The Resurrection Ellipsis
Scripture: Mark 16:1-8
An ellipsis, for those who are fuzzy on their grammar studies, is a part of a sentence that gets left out; that is unfinished. It is most often shown by those three dots “and then . . .” which leaves the reader to wonder or imagine what happens next.
That’s exactly what happens in Mark’s gospel. This is the first gospel written, and it ends with a cliff-hanger: the disciples have seen the empty tomb and they have the promise that they will see the risen Christ in Galilee. They are so terrified that they run away and say nothing to anyone!
From a literary point of view, this is a wonderful ending, full of drama and suspense. What happens next? Do they see Jesus in the flesh? Do they actually go to Galilee? Do they ever speak of what they saw?
This was all written 30 years after the events, so the Christian community would already be filled with stories about people who had encountered the risen Christ. But this gospel was written to draw new people in, to make them answer that wonderful question: “What happened next?”
That upset people. Every age has it literary critics! Two extra endings were written for Mark’s gospel (called the Longer and Shorter endings) and when Matthew and Luke copied Mark for their gospels, they provided two more endings after which John wrote a very different version of events.
It seems we humans like to have things nailed down: we don’t like the uncertainty of those three dots. But let’s dwell there for a bit — what is this gospel saying to us by ending this way?
Clearly, the empty tomb is unsettling. It shows that Jesus isn’t there but we haven’t seen where he is, we haven’t seen him personally. We only have the young man at the tomb, pointing us forward to the future.
Isn’t that where we live? All the information we have about the resurrection comes from someone else and we have to figure out what to do with it. Do we believe it? Do we question it? Which version do we take seriously? What does it mean for our lives?
We can get stuck on those questions. We can be terrified and amazed like the women at the tomb and run away, speaking to no one. That seems like an understandable reaction to an incredible claim.
But they didn’t stay stuck there, did they? If they had, there would be no Christianity. We know that the women did tell Peter and the others. They got over their terror; they came out of hiding and they went to Galilee to see what Jesus had in store for them.
And now, 2000 years later, we are part of a world religion touching every part of the world – because those women didn’t stay frozen; because they were prepared to go into the future without a clue what would happen.
What is our calling in this story? It’s centuries too late to run to Galilee to meet Jesus. So to what kind of future are we being called? Where do we meet Jesus today?
Paul met Jesus on the road to Tarsus. He had a vision that changed his life. He wasn’t hung up about the idea of a physical resurrection. Paul preached a spiritual resurrection and considered that when he met Jesus in a vision, it was in a totally real way. There was no division between spiritual and material as far as significance went. For Paul, the two worlds – the worlds of spirit and flesh – mattered equally.
I strongly suspect that a great many early Christians had that attitude. Questions of a physical resurrection began to matter later as Greek philosophical teachings about dividing the spiritual and material worlds drove a wedge between them.
It would be good for us to reconnect the spiritual and material worlds. We are re-discovering today the importance of spiritual healing and the effect it has on the physical body.
So maybe there’s a clue to what our future holds. The direction to which we are being called is a world in which our obsession with the concrete is tempered with a vision of deeper things, of spiritual realities that can’t be measured with any known instruments.
But that’s just a clue, not an answer. I think the actual message in the end of Mark’s gospel is not to tell us what to expect, but to urge us to overcome our fears and go forward into the unknown to see where God leads us.
That unknown looms large right now. For years we’ve had structures in place that made us think we had the future in hand; that made us believe that we were in control.
But a year of pandemic and the ongoing uncertainties of new COVID variants, plus the prospect that we may not really be able to predict when we will be done with this pandemic has given us the biggest uncertainty most of us have ever faced.
For some people, it has led to very concrete challenges: job losses
or health risks at the jobs they still have; people have lost homes and they don’t know what to expect; they don’t know how to face it all. And in the midst of everything there is the threat of isolation: a modern version of terror and amazement that keeps us alone, afraid to talk to anyone.
All of this suggests to me that our calling is to do what the early disciples managed to do: to stop hiding; to connect with each other;
to go into the future together following the example that Jesus showed us.
How does that work? Who knows? I can’t even tell you how the resurrection works but I believe that it does, as Paul taught, at a spiritual level.
Those disciples had to try something new. They had to learn along the journey; not just to Galilee but beyond, into the rest of the world. And right now we have to learn too. We have to make those extra efforts to connect with each other; to break the isolation and the fear;
to resurrect that community that Christ created and to bring it to stronger life than before.
The message of Jesus always involved getting past our fears, especially the fear of the future. That process is where we build our faith and learn how to strengthen it as we go forward.
We don’t have faith because we know what’s next, we have faith because despite the uncertainty of the future, we know that God will provide us with a way forward. Maybe it will be an unexpected way, a new way; maybe we’ll learn things along the way that we never thought would be in our skill-set; and I can guarantee that we will meet unexpected people and make new connections we could not have predicted, whether in person or through technology. Who can say? A “gospel” was a new technology when Mark invented it and it has served us well.
Who knows what exciting new things God has in store for us? The only way to find out is to get out there and move into the future, building connections along the way.
Our Easter call is to stop hiding; to fill in the blank left by those three dots; to discover this unknown future we can encounter with God.