I love the Gospel according to St Mark, who will be our companion throughout this liturgical year. It is the oldest of all the Gospels – that is, the first to be written - and therefore it is potentially the most trustworthy, in terms of basic facts.It is also the shortest of the Gospels, by a considerable margin– which is real help if you want to get a solid, reliable, sense of the life and ministry of Jesus – which can be read in a single sitting! Mark helps us, I think, to drill down to the key, fundamental elements of our faith.
There are many things which we know about Jesus that Mark does not relate. If we want the story of the Wise Men, we turn to Matthew. If we want Shepherds and Angels, Luke is our narrator. If we love the idea of Jesus turning water into wine, then it’s to John we must turn. Together, the four Gospels offer us different lenses through which to see Jesus.
And, having heard the other Gospels’ tales, it’s always interesting to return to Mark – the stripped-down, factual reporter of events as understood them. And it’s especially interesting to see what he does not say.
What we have just heard are the final verses of what scholars agree is ‘authentic Mark’. Did you notice what Mark does not tell us? He does not relate any of the stories which, between them, the other Gospel writers tell. There is no appearance to Mary in the Garden, when she thinks (at first) he’s the Gardener. There is no appearance in the locked room. There is no story of Doubting Thomas, or the encounter on the Road to Emmaus. There is no account of Jesus forgiving Peter for having denied him. There is no ‘Ascension’ story. There is, in fact no story-telling at all about Jesus meeting with his disciples after his resurrection, in the Gospel of Mark.
Let me be clear. I’m not trying to suggest that all these stories didn’t happen. But I do want us to see that Mark interprets the events around the Resurrection rather differently than other writers.
Mark offers us an empty tomb, just as the other writers do. In it, the terrified women encounter someone calls a ‘young man dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side’. Mark’s keenest readers would have picked up quite a lot of symbolism from that description. We presume that the ‘young man’ is really an angel (although Mark doesn’t actually say so). Perhaps he was the same young man who fled the Garden of Gethsemane, in Mark 14 (just two chapters before). One who ran away in fear, is now clearly forgiven and given the glorious task of announcing the Resurrection. Young man? Angel? Mark leaves us to draw our own conclusions, and perhaps to be inspired by them. Perhaps we who also run away from Jesus, from time to time, can be welcomed back and given new purpose?
The young man’s white robe recalls the dazzling white of the clothing of Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration – the story at the very centre of Mark’s Gospel. The fact that Mark bothers to specifically point out that the young man is seated on the right side of the tomb is pointer to Jesus, now resurrected, being seated on the right hand of God.
Mark, as I’ve already said, gives us no information about the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. This is the only resurrection promise he offers – that Jesus will be seen (in Galilee).
Mark’s Resurrection account is stripped to the bone. There is no triumphalism in Mark. Neither are there any domesticated tales of Jesus cooking fish on the beach, or sitting down for dinner at Emmaus. Instead, Mark leaves his narrative with these words, “So they [that is, the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them: and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid”.
So, what might we draw from Mark’s unique take on the Resurrection of Jesus, especially in our own time and context?
We’ve all been through a time of trembling and fear, haven’t we, thanks to Covid-19? Like the women, running from the tomb, we too have been amazed that our lives can be turned upside down by events entirely outside our control. Like the women, running from the tomb, we don’t yet know how this story will unfold. What new surprises await us? And yet, in all our fear and amazement, like them we hold on to the promise that “He has been raised. He is not here”. The fact of the Resurrection gives us hope, even in the midst of trouble, that God himself holds us in his hands.
I think Mark challenges us to an act of absolute Faith. Without any ‘proof stories’ whatsoever, Mark invites us to embrace, in fear and trembling, by an act of faith, a certain and sure belief in the Risen Christ. If we start to compare and contrast the other Gospeller’s tales of those post-resurrection days, there’s a chance that we will be drawn too much into their inconsistencies, and doubt can creep upon us. Mark cuts through all that fluff, and simply says, “He has been raised. He is not here”. Simple, bare, unadulterated fact. Typical Mark!
Mark leaves us with a simple, bare, unadulterated choice…believe, or don’t. Trust in Jesus, or don’t. Follow Jesus, simply, faithfully, obediently, completely. Or don’t. The choice is yours. And mine. And the choice you make will determine how you respond to this call: ‘Alleluia! Christ is Risen!’ (Response: ‘He is risen indeed. Alleluia!)
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