Of all the Gospels that can be read on Easter Sunday, Mark is the least likely to be chosen. The resurrection story in Mark ends with the women being scared and fleeing with the angel’s words in their ears, “Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
This is the perfect place to end the Gospel, although the shorter and longer endings were likely added later by faithful Christians who eventually moved beyond the fear and uncertainty the early Christian community was feeling in those first weeks and months post resurrection.
This fear and uncertainty was the point for Mark. What were Christians supposed to do in the absence of Jesus? They were to go back to Galilee, where the Gospel of Mark began. And they will see, just as Jesus told them. When we, like they, look back upon the beginning of this Gospel, we see some of the strange things in a new light.
When Jesus called the first disciples, he told them that he’d make them fish for people. It seems like he is going to grow a movement of religious renewal, but then he commands evil spirits and people he heals to be silent. What could be more powerful a draw than a healer? Then, when the people flock to his teaching, he moves on to the next town, to start over again.
Despite their familiarity, Jesus’ actions don’t quite make sense. It’s almost like they are missing something.
In the light of the resurrection, the mission of the disciples is to gather people into the hope of the resurrection. Jesus downplayed his healings and exorcisms because the Messiah, the Son of God, came not just to heal and restore individuals, but to redeem the world through the cross and empty tomb. This was a ministry that could not be accomplished by setting up shop in just one town in Galilee but required travel and constant reminders to people that healing and wisdom do not fully define Jesus the Son of God: The cross and the empty tomb do.
When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, they saw the glory of God but Jesus told them to reveal nothing until after the crucifixion and resurrection. Now, in the uncertain light of the first Easter, their words brought hope and encouragement to the other disciples.
It completes the gospel message that Jesus began proclaiming in Galilee: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” The cross and the empty tomb are the fulfillment. The Good News is the message of the salvation we have now heard fully.
Mark knew the power of fear to keep us in the tomb. So, the account he wrote ends with a call to head back to the beginning and walk the self-sacrificing path of Christ, but only after having the hope of the resurrection firmly planted in our minds. This is something that casts out our fear and uncertainty like Jesus cast out unclean spirits. Happy Easter. It is still Easter.
Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.
The Rev. Justin Smoot is pastor of Mt. Zion Lutheran Church, LaGrange. Contact him at email@example.com.