Why in the world did I think of Ron Popeil while meditating on the resurrection narrative in the Gospel of Mark? Well … ADD only explains a small fraction of it. The more I thought about it, and yes for the record it did make me laugh too, I realized it was because they had some things in common. First, they were both evangelists of sorts – Ron telling good news about the products he was selling and Mark telling good news about Jesus Christ. They both could generate excitement through their words. Ron had those stock phrases I mentioned and Mark had a couple of favorite words – “amazing” (just like Ron … maybe that’s the hook) and “immediately.” Mark uses the word “immediately” 41 times in 16 chapters to get you on the edge of your seat. And then, Mark slows the narrative down when he gets to Holy Week. You hear every sordid painful detail of what happened to Jesus – the last supper, the betrayal by one of his closest friends, the mockery of a trial, crucifixion and abandonment and buried in a borrowed tomb.
And then we get to chapter 16 … it is early in the morning, sunrise. The women go to the tomb to prepare the body and first address a problem … who will roll that stone away for them? But they get there and see the stone is already rolled away … Jesus is gone … a stranger tells them he is not here! He’s been raised! Go and tell the disciples, even Peter who denied him, that he is going to Galilee and he’ll meet you there! Yes!! Just when you think the pace will pick up again … the women flee in terror and amazement and say nothing to anyone because they are afraid. The End! Imagine you hear Mark tell you this around the campfire … what’s your response? “What??!! Wait … what happens next? Mark replies, “Not sure … that’s it … that’s all I got. Good night.” And we think … “But wait! Isn’t there more??”
There’s a disquieting lack of resolution. So disturbing is this ending of the narrative that at least three writers tried to “fix” the gospel by tacking on endings. Two appear in many versions of the Bible and a third appears in a few obscure manuscripts. Both of the popular tacked on endings have Jesus showing up. In the longer of the two endings, Jesus gives a discourse that borrows heavily from later writings and references some pretty odd things like drinking poison and handling snakes won’t kill believers. Nothing says “Happy Easter” like snake handling, right? Thankfully we don’t incorporate that into our Easter rituals! What these tacked on ending tell us is the unsettled ending of Mark really bugged the people in the early church. You’re not alone!
But this abrupt ending has a purpose and the older I get, the more genius I think there is in it. Mark’s gospel has ended with a messenger giving the women a command and a promise. The command is to “go and tell” and the promise is the risen Christ will meet you there. In the case of the women, they are commanded to go and tell the good news that Jesus, the crucified one, is not locked in a tomb but has been raised. He is heading to Galilee and will meet them there. While Mark implies the women did not say anything to anyone, stopping the narrative there begs the question - If the women didn’t tell who would? And this is why we are disquieted because we know the answer … it is up to you and me.
You see the Gospel of Mark ends but there are more gospels being written and they are written in the lives of believers like you and me who are charged with carrying the message forward. We too are receiving the commission through Mark’s story to “go and tell.” And we are also the recipients of the promise that in going, Christ will meet us there - he will meet us in the Galilees of our lives. Wherever we are going, whatever challenges we face, Christ will meet us there because he is already there. This is the gospel still being written – gospels which bear each of our names. Chapters are still being written as you and I live out our baptismal vows in striving for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being, serving Christ in all persons, and being healers and reconcilers in his name.
You see the genius of Mark’s narrative now? He knows there is more and he knows how to leave you with a cliff hanger that will launch you past his narrative and into your own ministry right here, right now. I do believe Mark’s silence in the end resounds loudly with … “But wait! There’s more!”