Surely there’s more

Read Mark 16:1-8

At the end of Mark’s gospel, there’s some weird stuff. Not weird miracles or weird behavior, but weird words and a whole lot of footnotes. It turns out that for about 1700 years, people have been wondering and worrying about the end of Mark’s gospel. Some Bibles don’t include anything after verse 8. Others have a longer ending to the gospel that goes as far as verse 20. Some include it all, but add all kinds of notes and parentheses. Biblical scholars love a good puzzle and this peculiar ending of mark’s gospel has provided a wonderful conundrum.

Most of the oldest biblical fragments we have for Mark’s gospel show that it ends with verse 8. The rest of chapter 16 seems to be a very late (for the Bible) addition – some parts may be even as late as the 7th or 8th century A.D. None of the earliest church fathers refer to the longer ending of Mark’s gospel – not in their sermons, not in their commentaries, not in their devotional material. To add to this evidence, scholars have looked at grammar and word usage and syntax. Here’s what they found…the sentence structures are more complex. The meaning is significantly less literal and visceral and the vocabulary doesn’t even match with the rest of Mark’s gospel. In fact, whoever wrote those 11 or 12 verses included some words that don’t occur anywhere else in the Bible. And to top it all off, Mark ended with a conjunction. To us – it’s like ending a sentence with “and”… or “therefore”… or “but”… or “so”…

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid, and…

and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid, but…
and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid, therefore…
and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid, so…

By now, unless you’re working on a PhD in semantics or Ancient Greek, you’re probably thinking – surely there’s more to this story than what I’ve read so far.

Well, hold that thought – because if you are wondering, you’re not alone. Clearly you’re in good company with the other three gospel writers who, for whatever reason, couldn’t leave this resurrection story hanging with fear and amazement. Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus in Luke’s gospel. He appears and ascends in Matthew’s gospel. And in John’s gospel, he appears and disappears several times – encouraging doubters, calming the fearful, pushing his leaders into ministry.

And… as for those of us who have the benefit of nearly 2000 years of Christianity – we know that there surely is more to the story, even though our knowledge is not the point.

But…as much as we might need to hear the stories of Jesus appearing to Mary in the garden or in the upper room with Thomas and the others, his post-resurrection appearances are not the point.

Therefore…we might feel a little better about placing our trust in the resurrection because of these stories, but our need to have proof of the resurrection is not the point.

So…what, then, is the point? What is the “more” to this story? What in the world is Mark trying to do?

His abrupt and unadorned good news seems to come to the edge of a cliff and leave us all hanging. But what if Mark was trying to tell his community something important with his weird ending? What if he was trying to get a message to a group of people who were considering giving it all up because it sure didn’t look like Jesus was coming anytime soon to help them with their problems? What if, with this odd, open-ended statement, Mark meant to ask a question of the followers of Christ? You know the tomb is empty. You know what Jesus taught. You know how he lived. What are you going to do about it?

Surely there’s more to it than that? Surely there’s a more profound, albeit obscure, meaning that Mark means to convey. Or maybe not.

What if the good news – the gospel – is simply that the tomb is empty. It seems to me that there is enough power in those four words to last a lifetime.

The tomb is empty – and – it’s a perfect way to show God’s power over death.
The tomb is empty – but – it’s not the end of the story.
The tomb is empty – therefore – we don’t need to be afraid of anything.
The tomb is empty – so – we’ve got a great story to share.

There is surely more to Mark’s story of the empty tomb. Like the women at the tomb, like Mark’s persecuted and battered community, 21st century humans continue to move in a world that is limited by fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of pain and death, fear of loneliness, fear of grief, fear of oppression, fear of abandonment and isolation, fear of our neighbors, of our community, of our world.

The empty tomb makes real the truth of God’s triumphant, victorious power, not just over the people and events which make us fearful, but over fear itself. The empty tomb stands as undeniable evidence that God can obliterate whatever creates fear. It is an indisputable sign that God’s son, Jesus Christ cannot be contained by any human construct. And if an unmovable stone couldn’t hold him in the grave, neither can our inflexible, inconsistent, apathetic faith.

What if Mark means for us to keep moving – like the women? What if he wants us to see the signs of God’s power and then get going to share the power of God’s message? Then, the empty tomb is not a place to stop and wait for more. It is the beginning point of a lifelong journey in which fear and amazement are mingled with a sense of expectancy and wonder at what God will do next.

So this Easter, we’ve arrived at the empty tomb. And we see once again that God has overcome the power of evil and overturned the influence of death. What’s next? How will you live out the rest of Mark’s unfinished story?

The tomb is empty – and…
The tomb is empty – but…
The tomb is empty – therefore…
The tomb is empty – so…

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