Manage episode 278337816 series 1950523
We have a rich symphony of lessons to choose from on Easter Sunday. More so than on other Sundays due to the several choices offered. The resurrection account from John or what is often called the shorter version from Mark. Shorter because the manuscript history shows that Mark could end here, at verse 8, with the astonishment of the three women witnesses, having been told by an angel young man that Jesus had risen and would be meeting them in Galilee. And going no further than that.
Then there is the summary of Peter in Acts 10 that ends with Jesus resurrection from the dead and appearance to chosen witnesses. Either as the first or second lesson. The alternative for the first reading is the more typical OT lesson, here from Isaiah 25. With death swallowed up, and tears wiped away. The Lord for whom they waited-women, disciples, angels, the whole world—has come. “Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Jesus was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, that is, in accordance with Isaiah 25 and other OT texts.
And this is what St Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, which is the first option for the Epistle reading. This is Paul’s turn to tell us what he has received, the good news he proclaims and in which the church now stands. Jesus Christ died and rose in accordance with the scriptures, and appeared to Cephas, he writes, and the others of the twelve, and yet five hundred further, then James and finally to himself, untimely born.
And the Psalm for the day is a selection from Psalm 118. The “I” voice is that of the risen Christ. “I shall not die but live.” The “we” voice is ours who witness that on this day the Lord has acted. “We will rejoice and be glad in it.” And it is the righteous sufferer speaking of God’s victory in Christ in all ages, in “which we stand,” as Paul would put it.
It is the year of Mark and his resurrection account is unique, as given for this Sunday and as likely existed in this form before the longer ending came into play, given its 8 verse brevity. Christ’s dramatic and terrifying absence that Easter morning is itself the warrant of his risen presence and God’s promised vindication, as Jesus had promised. Was Mark content with that, perhaps consistent with his understated style? Was there a longer ending that got lost? Is the ending we now find attached a compilation based on the other Gospels? Is John 21 Mark’s lost ending?
These are the puzzles that have tantalized faithful interpreters from Eusebius and Jerome down to the present age. That the manuscripts have not eliminated the issue means it is wise to rule out some kind deficiency, or obvious problem on Mark’s part, needing to be corrected. The longer ending is itself a study in disbelief and non-recognition, as if breaking the silence didn’t make that much difference measured against what God had dramatically done all the same.
The shorter ending, whatever else we make of it, is also a reminder that we have the Gospel of Mark in a fourfold Gospel collection, and alongside the resurrection accounts given by Peter in Acts and Paul in Corinthians, and the according word of the scriptures of Israel. It is a wrong account of the character of the Gospel to think of Mark in an isolation: a single book detachable testimony. The present longer ending of his Gospel likewise reflects this wisdom.
At the same time, Mark’s bracing conclusion in verse 8 needs to be, and can be, heard for its own sake and within the context of the 8 verse pericope beginning in verse 1. Three women arrive to anoint the body. Joseph had very little time before the Sabbath and did the bare necessities: got permission (Jesus died quickly), provided a tomb (Jesus had no family), wrapped the body, and had the stone placed.
Now at the end of the long and silent Sabbath, the cohort of women buy the necessary spices, and get up early on the third day. Two of them had noted where the tomb was, Mark tells us, at the end of that day of death. They pose the obvious practical question as they make their way there, and it also anticipates the dramatic sight they encounter when they do arrive. For the stone that worried them has been rolled away already. They enter the tomb and are alarmed to find a live young man there. He tells them that in the niche where they might expect to find him, they will not. He points to the vacant place. He tells them everything is going to plan and just as he had said. They are to tell the disciples—and yes indeed Peter, too—he is going ahead just now and will be seen in Galilee. The Gospel ends with the women in terror and unable to speak.
But of course we know that this silence was broken, broken by God himself. The readings all testify to Jesus being indeed seen in Galilee as the young man had promised and as Mark’s terse but pregnant ending states it. Galilee is where he appears, as Peter tells us in Acts. Of the twelve he appears first, or in some signal fashion, to Peter, as Mark, Luke, John first Corinthians all agree.
But before the reconciling encounter with the disciples he has chosen, who fled from him, we have the encounter with those who stayed closed by at that fateful hour, and are also the first to attend to the body they had loved and that had cared for them in his day.
The point may need emphasizing. The emotional link joins the practical. Mathew, Mark, and Luke all stress that at the cross, or near enough to watch Jesus passion, final hours and death, were women companions. Named in Matthew and Mark and including Mary Magdelene and at least one other Mary. Mark is probably the clearest in showing this fact enables the two Marys to know where the tomb is, and be aware that more attention to the body is in order than what Joseph was able to undertake. And so they are the first to confront the reality of an empty tomb, whose rolled away stone makes their visit possible, but then not necessary for the loving tasks they had come to do.
John’s longer and different resurrection account, which can be read this Easter Sunday, agrees that women were first to the tomb, again it is Mary Magdalene. She sees the stone rolled away and runs to tell two key figures in John’s presentation: Peter and the Beloved Disciple. They will remain in critical frame from here to the end. In John’s Gospel the beloved disciple was at the cross, with Jesus’ mother, the Magdalene and again another Mary.
The famous footrace is won, surprisingly, not by the ever active Peter but by the other disciple. As he remained with Jesus at the very beginning of the Gospel, at the Last Supper and at the Cross, so he remains at the tomb’s entrance. The runner up, true to form, rushes in. The narrator and the beloved disciple being one and the same, we can assume he is reporting what Peter sees as he also sees it, before he goes in. Jesus has walked out of the wrappings of death. The belief, comprehension, understanding of the beloved disciple comes as he remains and contemplates. As at the cross, the scriptures still veiled for others are sounding forth clearly for him. Perhaps Mark’s shorter account would have suited him just fine!
Now John saves the special, first encounter with the Risen Jesus for Mary Magdalene. It speaks for itself in emotional depth. Jesus is in his resurrection body and in that body is recognized in special ways, as we see. In this new recreated life Jesus is bringing us we should think of a renewed garden of Eden and so how good that it has a gardener, so Mary supposes upon seeing Jesus. The sound of her name from his mouth brings forth new life. Easter life. What she sees and what the beloved disciple knows by scripture and his posture of remaining , assisted in both by the Spirit poured out at the cross, is then relayed to the others. “I have seen the Lord.” Welcome happy morning. The symphony of scripture pours forth to and from this Easter fulfillment.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ was raised on the third day. In accordance with the scriptures.
God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses. All the scriptures testify about him.