The Christian Bible contains four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They all tell the stories of Jesus, but we have four because they (clearly) are not all the same. They were written by different people, for different audiences, with different perspectives and agenda. There are many similarities, to be sure; more is alike than different. But there are significant variations as well. It should come as no surprise then that even the Easter story is different between the Gospels. The one we’re most accustomed to hearing is probably the story told by our children at the start of this service in the video they made last year. That was from the Gospel According to John. It is the lectionary scripture every Easter, and it is rich in details and contains beautiful imagery. It has the disciples running, angels appearing, Jesus speaking, and finally Mary announcing: I have seen the Lord! But each year the lectionary also has an alternative Gospel reading, and this year it is from the Gospel According to Mark. Hear now these words from Mark 16:1-8.
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
That’s it. That’s the ending. Well, not exactly. If you look up Mark 16, you will see there are more verses, but those verses are not in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts we have. It appears that not one but two different scribes attempted to add better endings. The first additional ending is a one-sentence “Here, let me wrap this up” attempt, and the second additional ending is a “Let me summarize what the other Gospels said” option. Neither is original. The earliest manuscripts end with So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
According to scholar Debie Thomas, this version of the story is “disquieting. We get no glimpses of the risen Jesus. Peter and the other disciples are nowhere to be seen….The angel’s announcement of Good News inspires neither belief nor transformation. We witness no Easter proclamation, no narrative arc from hopelessness to certitude. Instead we witness fear, flight, and silence.” This is nobody’s favorite telling of the Easter story.
So why am I using it this year? Because maybe this year, of all years, is the time we need it. Maybe comparing John’s Gospel to Mark’s is like comparing Instagram to real life. John’s Gospel telling is the social media version. It has good lighting and the camera angles are just right and the good news is proclaimed with rejoicing, end scene. By comparison Mark’s Gospel is the reality version. The lighting is bad and the camera angles make everybody look fat and instead of the happy ending, it just . . . ends.
Let’s compare this to where we are in life right now. For some people, life is looking up. You’ve gotten vaccines and you can hug your grandchildren for the first time in over a year, and the cold grip of this virus has loosened its hold, and if you can’t yet say all is right with the world, you can at least say it’s looking a heck of a lot better than last year. There is hope. Resurrection is here. You can join the Mary of John’s Gospel in proclaiming: “I have seen the Lord!”
But not everybody is there. For some people, this is not the end. You don’t have the vaccines yet, or you are fearful about the variants and all the unknowns and you have underlying conditions. Or you work in healthcare and see firsthand the damage this virus is still wreaking.
Or maybe the pandemic has only intensified loneliness that was already there, and even though people are out more, you will be just as lonely. Or maybe the pandemic has revealed the fault lines in your marriage, and now you’re faced with painful decisions or the painful awareness that no decisions can be made. So is there hope? You’re not so sure. For you John’s Gospel seems too happy, too bright, too perfect for your far-from-perfect world. Maybe Mark’s Gospel feels right. You will join the women in staying hidden away, at least for now.
I don’t know where you are emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually this Easter. Maybe where you are has nothing to do with the pandemic. Maybe where you are has far more to do with your other struggles, your disappointments, your fears, including the fear that none of this is real.
But you see, in Mark’s Gospel, it’s not that the resurrection hadn’t happened. It’s that the people didn’t yet believe it. It was too far removed from reality as they knew it. It was too jarring, too dissonant, completely at odds with their pain. They needed time—time to absorb the news, time to wrap their brains around the miracle, time to let new life be born in them. We know from the combined testimony of the scriptures that they did ultimately leave their hiding. Fear finally gave way to wonder. Miracle overshadowed sorrow. The story was told—again and again—and everything changed.
In Mark’s version of the Easter story, Jesus is not on the scene. The angel says to the women, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Jesus met them in Galilee. Galilee is where Jesus first said, “Follow me.” Galilee is where Jesus turned water into wine. Galilee is where Jesus healed people who had fevers, leprosy, paralysis. Galilee is where Jesus fed the hungry and calmed the storm. That’s where Jesus said he would meet his disciples, and that is where the risen Christ meets us—in our wounded places and times, when our souls are hungry and our spirits dry, when we are crippled by anxiety and paralyzed by fear. That is where Christ meets us.
Christ meets us there and still says, “Follow me.”
Follow me in feeding the hungry.
Follow me in miracles that multiply instead of divide.
Follow me in bringing healing to broken bodies and minds.
I don’t know which Gospel feels more right to you this morning. When the call rings out “Christ Is Risen,” maybe you respond in full-throated joy: Christ is risen, indeed! Or maybe you respond with a questionable “Christ is risen?” If you’re in the second camp, then let us say it for you. We will voice it until you can. Christ is risen. Indeed!
 Thomas, Debie. “Slow Easter.” Journey with Jesus. March 28, 2021.