Most followers of Jesus are aware that there are four canonical (officially sanctioned) gospels in the Christian Scriptures—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These four accounts tell the story of Jesus. The same Jesus, but at times drastically different perspectives. Most all New Testament scholars agree that Mark’s gospel is the oldest—dating a few decades after the life and death of Jesus.
Looking at Mark’s story of the Resurrection, one realizes that it is brief. Here it is in full:
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Some verses follow these in some versions of Mark, but there’s evidence that the oldest manuscripts don’t contain any more verses than these. It’s my opinion that the first gospel ends here. Imagine reading this, as a few decades of Christians would have, without access to the other accounts. If this were all you knew of the Resurrection, what would it mean? Here are some thoughts I have about the truth of the Resurrected Christ in Mark:
1. We all ask “Who will move stone?” before we get to the tomb. The biggest concern of the women before confronting the reality of Resurrection was about the normal, real obstacles of life, specifically the heavy stone that they would need help moving to get to the body. They were focused on the future obstacle of the stone … but the future in their minds was, in fact, fabricated. This is what the Resurrection does. It disrupts our certain future. We are all so often so sure of what is to come. But what if we are wrong? What if our current pre-conceived obstacles have already been removed before we get to them? What if that is what the Resurrection means?
2. The “young man” tells the woman that Jesus is “going ahead of you.” Here’s the thing with Mark’s gospel. If you discount the latter verses I mentioned, then there actually is no encounter with the Resurrected Christ in Mark at all. He is just as confident in the Resurrection as the other gospel writers, but sees no compelling need to have the women—or the disciples—encounter the Resurrected Christ. In Mark, Jesus is alive … but always ahead of us. He’s going ahead of us. We will see him when we get to “Galilee.” I could be wrong, but if you stay with my thinking that the gospel ends here, then it also means that Mark omits the “ascension.” This is troubling to some, but not to me. It supposes that the Resurrected Christ is still with us—ahead of us. Not in some otherworldly place, but always waiting, just ahead of us.
3. Though the young man tells the women to tell the disciples about Jesus, in Mark’s gospel they do not. They are too afraid. Remarkably, Mark’s amazing story of Jesus seems to conclude on a very human, broken note. It ends with those who first see the empty tomb too afraid to do anything about it. It doesn’t condone or condemn them. It just ends with them doing nothing. I get it. I too am sometimes afraid of the Resurrected Christ. It’s too weighty an idea to fit into my mind at times. Too fantastic. Too unrealistic. Too wonderful to believe, let alone tell others about.
Easter is the one day each year that we cannot help but face the fearful, wonderful, bewildering empty tomb. Today it stares us in the face. It means many things, but the first Easter in Mark seems to mean one thing predominantly—that our Savior isn’t dead. That he is always alive and always in the same place. Just ahead of us. If this is true, then the most safe, desirable and joyous place to be is in our approaching future. It reminds us that despite what others may try to say, Christianity is utterly and unapologetically optimistic. Regardless of how afraid we become, we cannot help but be pushed by time into the future where God waits for us to join him. Even death cannot change that.
In other words, it’s normal to be afraid of the future. But it’s no longer necessary to be. At least, that’s what Easter means to me.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Vinoth Chandar