Mark 16:1-8 “They were afraid”

Reading:  Mark 16

I’ve told you before that one of the challenges of reading Mark is that we fill in the details from other gospels. Matthew and Luke contain almost all of Mark — but both give much more detailed accounts. For this, and likely other reasons Mark is likely the least read gospel. Whenever a person chooses a reading from one of the events in the gospel, Matthew or Luke generally has one that seems more complete. There are, for this reason, very few ancient sermons on Mark.

Mark is however the most interesting gospel to those who speculate on how the gospels were written. It is generally accepted that Mark is the first gospel to be written down — tradition tells us it was written down by Peter’s companion and interpreter Mark, from memory, after Peter died. Mark is interesting, because Matthew and Luke both follow Mark, and when one disagrees with Mark the other will agree with Mark; Mark is clearly not only the oldest, but the authors of Matthew and Luke clearly had a copy of Mark on hand while they wrote their gospels.

Mark’s account of the resurrection is extremely interesting to those people who study old handwritten gospel texts, compare them, and try to decide which reading belongs in our Bibles. I first learned about this in a class where I was assigned to compare Mark 16 according to various translations, and what I found is that Mark 16:9-20 is not in everybody’s Bible. I learned that there are four different ways that Mark ends; The oldest copies of Mark end with verse 8 “They said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” There were other copies that had a “Shorter ending.” which reads “And all that had be commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter, And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” Of course, the majority of ancient copied approved to be read in church contained our traditional verses 9-20 which ends with Jesus being taken up into heaven; of these some contained the shorter ending as well, but most did not.

If you look at your Bible, you will find one of three things; If you look at a King James Version, you will find Mark 16:1-20 with not even a note. If you look at a Revised Standard Version, you will see that it ends at verse 8, verses 9-20 might or might not be in a footnote. If you look at a New international version, or the New Revised standard Version, you will find a note that the oldest copies have nothing beyond verse 8, and you will find both the shorter and the longer ending of Mark. If you look at the English Standard Version, you will find a note that “Some early manuscripts do not include 16:9-20″, but you will not find the shorter ending.

The work done to decide which of these 4 options to print in a Bible is known as “Textural criticism”. Personally, my favorite choice is providing us with both the shorter and longer endings — of course I’m also the sort of person who likes critical editions of just about anything, especially when they are full of editor’s footnotes.

What I personally think is going on here is that the original ending was: “They were afraid.” We all know the story did not end there — we also know that it is not a very satisfying ending — but, in a real way it is the right ending. On Thursday, the disciples scattered, of the 12, only Peter followed Jesus to the trial. In Mark’s account of the Crucifixion, only the women were there — and the women were the ones who figured out where Jesus was buried so they could embalm the body on Sunday. I imagine Peter ending the story here, with the women while Peter and the disciples are still scattered and confused.

Two things that I want to point out — the first of which is a product of culture, and the second something in the phrasing. The first thing I want to observe is that from Thursday to Sunday, if there is any action that requires courage or strength of character the disciples don’t do that action; but the women did. While the disciples abandon Jesus, the women are there, all the way to the cross. Greek culture did not have a flattering view of women if you say somebody is womanlike, you would be calling that person a coward and possibly suggesting that the person had other moral weaknesses as well. If this gospel were accounted to a Greek audience, the point would be that Peter and the disciples were even more cowardly and morally inferior to women.

The second point is that when the angel spoke to the Mary’s and told them to tell the disciples and Peter. What stands out here is that Peter is named as somebody separate from the disciples. The last we saw of Peter — he was denying that he was a disciple — and, now we have the women sent to tell the disciples, and Peter who is at this point outside the number. In my mind I hear Peter telling this story, and I know Easter morning this is how things really were — Jesus was risen, but the disciples were still scattered, and Peter still had denied being a disciple and Jesus still had not restored him. I like the idea that Peter may have stopped telling the story here.

The thing is, we all know that this isn’t the end of the story — if it were, Peter would not be standing there telling it — there is much more to be said; shall we say, there is an epilogue. You see, the story does not end at the cross, nor does it end at the graveside — nor even with the angel telling Mary to tell the disciples. There is a reason why most Bibles have an Epilogue — because the story went on. Jesus met the disciples, specifically restored Peter, gave them a mission to spread the gospel to the ends of the Earth, ascended into heaven and put the story into the hands of the Disciples.

As you can see, I’m here speaking about this grand story of the gospel — the epilogue we read still does not go to the end of the story. The story continued after Peter and the others died, it continued after everybody who they taught died, and for generations following. The story of what Jesus is doing in the world is continuing today. The story of Easter is not just that Jesus was raised from the dead, but that Jesus became truly present. The end of the story is that not even death can keep our Lord away; even when we are unfaithful, Christ never abandons us.

John 20:19-31: My Lord and my God

Reading: John 20:19-31

For the disciples, the Resurrection became real to them when they saw the resurrected Jesus. As you might remember, the first people to see the resurrected Jesus were the women. Every one of the disciples heard about the resurrection second hand before they saw Jesus. Considering this, I think that it is unfair of us to focus on the doubts of Thomas; his reaction to the news that Jesus rose from the dead was not unique. Luke’s gospel tells us that the other 10 disciples considered the Resurrection to be nonsense, and did not believe it when the women told them.

Many of us notice that Jesus scolded Thomas for not believing; and to be fair, he was the last of the 11 to believe, just as he was the last of the 11 to see. Jesus told Thomas to touch his wounds, which is the very thing Thomas said he would need to do in order to believe. We really notice when Jesus tells Thomas that those who believe without seeing are the ones who will be truly blessed — and as much as we think of this as Jesus scolding Thomas, he really is no different than the others, who did not believe the women.

Remember, Peter denied Jesus three times. Peter denied Jesus to the woman who opened the gate, some unspecified person, and a man who said: “Didn’t I see you at the garden when we arrested him?” — John mentions that this guy who thought he saw Peter there was a relative of the guy who got his ear cut off, so when he asked “Didn’t I see you there?” surely he was thinking — “I recognize you, I saw you cut off my cousin’s ear.”

The disciples scattered, only the women and John were left when Jesus was put to death. A week or so before Passover, Thomas may have said to the disciples, “Lets go die with Jesus,” but at this moment, nobody was truly ready to follow Jesus to the cross. As much as we pick on Thomas and Peter, nobody believed, and few followed Jesus to the end.

Personally, I believe that the exchange between Thomas and Jesus is the climax of John’s gospel. I said before that I believed that John decided that the other gospel accounts needed supplemented, because some people where confused about who Jesus was. The specific confusion I believe he was addressing was a belief that spiritual is good, and physical is bad. This belief went on to suggest that if Jesus were good and divine, he could not have a human body; therefore, Jesus wasn’t a man but an apparition; They also believed since he was not physical, he could not be crucified — the nails couldn’t hold Him.

When Jesus tells Thomas, touch my wounds — it is clear that the wounds were made, it was also clear that the Resurrected Jesus was very much physically there. Jesus spent another six weeks with them, ate with them, and taught them. For these six weeks, the reality of Easter was there to see, and to touch. Christ was risen just as he said. John goes out of his way to make sure everybody can see that Jesus really was crucified, and that his Resurrection was substantial.

I know one of the first questions we ask when we hear about ancient argument is what difference does it make? The difference it made is the difference of whether or not Jesus was able to save us. Think about what is implied if we say: “Spiritual good, physical bad.” While it is an open debate how spiritual we are — it is obvious that we are very physical. We have no concept of being without bodies; our sense of identity includes what we are physically.
For Christians the life of Christ is, at the very least, an assurance that our physical life has the potential to be good — and, while this is good for a motivational speech; it is not the core of Christianity. The one teaching that Christianity stands or falls on is that of the Resurrection. One reason that the Resurrection is important to us is that we have a belief that God is in some very real way present in our lives. We don’t simply follow Jesus, but in some way God is with us as we live out our lives. Jesus’ work in the lives of the disciples did not end on Friday — and, it still has not ended.

Christians believe that Jesus came to save us — we have a bit of a problem with this if we are fundamentally beyond hope of salvation. While Christians have argued about some of the details of salvation; there is substantial agreement that we can be saved, that salvation is supposed to somehow include our life on Earth in our physical bodies, and that to quote the Nicene Creed: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

One thing that Christians have always looked forward to is the promise that we are also on the path to resurrection. Jesus promised his disciples that he went to prepare a place for them; There are hints about this place that is to come, but the best any of us have are guesses. We look forward, because we believe that as long as we follow the way Jesus leads, we will end up in the place where he goes, and that He has made us welcome in this place. Resurrection is the hope of Christianity — and today this hope becomes flesh — flesh that can be examined and touched. Easter is the day that our hope is realized, and we proclaim our faith with Thomas, that Christ is our Lord and our God.

Easter

Perhaps God was dead
Perhaps we did kill him
Yet, can men become so strong?
Would God stay dead?

Can Sheol hold God’s spirit?
Can a grave keep the almighty?
Can hope remain buried?
Will not Faith return?

Has God ever stayed dead?
Whether killed in mind or body
Seems that we cannot accept this death
If God is dead, he is seen so often

Though books burn
Though priests boil
Though churches are razed
Faith and God thrive

Can God be choked by prosperity?
Can God be defeated by controversy?
By frauds or by heretics?
Through all these, God touches mankind

Though God is declared dead and burred
Though the tomb is guarded against escape
The tomb is found to be empty
God is seen outside the tomb

God was dead, we killed him
But, He is risen, just as he said

Sunday Sunrise

The weekend was so very hard
Before the Sabbath, hope died
Life has been about fear
Perhaps it is all over

There will be no revolution
The message will no longer be whispered
There is talk of disbanding
Mostly there is nothing but mourning

One of our own was a cause
Trading faith for money
We now know the price of a Man’s blood
What is the price to return the man?

We knew it was coming
Arguments had increased
We had seen death reversed before
Lazarus is also in danger

The sky is showing its first light
We are sharing a room together
Soon it will be time to return to our homes
Our teacher died before creating our future

The last of the stars vanish
Overwhelmed as the sun peeks over the horizon
No one is ready to say goodbye
Tears fall freely

Some dear women come
They tell an incredible story
An empty tomb and an angel
Christ is risen, just as he said