Providing the Missing Part
Something is missing, at the end of Mark’s Gospel. I don’t mean the resurrection part. That part is complete. Friday night’s reading from the Gospel of John reminds us that it is Jesus himself who announces from the cross, “It is finished.” And it is. The work he came to do is done; it is over; all things have been accomplished.
That is not the part missing in Mark 16. What is missing is what happens next – after Jesus has done his part. What is missing is some idea of how this, the most amazing thing to have ever happened on the face of the earth, becomes the greatest story ever told among those who live on planet earth. Something is missing.
Early on, in the history of the Church, folks realized that something was missing. The oldest, most original copies of the Gospel of Mark end where we ended today, at the 8th verse. But many contemporary Bibles will contain two other, optional endings. A study Bible will always note that these alternative endings are that – alternative endings – added at some point later in time. These other two, alternative endings were added for the sake of a Church which realized that an explanation would be expected. But that isn’t the way Mark told the story. He ended here. He left something, intentionally, missing.
At least two things are missing: First, some accounting for how the news slips out. If the women are too terrified to speak to anyone, how does what they saw finally get shared? Second, this ending is lacking any of the credible characters who have figured so heavily in all that has come before. Where are the heavy hitters? Where are Peter, James, and John? None of the names quickly recited by Sunday school children are found here. Three relatively unknown women are the only witnesses to the most amazing thing to have ever happened on the face of the earth; to the greatest story ever told among those who live on planet earth. And they, out of terror, say nothing to anyone.
Mary Magdalene we know – or at least we think we know. Luke, chapter 8, references her as the one from whom Jesus casts out seven demons. One of those alternative endings to Mark picks upon this and repeats the reference. But Mark does not mention Mary Magdalene at all until we get to Golgotha. She is not a character in Mark’s story, until we get to the crucifixion.
Sometimes Mary Magdalene is confused with the woman in the city, who in Luke, chapter 7, baths Jesus’ feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. The two characters are often confused. But there is nothing in the Bible to support this widely shared misunderstanding. Mary of Magdalene we know – or we think we do.
The other Mary, the mother of James, is such a minor character that even Mark knew we would need clues to her identity. In writing the story, Mark notes that she is the mother of James. (Mark’s earlier reference, in 15:40, notes that she is the mother of James the younger – not James the son of Zebedee. There are lots of Mary’s in the Bible.) Who is this Mary? And why is she one of the blessed three to witness the empty tomb?
I spent more time that I should have trying to figure out who Salome is. Quite honestly, I still didn’t know. There are lots of conjectures, but little in the way of hard Biblical evidence. Tradition says that she is the wife of Zebedee. This, then, would mean she is the mother of James, and of his brother, John. Tradition – but not scripture. In the Gospel of Matthew, the mother of James and John is identified with a different name. Want to guess what that name is? You go it – Mary.
Present at the empty tomb on the morning of the resurrection are these three relatively unknown women – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger, and Salome. Missing are the heavy hitters. Missing are the persons who will later preach all those great sermons on what it is that God accomplished on this day. Missing are those who are well-known – well-known to the early church and well-known to you and me.
Missing is some indication of how the news traveled from these three terrified and frightened women to the millions and billions who would come to trust in this story and make it the pivotal event in their lives. Missing. There is no clear link. There is no outline for how this is to happen.
Sometimes, what is missing is the most important part of all.
Sometimes, what is missing is the most important part of all.
This is certainly true for Easter morning, right? The thing which is most essential to the story is a missing corpse. Jesus is not there. He is gone. He has been raised. He has been removed from the place of death. Gone. Missing. The most important part of Easter morning is what isn’t there.
Perhaps the same is to be said for this seemingly defective story, recorded for us as Mark’s 16th chapter. Missing here is the clear delineation of how this story spreads. Missing are the hot-shots, the big names, the go-to guys. Missing. Not present. Maybe, just maybe, this absence serves a purpose other than confusing us. This void identifies where the story is to go from here. Missing is even the slightest suggestion that someone else is going to take care of all this. The absence leaves the future in our hands. If this story is going to be told, it is going to be up to us. If this news is to make it beyond the three who run away terrified, it will be because those who know what happened to them decides to tell someone else. Getting the Good News out is your job, and my job. We can’t sit back and wait for the heavy-hitters to do the job – they are nowhere to be found.
Most of the time, we feel like add-ons, to the end of the story. Too often, we read what happened and we think, “That is nice.” Mark’s story of the first Easter Morning is designed to jolt us into action. It is written in such a way as to make it clear that if this, the most amazing thing that has ever happened on the face of the earth is going to become the greatest story ever told it will be because you and I tell the story. The only way that the good news heard and witnessed by Mary, and Mary, and Salome will be repeated is if you and I repeat it.
Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed! Jesus has finished his work. Now is the time for us to get down to ours.