Most scholars agree that this is the original ending of the Gospel of Mark. Verses nine through twenty were added later, on at least two different times – probably because the church was uncomfortable with the original ending. “And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8). Kind of a damp squib of an ending. A what? A damp squib. It means a dud, a firework that didn’t go off. A sputter instead of an explosion.
You’d think Resurrection calls for fireworks at the end, wouldn’t you? A big, wide-screen, special effects kind of moment. Filmed in “Vista-Vision!” In “Technicolor!” In hi-def 3D! In IMAX. But no, we get, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
And who are “they,” in this case? Well, the women, who went to do something. At least they tried to do something, to care for the dead body. To anoint him, Mark says, forgetting that he was already anointed back in chapter fourteen, by an unnamed woman with an alabaster jar. Maybe it was Mary – Mary Magdalene, or Mary who was Martha’s sister, or some other Mary, the mother of James, perhaps, Jesus’ mom, maybe. There were just too many Marys. Mark couldn’t keep them straight; no wonder we get confused. And Salome? Wasn’t that Herod’s daughter who danced a dance that won her a prophet’s head? Surely not. Another Salome, thought to be the mother of James and John, Zebedee’s wife. Mother of James? Isn’t that Mary? Or is it a different James? Arghh! We need a cast list. We don’t know who’s who in this story. We know what they did. Or didn’t do. Or tried to do. Don’t we?
They intended to anoint the body, to prepare it for burial. The practice was actually to aid in the decay process. The spices were to help with the smell, but also to accelerate the decomposition. Bodies would lie in the tomb for a year and then the family would go and collect the bones and put them in a box, called an ossuary, that would be stored in a different section of the tomb. So, when Joseph loaned his family’s tomb to the family of Jesus, it was only supposed to be temporary. But little did he know how temporary it would be.
“They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” It was what they didn’t do that Mark was interested in. They didn’t anoint the body because there wasn’t a body to anoint. So they were given a different task by the young man in the tomb. A young man who seems eerily familiar. A young man in a garden tomb reminds us of a young man in a garden of violence and betrayal. And yet that young man ran off without clothes, and this young man was dressed in white. That young man was scared to death; this young man was filled with the confidence of life eternal. He’s not here; look; see that empty spot? He has been raised. He wasn’t interested in tombs, but in what came out of one, or rather who came out of one. Who’s who? We aren’t introduced to this young man, because it isn’t his story. He’s a pointer, a reference to another. He’s not here.
But go and tell his disciples. A new mission was given. They came with one task, and they didn’t do it. They couldn’t. It was no longer necessary. The things of death are no longer necessary. The attitude of death, the victory of death was no longer. So, a new mission was needed. Go and tell his disciples and Peter.
And Peter? They had to blink at that. The last we saw Peter he was collapsed, sobbing in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. The last we heard from Peter he was spouting curses and swearing oaths that he didn’t have a clue who this Jesus person was. The last we knew of Peter he was condemned by a rooster crowing in the dawn of a terrible day. It was the worst day of Peter’s life. And he knew he had failed. He had failed to keep his word that he had so vehemently declared mere hours before that damnable rooster. “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Matt. 26:35, NRSV). And die he did—inside, in his soul, in his sense of self. Who’s who Peter? Who’s you? Nobody, that’s who.
But now, “go and tell his disciples and Peter.” What did Peter do to deserve this? What did he do? Nothing. What did the women do? They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Nothing. What did any of them do to make this Easter moment happen? Nothing. What do any of us do to deserve Easter? Nothing. What do we do to receive Easter? Nothing. Who’s who in the Easter story? Not them. Not us. Only him.
And Mark doesn’t even have Jesus appear in this original ending. Jesus doesn’t pop up from behind a rolled away stone and shout, “Surprise!” He doesn’t encounter anyone wandering in the garden. It is just a presence. No, a Presence. He’s not here. He will meet you, though. He will meet you where you live. He’s already there, ahead of you. Get moving. Get going, or Easter will go on without you.
That’s what we do on Easter. We run to catch up. We run to find the one who has gone before us. The one who was raised for us. What did we do to make Easter happen? Nothing. What did we do to deserve such a gift, such a moment? Nothing. What can we do to stop it or to make it better? Nothing. Easter is. Easter was and is and always will be. And we did nothing.
That’s Mark’s way of telling the story. It isn’t our story. It isn’t our doing. It is God. God is the actor. God is the doer. We barely appear. It isn’t a human story; it’s a divine one. It isn’t our story. And yet. And yet.
Who’s who in Easter? Why we are. We are someone because of Easter. We are who we are not by our doing, but by the grace of God. We are made new, not because we earned it, but because God gives it. We have hope, not because we are strong enough to work it, or respond to it, or claim it. We have hope because God gives it. And because the Resurrected Jesus leads us home. You will see him; he told you that, remember? You will see him. And in seeing him, you will know who’s who.