When the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought some spices, so that they might go and anoint the body of Jesus. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb, after sunrise. They were saying to one another: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” But, on looking up, they saw that the stone had already been rolled back; it was a very large one. Going into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on their right, in a white robe, and they were dismayed; But he said to them: “Do not be dismayed; you are looking for Jesus, the Nazarene, who has been crucified; he has risen, he is not here! Look! Here is the place where they laid him. But go, and say to his disciples and to Peter ‘He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.'” They went out, and fled from the tomb, for they were trembling and bewildered; and they did not say a word to any one, for they were frightened; (Mark 16:1-8)
Back before Advent I mentioned in passing “…my brother’s unfavourite Episcopal minister”. Looking at this passage reminds me of same minister, because it involves the subject he taught me: modern Biblical scholarship, and this passage–or more accurately what follows–is one of those he discussed. But some background is in order.
Until I went to the one and only Episcopal educational institution I ever attended, the Bible was pretty straightforward. But same institution required two semesters of theology, and this minister taught the first one. While regaling us with source theories (Torah and Gospels,) problems of authorship (he stated that John was an “old codger” when he wrote his gospel) and the like, he entertained us with stories like how he became a Vegas show stopper by wearing his dog collar on the front row of a production where the performer came out singing “Never on Sunday.”
It was evident to him that I wasn’t exactly bowled over by him or his German-fuelled erudition in modern (we weren’t post-modern at that point) Biblical studies, so I wasn’t his favourite student. But he left after that year and went to the military school where my brother was attending. He told my brother point blank that “I didn’t like your brother, and I don’t like you.” My brother and I were very different people, but he was upset at this man’s attack on me, and told him so. My brother’s grade suffered as a result, something he could ill afford at that point in his life.
This man was our school chaplain to boot: I ultimately responded to him and his successor (who had issues of his own) by swimming the Tiber. But we must get back to the passage at hand, which concerns the first Easter morning.
Current manuscript evidence tell us that the best copies of the Gospel of Mark end at verse 8, the end of the passage above. That’s a pretty abrupt ending, even though the Greeks were adept at abrupt endings. It’s led to much speculation about what (if anything) is supposed to come after. There is more than one possible candidate, although I believe what traditionally appears as vv. 9-20 are canonical. (I leave it as an exercise to my Evangelical friends to demonstrate how we know this is so.)
Ultimately, however, ending the narrative at v. 8–“…for they were frightened”–is highly untriumphalistic for an event that really justifies triumphalism. The women–the first ones to discover the Resurrection–were told the truth by the angel, but their reaction to both angel and news was entirely understandable. It was Our Lord’s task in the time he was on the earth after the Resurrection to settle them and others down and to prepare them for the beginning of the mission that was to come.
The women who first visited the tomb, however, were and are not the only ones frightened by the Resurrection. As N.T. Wright likes to point out, the powers that be in those days didn’t like the idea either. It is the ultimate statement that we who follow Jesus Christ in this life and through our own resurrection into eternity will bodily transcend the control of those who think they are the gods of this world. In a time when the authority of the state grows daily, it’s little wonder that Christianity–with its promise of a new earth–is concomitantly attacked.
But for those of us who are called by his name, the resurrection–his and ours–is not frightening but the ultimate hope:
But, in truth, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who are at rest. For, since through a man there is death, so, too, through a man there is a resurrection of the dead. For, as through union with Adam all men die, so through union with the Christ will all be made to live. But each in his proper order-Christ the first-fruits; afterwards, at his Coming, those who belong to the Christ. Then will come the end-when he surrenders the Kingdom to his God and Father, having overthrown all other rule and all other authority and power. For he must reign until God ‘has put all his enemies under his feet.’ The last enemy to be overthrown is death; For God has placed all things under Christ’s feet. (But, when it is said that all things have been placed under Christ, it is plain that God is excepted who placed everything under him.) And, when everything has been placed under him, the Son will place himself under God who placed everything under him, that God may be all in all! (1 Corinthians 15:20-28)
As we celebrate the Resurrection on Easter and throughout the year, let us take comfort that we can and will triumph with Our Lord, and not be frightened.