Meditation on Mark 16:1-8
Pastor Karen Crawford
The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812
Easter Sunday: April 4, 2021
I visited three women from our church family on Good Friday who live at Windsorwood Village.
This was the first time I was able to go inside the senior living community in Coshocton since the pandemic forced its closure to visitors, including family and clergy. This was also the first time I had ever seen their apartments and been able to visit with each one separately, as well as meeting with them together in a private dining room.
What did we talk about—Jan, Velma, Margaret, and me? Well, we laughed and talked about the food—and how they serve large portions and put corn in Ziti! And we talked about new friends, such as Lula’s brother, Maurice, who knows how to tell a good story—and sings with a piano player who is 103! We talked about their families and Easter plans. When I visited their apartments, they shared personal stories and hopes for the future—when they may come and go more freely and return to worship with their church family. They miss their church!
I noticed in each of their rooms at least one special piece of furniture they had brought from their former homes and lives, along with framed family photos. It got me wondering what would be important for me to keep, if I were in their situation? What would I be willing to let go as unnecessary or even burdensome for my new life? Would I be able to get beyond the grief and loss so that I could, like these women, embrace the love, goodness and blessings all around them, in the present and future?
Christ tells us to be anxious for nothing in the Sermon on the Mount. Trust the God of eternity who provides for all the birds of the air and the flowers of the field—and loves us and provides for us so much more.
And yet human beings struggle with anxiety and fear.
I am praying that after this pandemic, we won’t be stuck in the past—replaying traumatic events and troubling memories. Sometimes I wish that we had a time machine, like Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies.
What if we could travel back in time in Doc’s DeLorean and change the past, and prevent bad things from happening?
But how did that work out for Marty and Doc?
When they tried to change one thing to make things better, they ended up changing other things that had negative repercussions on the present and future. This pattern repeats itself in all 3 Back to the Future movies!
The answer to today’s struggles for the people of God isn’t found in our past. The answer is not to rehash all the mistakes of the last year or look for people to blame. No, the answer for followers of the Risen Christ is in living out our present hope of new, resurrected lives with Him today.
And don’t look back!
We encounter three followers of Christ—Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of Jesus, and Salome—at Christ’s empty tomb, early in the morning on the first day of the week –after the one they loved had been crucified. They find the heavy stone rolled away and a man in white with a message from God.
“Do not be alarmed,” the man in white says, “you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
And because this is Mark’s account and not John’s—with Mary seeing the Risen Christ and mistaking him for the gardener until he calls her by name—we are left hanging, with a most unsatisfactory ending. For the three women are unable to process the new information of the empty tomb and the angel’s message: “Jesus is ALIVE! You’re going to see him!”
“…They went out and fled from the tomb for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” –Mark 16:8
OK, now we get to the confusing part when we read the account of the resurrection from the gospel of Mark. If you look in your Bibles, you will see that the gospel appears to continue beyond verse 8 with something called “the shorter ending” and “the longer ending.” In these sections, we read about resurrection appearances and something of a Great Commission, Jesus telling the disciples to go and proclaim the good news to all creation—and there’s more.
But scholars tell us that the rest of the gospel after 16:8 was not written by Mark; it was added later by other writers. One piece of strong evidence for this is that the most ancient authority—the oldest version of Mark that we have—ends at 16:8. More evidence is that in the versions with the shorter and longer endings, the writing style and vocabulary are different in those parts from the rest of the book. And there are other details after 16:8 that don’t fit, such as when “Mary Magdalene is introduced in 16:9,” says theologian Mark Strauss, “as though the reader does not know her. Yet she has appeared in the previous three scenes (15:40, 47; 16:1)!” Then, there’s the mention in this later section of what scholars call “non-Markan elements, with references to picking up snakes, drinking poison and speaking in tongues (16:17-18)—themes not mentioned elsewhere in the Gospel.”
Having shared why we end our reading at 16:8 in Mark’s gospel leaves only one pressing question.
Why does Mark leave us with the women fleeing in terrified silence? Couldn’t he have thought of a better, happier ending?
And this is where I confess that I have never preached on Mark’s gospel on Easter; it’s only since the pandemic that his gospel has somehow connected with the state of my heart and mind. I don’t know about you, but I am still recovering from the trauma of all that has happened over the last year. And the trauma isn’t over, yet. The story is ongoing, incomplete, just like Mark’s gospel. How and when the pandemic will finally end is still a mystery to us.
For such a time as this, I believe Mark knew just what he was doing when he left us hanging with the women in terrified silence. He wanted us to imagine ourselves in the scene and encourage us that God isn’t through using us! His original readers are facing suffering, persecution and even martyrdom, says theologian Mark Strauss. “In many ways they are like the women at the tomb. They know the announcement of the resurrection. They have been called to faith and endurance. How will they respond? Will they retreat into silence and unbelief? Will they continue to boldly proclaim the message of salvation, whatever the cost? Will it be faith or fear?”
The author of Mark wants to stir us all to be courageous—and share our hope in the One who conquered sin and death and offers us a new beginning—despite the fear that grips the heart of every human being and is part of, well, being human, says theologian William C. Placher.
“All through Mark,” he says, “women have been faithful when men failed to be, and these women have come to the tomb to minister to Jesus’ body when the male disciples are long gone, but in the end no human beings are completely faithful. Fear captures us all.”
The answer to today’s struggles for the people of God isn’t found in our past. We don’t need to go back in time. The answer is in the present hope provided by the biblical witness of the empty tomb and the present promise of living new, resurrected lives with Christ, sharing our stories to encourage one another to endure in faith and faithfulness.
God wants us to get beyond the grief and loss of the last year so that we can embrace the love, goodness and blessings all around us. I need to tell you this. Some things are just too heavy a burden to carry, anymore, and don’t fit in the new life we have TODAY with Jesus Christ. What are the burdens God wants you to let go? Who do you need to forgive so that TODAY –on Easter—will truly be a new beginning, and we can move forward as Christ’s Church into the future God has planned for us?
“Mark throws the ball to us,” Placher says, “as he did to his first readers. The three women run away silent, but we have heard the story; it is up to us, in our lives and our testimony, to tell it and keep it alive.”
We don’t have to look any farther than our own congregation to find inspiring stories to keep our faith alive.
On Friday, when I visited Windsorwood, Velma showed me an old Beacon clipping with a photo of her younger brother, Cletus. He joined the service right after he graduated from West Lafayette High. He was killed in action. The bridge on County Road 9 crossing the Tuscarawas River just west of Newcomerstown is named in his honor.In the photo, young Cletus is home on leave, proudly wearing his Naval uniform. He is holding Velma’s eldest child, Carl. Velma would name her next son “Cletus” for him.
In all her almost 99 years, she has seen the hand of God in her life. She trusts the Lord in times of sorrow and suffering, knowing God is still with her and has a plan and purpose for her every day. When she was feeling down about not being able to leave WIndsorwood or have visitors during the pandemic, the Lord ministered to her through a new neighbor. Her face lit up when she told me about a man she met at Windsorwood, who said he knew her brother Cletus! They went to high school together and were the same age. They had been friends! Being able to talk to one of Cletus’ friends made her feel like her brother was with her, once again. She took this conversation as a gift of joy from the Lord.
Velma has hope in the Risen Christ and in her resurrection with Him! She is bold to share her faith, how she sees God in His beautiful Creation, with the spring flowers in bloom. She walks and talks with the Lord each day.
This stirred me to think of the refrain from a sweet, old-fashioned hymn as I drove home from my visit with three faithful women from our congregation:
“And he walks with me and he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.” — In the Garden
Let us pray.
Holy One, we thank you for the empty tomb and witness of your first followers—the women who, though frightened and stunned into silence at first, were moved to share the good news: Christ is Risen from the dead! He is risen, indeed! Grant us a faith that will endure and will lead us to share our testimonies with others. Stir us to confess our sins and give you all our burdens, Lord, so that we aren’t stuck in the pain and trauma of the past. Help us to trust in you for a new beginning on this day that we celebrate your triumph over sin and death, reconciling human beings to yourself and one another—and the promise of our living new, resurrected lives through your Son. In His name we pray. Amen.