings in our Bibles.
But, neither of them are the original ending. The original ending seems to be “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid”. So what’s that about?
Well, what’s been going on? The women are the only ones brave enough to go back to the tomb once the Sabbath is ended. As soon as they can, the women who have watched him die on the cross, who have seen where he was buried, come back to anoint the body. They are not afraid to be associated with an executed criminal, even though everyone else has deserted him. They go, and they’re not thinking straight, because it’s only on the way that they start worrying about the practicalities of how they’re actually going to move the stone. But, when they get there, that’s not what they’re worrying about any more…
“Don’t be alarmed” says the young man in a white robe, which has got to be one of the more pointless commands in the Bible. Too late. And pretty soon they’re also trembling, bewlidered, and running away. They have heard the good news and it’s just made things worse! He has risen. He is not here. Go and tell the others. Go back to Galilee. They’ve been told that by someone that they haven’t yet realised is an angel and they are even more confused than they were!
Jesus has spent most of the Gospel telling people not to tell others that he is the Messiah. Usually with limited success. People have been running around telling people all sorts of things about him, often straight after he’s asked them not to. Now, here, finally, his closest, most loyal followers are told to tell the Good News that He has risen, and don’t manage to do it.
And that’s how the Gospel ends. Which is not a good ending. Which is frustrating and leaves more questions than it gives answers. Did the women tell someone? When? Who? What happened then?
Well, obviously, they told someone because we know. Because we’ve heard the story. Because we’ve heard the story again this morning. The women told the disciples and Peter. They returned to Galilee and they met the Risen Christ. They told each other about the events that they hadn’t even talked to each other about until then. They told other people. And those people told other people. And so we heard about the events of that first Easter morning.
And so we are drawn into the ongoing story. The Gospel of Mark doesn’t end. It just stops being written down. We are part of the ongoing Gospel, the ongoing Good News that He is Risen.
It’s great that we’ve got this Easter wreath of Easter eggs, made by our toddler group. Now, a couple of weeks ago there was one of those blown-out-of-all-proportion news stories with some people complaining, not very correctly, that Cadbury’s and the National Trust had removed the word Easter from their chocolate egg hunt. I can’t help feeling that if we need Cadbury’s and the National Trust to help us that much then we’re in trouble anyway. It’s not up to other institutions to remind people of the Good News of Easter – it’s up to us!
The women we’re trembling and afraid and so said nothing to anyone. And just to clarify, the men were so afraid that they didn’t even have anything to say! Because they weren’t even there.
So, we’re going to hand round chocolate Easter eggs now. And I’d like to invite you to take 2 of the chocolate eggs – one for yourself, and one for someone else. A family member, a friend, a neighbour, whoever. Give it to them saying something like ‘Happy Easter from Hartshorne church’. You don’t have to say anything else, if you don’t want to, or don’t feel that the time is right or whatever. And if that thought is too terrifying for words, or isn’t appropriate, or whatever, then do please still take 2 eggs. And when you eat the second one, you might want to use that as a prompt to pray for someone, or for yourself that you’ll know next year who you might be able give an egg to.
If we just had Mark’s gospel we wouldn’t know what happened next, who spoke to whom, how people encountered the Risen Christ. But this isn’t a rubbish ending to a good story. Instead, it reminds us that God’s power and God’s mercy are bigger than we are. The women failed to speak, the men weren’t even there, but still the events of that first Easter morning were told, and heard and retold. The conclusion isn’t dependant on them. And it isn’t dependant on us. Our attempts to follow Jesus are often as stumbling and inept as his first followers.
The resurrection is bigger than Mark’s Gospel. It can’t be ended with ‘And they all lived happily ever after’. It’s a bit more like one of those films where it’s only once you’ve seen the end that you can make sense of the rest of the film. So, if it’s any good, you then have to go back and watch the whole things again. We are invited in, invited to question, invited to start again at the beginning of the Gospel and then keep on going past the end into the present.
So, alongside whatever you do with your second chocolate egg, you might want to go back and read Mark’s gospel. And when you get back to the end, keep on going. Not with the reading, although you can, but with the living. With the telling in deed and word. The power of the resurrection is bigger than can be written. The adventure of disovering the risen Christ is for all of us and is life-long. The power of the resurrection flows into our lives and flows through our lives. The love of Christ is greater than sin and death. The power of the Spirit is with us now and always.
Because: Alleulia, Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia.