On the first Sunday after Easter, our pastor took for her Scripture reading the disputed ending of Mark's gospel. Mark's Resurrection account ends with verse 8 on an abrupt note of amazement and a kind of fear that seems to mute the testimony of the gospel. For many interpreters and readers it is an incomplete and unsatisfactory way to end Easter Sunday! So, many of Mark's scholarly interpreters conjecture that a later editor came along and taking some facts from Matthew and Luke along with his own thoughts "finished" the gospel of Mark. Most scholars observe that the last twelve verses or so do not fit Mark's style or language. Many popular commentaries ( see Michael Card and Tim Keller) assume the ending is not original and barely mention it.
However, our pastor did last night and I wondered what she was getting herself into. I have preached on the Resurrection from Mark many times and I had usually commented on the controversial ending and let it go at that. I mean there is uncomfortable stuff like snake handling, and a harsh rebuke to the disciples for their lack of faith and a graceless note of condemnation for those who do not believe. I preferred not to deal with it. But, our pastor did and I wondered what she would say about it.
She, too, acknowledged the scholarly opinion on the ending of the Easter story. But, she suggested that since it got there somehow we needed to deal with it. She said it was clearly born of a desire to tidy up Mark's story, to complete it with questions answered. And she talked about how that is with us - we don't want any loose ends especially when it comes to our faith.
I was thinking it is like a lot of churches today. It's important to know and do all the right things (what should a Christian believe?), and get everyone on the same page. A nice, tidy faith without any doubts or questions or even any room for questions or for people who do not "fit" in. As, I look around our church every week it seems full of people who would not "fit" in many churches. There is no permanent building and even though we have an order of service it often becomes a "disorderly" service with technological glitches, musicians who are a no-show, and little ones wandering about. We do manage prayer, Scripture readings, a sermon, and some singing and end with communion but it is never a fine tuned program. There is an openness to what each of us brings that night. I would call it the "unchurch". Not surprisingly, it has attracted people who have been hurt, burned out, or just plain felt unwelcome in other churches.
On Sunday night, I heard God speaking out of this questionable ending of Mark. Kimberly Richter has suggested (in her comments on Mark in the Renovare Study Bible) that we need to get over our fears and find our voices as the women at Jesus tomb did. We are the ones "who continue this story" as we share the good news of Jesus. We embody this story as we work for healing, and wholeness and overturn legalisms that limit God's forgiveness and mercy. We "complete" this story as we practice Jesus inclusive love so that no one is treated as unclean, an outcast or a sinner but all are welcomed into discipleship and the coming reign of God.
Mark's "incomplete' ending is no mistake. It calls each of us to a continuing journey of believing Jesus and taking up our cross and following him daily. Our pastor was right. The ending of Mark is there for a reason.