Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The shortest ending of Mark

And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:8, rsv)

The shock must have been great. Greater than the shock of any day before. They stood before the empty tomb.  And they knew. They knew it was true. He was not there. He had gone before. He had gone before them, into the night. And through it, and beyond it. He had gone into the morning of a new day. The day he promised. The day he told them about. The day of the Lord. It was his day. And it was theirs. They did not know what to do with it. They did, they did know, they knew some things: they knew to go and tell every body all about it. They knew to proclaim it from the rooftops. They knew: they were women. What did they know? Who would believe them? What were they, after all? Who were they to know, to tell, the terrible secret? (He was alive.)

He was alive and everything must change. Everything must be different from now on. They ran down the street. No one knew. No one but them. But soon, that would be different too. As the day begins. Early morning sounds began to rustle around them as they hurried home. Ordinary sounds, the sounds of the first day of the week. The first day. You said it, brother. The first day of everything. What would finally happen was in the future. This was the hinge point – or just past it.

Wasn’t the shift really something that had come in the dark of the night, after the full moon had come and gone? Just a day before?

After the Passover, after all the noise, the sounds too loud for human ear, after the violence, came the quiet— the quiet, the mourning. Saturday. Nothing moved. Nothing stirred. It was the Sabbath: nothing worked that day. Nothing and nobody. He was gone. For ever. And then. They went on the morning of the first day of the week. Not just morning yet, perhaps not even dawn, as they began to leave their separate homes and go out. When they met in the street, you could just tell a black thread from a white, if you held them up together before your eyes, or a friend’s eyes.

And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen.

It was day. But what would it bring? They went. And they saw. They saw nothing where something should have been. And they knew. It was all over. And it was just beginning. What would the future bring? All they knew was it was a future with hope. But it was a wrenching, strange future, and one being born in hard labor. What had happened was beyond human hope. Beyond the wreckage of their lives, ones they knew. (He was alive.)

He was not there. What are you doing here? What are you looking for? Whom do you seek? We seek Jesus. And will you find him here? Will you find him in the morning, where the stone has been rolled away, and the tomb is empty? Where the gardener’s helper’s discarded cloak has gone missing? Some one needed it. Some one went away. And where he has gone, you should follow. Into the future. The future with hope. A hope in what has begun to be fulfilled. (He is risen.)

The beginning of the new world – a world where God raises from the dead, makes alive again – or better, makes new – what calls us into being ourselves. (The Lord is risen.)

He is risen indeed.

The end is where we start from. —T. S. Eliot

On my bookcase is a paperback New Testament. It was the first part of a new translation and when my great-grandfather got his copy, he wrote the date inside: Dec. 21, 1948. There was something slightly controversial about this translation, the Revised Standard Version. It was in contemporary English, modern English, and it contained the best modern scholarship of its time. So in the text it gave the shortest ending of Mark. The Gospel of Mark, the translators determined, may originally have just ended like this:

And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

Back up a sentence or two. The women had come to the tomb, where Jesus was laid, on the first day of the week. They came with spices, to anoint him. But they asked each other: Who will roll away the stone that covers the mouth of the tomb? Only to find: it was already rolled back. Inside they found a young man sitting, all dressed in white.

“Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.”

So they knew what to do, what to say.

And it terrified them.

For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of Saint Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Wash., April 2012


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