Mark’s Easter Cliffhanger

Jason Micheli —  March 31, 2013 — 9 Comments

images-1My boys- they know how stories work.

I have two sons, Gabriel and Alexander, 6 and 9.

Over the past 5 years, by my conservative estimate, we’ve seen something like 120 movies in the theater together. I figured it out: that’s like $5,000 in movie tickets.

And when you factor in the cost of concessions, it comes out to like a bajillion dollars.

But my boys know how stories work.

My boys know that in every story, no matter the danger or difficulty, the hero lives, the guy gets the girl, and the villain will be defeated.

My boys know that in every story the hero will will suffer some trial, and it might make you wonder. It might make you clutch at your dad’s arm. It might make you hide behind your $40 bucket of popcorn, but in the end:

You know that Spiderman will rescue MJ.

You know that Marlin will find Nemo.

You know that Kirk and Spock will reconcile and save planet Earth.

Harry will survive Lord Voldemort.

Marty McFly will get back to 1984.

The force will prove stronger than the dark side.

And Mikey and the Goonies will escape the Fratelli’s and find One-Eyed Willie’s lost treasure.

No matter the danger or difficulty my boys know that in the end the hero will triumph, questions will be answered, loose ends will be resolved and everything will be happily ever after.

 

Because that’s how stories work.

This week the boys and I spent Spring Break hiking in the Blue Ridge, and one night we decided to go to the movies, to see the Hunger Games.

 

Now…if you’re thinking that a dystopian, post-apocalyptic story in which 24 impoverished teenagers fight to the death for a sadistic television audience…if you’re thinking that’s not the best movie for a Kindergartner, my wife agreed with you.

 

Vigorously.

 

And she made me promise to tell you that whenever I mention my parenting, I should add that it’s descriptive not prescriptive.

 

So there we were- in the dark theater, nearing the climax of the story where Katniss Everdeen’s life hangs in the balance, Gabriel was on my lap, nervously clutching at the seams of my jeans, when he announced louder than any of the characters:

‘Dad, I need to go to the bathroom.’

 

Naturally.

Because it wouldn’t be a movie with your kids without having to get up in the most exciting part of the movie and stumble in the darkness, trip over other people’s unaccommodating feet and step ‘accidentally’ in to their $50 bottomless bucket of popcorn.

In the little boys’ room, I waited by the sink while Gabriel did his business. And while he did, from behind the stall door, Gabriel announced confidently that Katniss, the heroine of the story, was going to survive.

 

‘Dad, I know she’s going to live because she’s the hero. If she didn’t that would be a terrible ending.’

 

My boys- they know how stories work.

 

Which makes it all the more irritating that St Mark does not.

 

Mark doesn’t seem to know how stories work.

 

Because what Mark gives us today for his Easter story is a terrible ending.

It sucks.

Jesus has been rejected and nailed to a cross. His friends have all betrayed him or denied him or abandoned him.

The next morning, now that the Sabbath is over, the women come to do what they didn’t have time for earlier- to anoint his body properly.

They come expecting to find a corpse.

When they get to the tomb, the body is gone.

A young man- maybe an angel- tells them that he’s not there. He’s risen, that he goes before them to Galilee, that they should go and tell the disciples to meet him there.

But the women run away with fear and trembling. They say nothing to anyone.

The End.

No one sees the Risen Christ. No one even knows to look for him because the women are too afraid to pass the message along.

That’s it. That’s where Mark stops. That’s how Mark ends his Gospel story.

     What kind of ending is that? 

It’s not the ending Mark has set us up to expect.

 

Three different times in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has predicted that he would suffer and die and on the third day rise.

Fact is, the women should never have bothered buying the burial spices because they should’ve have already known his body would not be there.

They shouldn’t have run away from the empty tomb; they should’ve expected it. This isn’t the ending Mark as led us to expect.

Over and over again in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has told his disciples to keep who he is a secret until the right time.

And over and over again the disciples haven’t been able to keep their mouths shut.

But now, today, when it’s time finally to go and tell- now they keep their mouths shut. They don’t say a word.

 

What kind of ending is that?

It’s not the ending you all want on a day like today.

 

You all come on Easter for a word of triumph and victory.

You all come on Easter to hear that Christ is risen, a happy ending to Christ’s life- a happy ending that has the power the assure you of your own happy ending.

When you all come on Easter to hear the announcement that Christ is Risen, he’s Risen indeed, you don’t want that announcement to sound like it has a question mark on the end of it.

 

What kind of ending is this?

It’s not even an ending the ancient church could stomach.

The early Christians couldn’t abide the uncertainty, the lack of resolution, the loose-ends Mark leaves dangling.

The early Christians needed happiness. They needed victory. They needed triumph. What they needed was a few more verses.

So they added them.

They added them- you heard it here before you heard it from Dan Brown. Someone, sometime between 300-400 years after Jesus, added 12 more verses to Mark’s ending.

They gave Mark’s Gospel the kind of ending they thought Mark would have had Mark known what he was doing.

Those extra verses are included in most of your bibles, but they’re usually footnoted or italicized or bracketed-off as not being Mark’s original ending.

Mark’s Gospel ends with verse 8.

Mark’s Gospel ends with: …they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’

     But you can’t blame the ancient church for trying.

What kind of ending is that?

It’s not the ending the other Gospels give us.

Matthew ends his Gospel with the Risen Jesus meeting his disciples on a mountaintop and resolving all their doubts before he promises to be with them always until the end of the age. A good ending.

Luke gives us the Risen Christ sitting down to eat with his disciples and then promising to send the Holy Spirit before ascending into heaven. A good ending.

John gives proof positive of the resurrection in his Gospel ending. The Risen Christ has skin and bones and wounds that he invites Thomas to feel and touch. And John shows us Jesus forgiving Peter 3 times who had betrayed Jesus 3 times. A tender, hopeful ending.

But what Mark gives us….is a cliffhanger: ‘They fled from the empty tomb…and said nothing…’ 

     What kind of ending is that?

Can a Gospel even end this way and still be Gospel, good news?

It’s not a satisfying ending.

There’s no proof, no resolution, no closure.

It’s not even an ending, really.

Why does Mark end his Gospel this way?

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Someone from our congregation sent me an email a while back.

Dear Jason, 

    Something was mentioned about forgiveness in worship on Sunday. Something that made me want to share my story. 

     After my son graduated from high school, we discovered he’d been abused for years by someone close to our family. It tore us apart. 

     My son lashed out with anger and alcohol. I blamed myself for not knowing, not seeing it, not being able to stop it. 

     With a lot of help, he’s healing slowly and putting his life back together. When he was a boy, he was so happy. I could easily have shot the man when I first found out. 

     That’s not all. 

     My daughter married her high school sweetheart, whom, she did not discover until too late, was an alcoholic. He was a respectable-looking accountant who first just slapped her around a bit. When he finally really hit her, she left with our grandson but only after he’d spent all the money she’d saved.

     At first, I thought I shouldn’t pretend I’d forgiven those men for what they’d done. After all, God knew how I felt and I shouldn’t bother lying to God. God knew I didn’t want to forgive. I hated them. I thought nothing could ever change that.  

     This is what I wanted you know: for a long time I just assumed that this was the story I’d been dealt and the best I could do was accept it, cope with it, try to have faith. I figured that was how my story worked. 

     Then one day it struck me: we believe the tomb is empty. 

     God raised Jesus from the dead and that meant my story didn’t have to remain what it was. 

     Resurrection meant I had the power, by God’s grace, to finish my story; so that, what it would be was different from what it had been. 

     It’s not that I thought I had to forgive or that God wouldn’t love me if I didn’t forgive. It’s that I realized because of the Resurrection I could

     It’s been a long, slow, painful process. 

     But now, years later, I can truthfully say I’ve forgiven them and now I’m free that of hatred and bitterness. 

     Instead of a story of pain now mine is a story of healing. 

    Rather than a story of sadness and suffering mine is a story of overcoming, and it’s all been possible… because… He…is…Risen. 

 

I think Mark knew exactly what he was doing.

 

I think Mark refuses to resolve his story because if Jesus Christ is Risen there can be no ending. Because it’s up to us to finish the story.

 

Mark leaves the story unfinished because Mark wants you to finish the story of Resurrection in your life.

 

That’s why in Mark’s Easter story the Risen Jesus doesn’t appear anywhere on the page.

 

He doesn’t appear to the women. He doesn’t speak to or eat with his disciples. No one touches his wounded hands or feet as evidence of Easter.

 

Mark leaves the Risen Christ off the page because he wants you to realize that the only ‘proof’ there will ever be of Resurrection…is you.

 

Mark leaves the story open-ended so that you’ll realize Resurrection is about this world, this life. It’s about the here and now.

 

Easter is not simply the announcement that there’s life after death.

That wouldn’t have been a very novel announcement 2,000 years ago just as today it’s not a very unique or counter-cultural idea.

 

Easter is not the message that our soul lives on after death.

 

Easter is God’s vindication of Jesus’ way of life.

 

Easter is the announcement that mercy and love and forgiveness and hope- they are stronger than any sin and more permanent than the grave.

 

But the only proof of that…is you.

And how you finish the story.

How you finish your story.

My boys- they know how stories work.

They know no part of a story is more important than how it finishes.

Endings do things: gather together nagging loose ends, resolve conflicts, redeem what came before.

 

Some of you here for Easter I don’t know. I don’t know your story.

Maybe your life’s never measured up to your expectations.

Maybe you’ve never achieved what you thought you would.

Maybe you’ve disappointed your spouse or let your kids down.

Maybe you think that’s your story and always will be.

Or maybe you’re convinced you have too many doubts, there’s too much you question or don’t understand, for you to ever have faith, for God to ever use you. Maybe that’s your story and you think it will never change.

Or maybe you’re stuck in a relationship that just won’t heal, that won’t get from where you are now to where you both know you need to be.

Maybe you’ve done something for which you’re convinced you’ll never be forgiven.

Maybe you’ve been so wounded by someone else you’re certain you’ll never overcome it.

Maybe you’re not even sure you have a story and you can barely get yourself out of bed in the morning.

I don’t know. I don’t know your story.

But Mark wants you to know:

That the tomb- is empty.

He’s not there.

He is Risen.

And it’s up to you to finish the story.

What your story has been up till now isn’t what it has to be.

The ending hasn’t been written yet.

Because if Jesus Christ is Risen, your story is never over.

It’s always just ‘To Be Continued.’

Because if the tomb is empty, what you think is your story is never final, never finished, never set in stone.

It always instead comes with an ellipsis, with a …

Because, by the grace of God, you have the power to finish your story.

You have the power to let the old story die and trust that a new story will rise in its place.

You have the power to give your story a different ending.

Because that’s how the Resurrection story works.

 

Christ is Risen.

     Christ is Risen Indeed. 

 

Christ is Risen.

     Christ is Risen Indeed. 

 

Mark leaves it to you to prove it.

 

Jason Micheli

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9 responses to Mark’s Easter Cliffhanger

  1. Jason,

    Hmm. On the positive side: I’m glad you’re celebrating the resurrection of our Lord.

    On the not-so-positive side: “Someone, sometime between 300-400 years after Jesus, added 12 more verses to Mark’s ending” — what nonsense! Is it too much to ask that you do some research before encouraging your congregation to believe such falsehoods? (And by “research,” I don’t mean to simply consult Metzger’s comments, or some commentator who has rephrased what Metzger wrote.) In the two earliest Greek manuscripts of Mark 16 (from the 300’s), the text stops at verse 8, but both of those manuscripts have unusual features at the end of Mark that suggest that their copyists were aware of verses 9-20. Plus, in the 100’s, Mark 16:9-20 was utilized by Justin (160), Tatian (172) and by Irenaeus (184); Irenaeus specifically quoted Mark 16:19 from his copy of Mark. Compared to their copies, those two copies from the 300’s are younglings. Plus, Mark 16:9-20 is in all the rest of the undamaged Greek copies of Mark (over 1,500 manuscripts), including early copies from diverse locales, such as Codices A, C, D, and W. The Gothic version (350) includes these verses, and so does the Vulgate text (383), in which Jerome standardized the Latin text of the Gospels so as to conform with old Greek copies — that is, copies that Jerome considered to be old in 383. If the transmission of the text of the Gospel of Mark is compared to a tree, one could say that although an Egyptian branch lacks verses 9-20, the other branches contain verses 9-20; it’s more likely that the Egyptian branch has lost a twig (a loss which was treated via the creation of the “Shorter Ending” in Egyptian manuscripts) than that the other branches have had twigs grafted onto them.

    I’m glad to see you tackling this subject. But don’t blindly trust your sources. Test all things. Just about everything you think you know about the ending of Mark is wrong. I encourage you to revisite this entire subject.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • I’m not blindly trusting sources. I’m only acknowledging what is both scholarly consensus and my own conclusions from personal study. It’s not simply an issue of which manuscripts lack the longer ending and which do not. Only a fool would read the full text in the Greek and conclude that the same author as the Gospel wrote the final verses 9-20. Not only does writing read markedly different, the additional verses go against the grain of the artistry of Mark’s Gospel. They betray the open-ended irony that Mark weaves throughout his Gospel. Donald Juel’s analysis on this level is wonderful and, to my mind, spot on. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  2. Jason,

    If you have not blindly trusted your sources, and you have viewed with eyes wide open the quotation of Mark 16:19 in Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies,” Book 3, chapter 10, written c. 184, and you nevertheless wrote, “Someone, sometime between 300-400 years after Jesus, added 12 more verses to Mark’s ending,” what are readers likely to conclude that you have done?

    Juel claimed that “The Gospel of Mark, according to the almost unanimous testimony of the oldest Greek manuscripts, ends with 16:8.” In the real world, Mark’s text stops at 16:8 in two of the ancient Greek manuscripts (Sinaiticus, which has a cancel-sheet for Mk. 14:54-Luke 1:56, and Vaticanus, in which Mk. 16:8 is followed by a distinct blank space including an entire blank column.); in the others — including Codices A, C, D, and W — 16:8 is followed by 16:9. Analysis that is not based on facts should be reconsidered.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    • Jason Micheli April 1, 2013 at 2:51 PM

      Careful, now you’re messing with my mentor and friend!

      • Jason,

        No; I’m not messing with Donald Harrisville Juel, your mentor and friend (and our brother); I’m contesting his claim that Mark 16 ends at verse 8 according to “the almost unanimous testimony of the oldest Greek manuscripts” (because in Codices A, C, D, W, etc. the text of Mark does not end at v. 8) and your claim that verses 9-20 were added “between 300-400 years after Jesus” (because, among other reasons, Tatian’s Diatessaron contained these verses (c. 172) and Irenaeus specifically quoted 16:19 (c. 184), long before the production-dates of the two Greek manuscripts (not anywhere near “almost unanimous testimony”) in which the text stops at 16:8). I’ve made no judgment about why these untrue statements were made, only that they are untrue.

        Yours in Christ,

        James Snapp, Jr.

  3. Just for the record, Marty McFly was trying to get back to 1985, not 1984. Doc Brown would be so disappointed!

    Love the blog though, great message!

    • Jason Micheli April 1, 2013 at 3:48 PM

      My bad. Gosh I’ve seen that movie a thousand times too. Speaking of which, I’m doing a funeral tomorrow for a guy who wrote a few science fiction novels.

  4. Jason,

    Please explain how an honest and well-informed person can say that verses 9-20 were added “between 300-400 years after Jesus” considering that Tatian’s Diatessaron contained these verses (c. 172) and Irenaeus specifically quoted 16:19.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

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