The resurrection is scandalous! Resurrection of the body! Frightened women were the only witnesses. But this ending marks our beginning.
I. Establish the text
C. Other texts for Year B for 1stSunday in Easter
- First Reading Acts 10:34-43
- Or alternate First Reading Isaiah 25:6-9
- Psalm Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
- Second Reading 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
- Or alternate Second Reading Acts 10:34-43
- Gospel John 20:1-18
- Or alternate Gospel Mark 16:1-8
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
1 Burial delayed due to Sabbath restrictions. These are the women who had observed Jesus at his crucifixion and when placed in the tomb.
2-4 Affirmation that the tomb had been sealed more tightly that three women could open.
5 Not an angel, but a stranger in a white robe alarms the women.
6 Standard angelic opening: “Do not be afraid.”
7 Frightened women were instructed to be the first evangelists.
8 An honest reaction to a divine message!
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- The preceding segment ends with internment. This segment begins about thirty-six hours later, on the third day.
- There are three endings to this passage:
- with the women fleeing in stunned silence;
- with the women briefly telling Peter and a projection of evangelism; and
- summaries of Mary Magdalene telling the others and their disbelief, the two on the road to Emmaus, and the upper room denials including Thomas, but resolving with a summary of the apostolic movement.
- Too many Christians act more like the open ended version: Fleeing in fearful silence, afraid to tell others, and wondering how the story had been told from generation to generation.
F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?
- The abrupt ending is supported by the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.
- The shorter ending by itself is supported by only one manuscript, but is included with the longer ending in a few manuscripts.
- The longer ending is included in several manuscripts, but some mark it as dubious. This section differs in language and style from the rest of Mark.
II. Literary Study.
B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
Matthew 28 – No mention of Salome. An earthquake and a descending angel open the tomb. The angel sat on the rock that had sealed the tomb. Whiteness of the angel’s garb amplified. Guards at the tomb faint. Angel’s message varies only grammatically from Mark. Jesus briefly appears to them and re-iterates the angel’s message. Interlude about counter resurrection propaganda. The women tell the disciples, all go to Galilee, and there they hear the Great Commission from the risen Jesus.
Luke 24 – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and the other women. The stone had been rolled away prior to their arrival. Two men in dazzling clothes appear. The angels’ message greatly expanded, yet similar to Mark. They tell the eleven, and Peter alone investigates. Emmaus Road interlude and Jesus appears to the eleven in Jerusalem, immediately followed by his ascension.
John 20 – Mary Magdalene arrives alone, sees the stone removed and told Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” These two disciples investigated the empty tomb and get partial insight. Later Mary saw two angels sitting where Jesus had been laid. The angels began a dialog with Mary which Jesus completed. That evening Jesus appears had met with the disciples in a locked room where they received the Holy Spirit and, still later, Thomas’s doubts were erased.
1 Cor. 15:3-10 – No mention of the empty tomb or angelic messages to the women prior to appearing to (Cephas) Peter. Women would have been considered unreliable witnesses thus their testimony irrelevant to Paul.
Mark provided a terse account, giving readers the bare minimum so they might carry the message out into the world.
C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms
III. Question the text.
A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.
The three women had expected to find the tomb as they left it and instead found a man whose message frightens them into silence.
B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?
The man sat on the right side (of the tomb?). Is this symbolic of where Jesus would sit in heaven?
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Center of Gravity: “He has been raised! He is not here!”
- Emotional Center: Terror and amazement! ? God had disrupted what they knew to be true.
- Music: I recall our daughter (probably before her 6th birthday) being frightened when a trio of trumpets suddenly blared from the balcony above us. Her mother and I knew to anticipate them from the bulletin. Music this day should engender shock and awe!
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- If the women had “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid,” then how do we know this?
E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?
- The unfinished or perhaps lost ending begs readers to finish the Gospel. But I believe the unfinished ending is correct, as it begs the reader to finish it with the living of their lives, spreading the Gospel into the world.
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- Hearers will want to harmonize Mark’s telling with other accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, both those in the other Gospels and those in fiction.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Pheme Perkins (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Mark.” Abingdon, 1995.) notes that predictions in Mark of Jesus resurrection, meeting in Galilee with the disciples, and judgment anticipate that the Gospel cannot end with crucifixion and burial. The abrupt ending begs an explanation which the alternate endings provide. She points to Jesus’s dispute with the Sadducees over the resurrection, Elijah, Moses, and Enoch as indicating that “resurrection does not imply return to the conditions of bodily existence, such as the revival of Jairus’s daughter,” but “represents the end-time renewal of all creation,” “… might suggest that the time of salvation has been initiated,” and a “special, heavenly status.” She interprets the women’s flight as symbolizing their isolation from Jesus due to their fear from lack of faith. She comments that Peter is singled out from among the disciples because he had previously boasted he would die with Jesus (14:31), had publicly denied Jesus (14:71), and had wept over recalling Jesus words (14:72). [Since Peter was reconciled with the resurrected Jesus, there is great hope for us!] She concludes that since we know this story, “therefore, his promise that the failure of his disciples would be overcome can also be trusted.” She reflects that “the resurrection is exaltation to Gods’ glory”, the women’s fear demonstrated the mystery of faith. “Jesus did not need to come again and choose a new team in some grand lottery for better disciples.”
Lamar Williamson, Jr. (Interpretation: Mark. JKP, 1983.) begins his interpretation of this chapter: “When is an ending not the end? When a dead man rises from the tomb–and when a Gospel ends in the middle of a sentence.” He interprets the abrupt ending, including a dangling preposition, as literary style rather than indicating a lost section. He concludes: “[This unfinished story] puts us to work; we must decide how the story should come out.” “The significance of Mark 16:1-8 lies instead in its understanding of the basic life-stance of a Christian: expectancy.”
Ralph Martin (Knox Preaching Guides: Mark. JKP, 1981.) reminds us that first century Jews would have been shocked by the presence of women alongside men in the gospel story and perceived women playing a central role in discovering and announcing the resurrection as scandalous.
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
Jesus is risen from the dead.
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
The resurrection is scandalous! Resurrection of the body! Frightened women were the only witnesses.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
This ending marks our beginning!