Chapter 16 feels like an epilogue or a brief footnote explaining the third day. It is anything but a dramatic conclusion. In fact it ends with a whimper… women trembling (frightened) and bewildered (8).
The morning after, the Sabbath begins in an inauspicious manner. When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body (1). These women are expecting to find a dead body that needs to be wrapped in spices. This has probably happened before. A person dies shortly before the Sabbath, so they are hastily bury the body and will be tended to it more fully when the Sabbath concludes. Along the way the women remember Jesus is buried in a fancy tomb with a rolling stone as a doorway. “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb?” they wonder (3).
The situation goes from normal to strange when they see the tomb open and some man in white they do not know sitting beside the tomb. This man has a message… things are getting more strange but the moment! “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’ ” (6-7).
What in the world does ‘risen’ mean? We read this passage today with 2000 years of Christian history and teaching in our minds, but for these women this is a strange and unexpected development. No wonder they were trembling and bewildered!
From my vantage point, as one steeped in Christianity from my earliest remembrances, the women’s reaction seems to be a surprise and a bit faithless. And yet from the historical vantage point of the women it makes much more sense. Who rises from the dead? Who has a sentinel in white at an empty tomb with a message that a dead person you saw die and be buried has risen and is waiting to meet his disciples? I mean, this is strange!
As I considered this scenario, it occurred to me that true non-believers, people who don’t know the story of Jesus, might react in similar ways. They may not be frightened and trembling, but they could certainly be bewildered. Why would Jesus die on Friday only to be raised on Sunday? Until a person understands the significance of all this it is bewildering.
Maybe, just maybe, Mark’s conclusion is meant to connect with those for whom the Christian faith is new.
Stepping into the account in this way certainly helps me sense the gravity of the empty tomb in a new and fresh manner.
Jesus, thank You for rising from the dead for me and all who believe. Holy Spirit, thank You for inspiring Mark to tell the story in stark detail. Mark’s words help me experience the empty tomb in a fresh way. Thank You, Father God, for Your way of salvation.
You alone I worship and adore… Praise be the name of the Lord, Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit. Amen.