Theme: New life in Christ / Christ is Risen: He is Risen Indeed / Death overcome
Sentence: 'You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.' (Mark 16:6)
Jesus Christ our Saviour,
you have delivered us
from death and sin.
You have brought with the dawn
a new beginning and an empty tomb;
grant us strength and humility
to enter into the new life granted us by the Father
through the same power of the Spirit to raise you from the dead.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
But note also that this psalm mentions a keynote image for all early Christian understanding of Jesus Christ: the rejected stone who becomes the chief cornerstone (22). On the cross Israel (and the wider world created by God through the Son) rejects Jesus the Christ but three days later the rejected stone becomes the cornerstone of God's new people, those called into being (ekklesia) by Jesus the risen Lord and Saviour.
Then there is the greeting which forms part of our NZPB liturgy: 'This is the day that the Lord has made ...' (24). We can confess that this and every day, each and every "today" is "the day that the Lord has made" because every day since Easter is the day of Christ's resurrection.
No other account of the resurrection gives so many details of resurrection appearances.
Paul begins this passage by saying that he wishes to remind his readers of the 'good news' (1-3). For Paul the good news is telling the news which is good, the news that (a) Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures (3); (b) that he was buried and he was raised again on the third day (4); (c) that he appeared to multiple witnesses to the resurrection (5-12).
Whereas Mark (see below) emphasises the emptiness of the tomb, Paul omits mention of the empty tomb and makes much of the many witnesses to the appearances of the risen Jesus, not least because he is concerned that the (sometimes disrespectful) Corinthians note that he too is one of these important witnesses.
Some critics makes a lot of Paul's omission of reference to the empty tomb, alleging that Paul contradicts the gospels on this point. But it is a big step to move from the absence of mention to the absence of event: the sequence 'died ... buried ... raised' is completely consistent with the tomb being empty since 'raised' in Jewish understanding was the raising of the body of the deceased.
The extent and variation in the witnesses is important, including the reference to an appearance of the risen Jesus to 500 witnesses at one time: this suggests that we are NOT talking about grief stricken individuals having post-death impressions of encounters with their deceased loved ones (a relatively common phenomenon).
For instance scholars labour to tell us how 16:1-8 is a plausible ending to the gospel and a credible account of the resurrection while others see this ending as inadequate and unsatisfying and propose that the original was longer.
Incidentally, to return to 16:9-20, the very least we can say about these additional verses is that they represent a very ancient dissatisfaction with the ending of the gospel at 16:8.
Fourthly, Mark beautifully captures the shock of the occasion by telling us something which he knew was only true for a short time: that the women were shocked into silence (8). But Mark knows and his first readers know that this was a momentary silence. Their tongues were soon loosened ... otherwise there would be no gospel to write! Indeed, Mark expects that they will talk because they are told to do so in verse 7!
What I am about to say is arguable (and scholars do argue about these matters). But Mark the story-teller is stronger in these verses than Mark the historian. As a story-teller he wants to tell us that the story ends where it began (Galilee, 7), that Peter is forgiven by Jesus for denying him (this is the implication of the reference to Peter in v. 7), and that the primary evidence of the resurrection was the concrete, physical emptiness of the tomb (1-8). Appearances for Mark (7) are secondary signs of the resurrection (so he postpones them, by implication, to a future point in Galilee).
Mark the historian (I suggest) would offer something more in keeping with 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, noting that in the Corinthian account Cephas (i.e. Peter) is the first to receive an appearance of the risen Jesus. Alternatively, we could note that the compiler(s) of the so-called longer ending of Mark (16:9-20) suggest that Mark the historian would have/should have offered something which merges aspects of Luke's and John's accounts together.
What is our 'take home' message from these enigmatic and controversial verses?
1. Jesus was raised from the dead. His tomb was and remains empty of his body. 'He has been raised; he is not here' (6).
2. The magnitude of the resurrection as an event of God acting in power to intervene in the world should lead to awe, the kind of awe we have when we are shocked into silence.
3. The importance of the resurrection as a wonderful event displaying the awesome power of God should lead to telling others about it.
4. A strong theme in Mark's gospel is that the miracles Jesus performs are evidence that he was God's Son, the Christ or Anointed One. Now, in his last verses, Mark tells us of one more miracle. A miracle performed on and not by Jesus. It is the greatest miracle of all: Jesus is not overcome by death. Death could not hold him down. We, readers of Mark's testimony to Jesus, should set all reservations aside and commit ourselves to Jesus.