You Finish the Story
This is the song that never ends;
It just goes on and on my friends.
Someone started singing it not knowing what it was,
And we’ll go on singing it forever just because
This is the song that never ends;
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
I was on a bus trip with a college pep band the first time I heard this song. As you might imagine, it took a long while for them to run out of steam, especially because they had an enthusiastic leader with great stamina and creativity. You’ll see later how this song plays into this week’s Scripture passage—if you haven’t figured it out already.
Unless you’re using the Old King James Version, your Bible probably has a note after Mark 16:8. It says something like: “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.” Scholarly opinion today is that these verses were added by a later author who didn’t like Mark’s abrupt—and somewhat downbeat—ending. The truth seems to be that Mark did indeed end his gospel on an abrupt and decidedly negative note. Unlike Matthew, Luke and John, there are no post-resurrection appearances by Jesus, no conversations with his disciples (including on the road to Emmaus and “In the Garden” with Mary Magdalene—two of the most beautiful of the resurrection stories), no time with Peter and the others in Galilee. This doesn’t mean that Mark is right and the other three evangelists wrong—or the other way round. Mark has a different take on the resurrection—a different point to make. What could impel him to such an ending? What was he trying to tell his readers? Why would he end with the statement that the women failed to deliver the message with which they had been entrusted?
All four gospel writers agree that early in the morning of the first day of the week, some of the women who had followed Jesus throughout his ministry went to the tomb to anoint his body. All agree that angels (men in clothing so brightly white that they could not be from this world) spoke to those at the tomb and told them that Jesus was not to be found among the dead, but among the living. He had risen. The gospels differ as to the rest of the details (who actually went to the tomb, how many angels there were, the sequence of events), but apart from Mark, each tells of Jesus’ interactions with his followers. Each lets us see the risen Christ.
Mark tells us that when the women encounter a young man dressed in a white robe (by the way: Why do we always picture angels as female when the Bible always describes them as males?) they fail to follow his instructions. He tells them to return to the other disciples and Peter (my italics) and let them know Jesus is going to Galilee and will meet them there. Instead, the women “fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (16:8)
Why were they afraid? Why did they fail in their assigned task? Did they fear the men wouldn’t believe them? Luke tells us that was the case. The male disciples discounted their story (because they were female and not to be trusted to get things right?). In Luke’s and John’s gospels some of the men went to the tomb to verify the women’s account.
Mark had both a literary and theological reason for ending this way. The message he wanted to convey to his audience was that the story of Jesus wasn’t over. It was to go “on and on,” never ending. The women failed in their responsibility, but those who read his account were to do differently. Mark was saying, “You finish the story. You carry the gospel forward.”
He says the same to us.