Throughout the last year in the Teen Sunday School class, we’ve been studying Mark’s Gospel. Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels, but it’s an exciting account of the life of Jesus that invites the reader into the narrative to see what it truly looks like to follow Jesus. We see Jesus do miracles and teach with a unique authority. We see him continually challenging the status quo, showing that the Kingdom of God is not what the Jews of the time (perhaps even we today) had expected. We see the disciples at their best and at their worst, as they grapple with the implications of who Jesus is.
This past Sunday we studied Mark 16, finishing the Gospel, which was fitting timing as it was Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday is now only a few days away. This chapter is unique among the conclusions of the Gospels, and it is surrounded by much debate. Depending on what Bible translation you are using, you may see Mark 16:9–20 set off in brackets with a comment that the earliest manuscripts don’t include them. This is a topic for a whole other discussion; for the sake of this post, I want to assume (along with many scholars) that those verses were not original and Mark intentionally ended his Gospel at verse 8.
Mark 16:1–8 tells us that a few of the women who had been following him went to his tomb on the first day of the week following his death and burial. But Mark’s telling of this account has a different tone than the Resurrection passages found in the other Gospels. Here in these verses, we see that the women approach the tomb to find it opened up and occupied by a (living) young man who tells them that Jesus has risen from the dead and was not there. He then tells them to go relay the news to the disciples and that Jesus will meet them in Galilee.
This is where things go sideways. From what we know from the other Gospels, we would expect the women to go back to the disciples, tell them the good news, rejoice together, and even encounter the Risen Lord in the flesh somewhere in that process. Mark, however, does not give us those details. If we assume he ended at verse 8, the story ends like this: “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The end.
This abrupt ending is unsettling to most (which explains the likely addition of the rest of the story in verses 9–20). But I think it is actually a masterful stroke on Mark’s part. He writes his story in a way that invites the reader to participate. Sure, he could have wrapped up this account of Jesus with a neat bow, showing proof of the resurrection and a commission to go tell the world. But instead he ends with a cliff-hanger, and a note of uncertainty. By doing this, he invites us as the readers into the story to grapple with the implications. Jesus has told his disciples three times that he would rise on the third day. The women at the tomb had to decide if they believed it, and so do we. The women at the tomb were given the command to proclaim the Good News (Gospel) of his resurrection, and so are we.
This is the beauty and power of the “Short Ending.” As we ponder the abrupt, unsettling, and uncertain end to this story, we have a choice to make. Will we, like the women, stay silent from fear and astonishment, or will we obey the call and proclaim the Good News of the Resurrected Lord to a lost and dying world?