Good stories usually have endings where problems are solved, tensions are resolved, and loose ends are tied up. Think “And they lived happily ever after!” of the fairy tales. Or the end to a murder mystery, when he learn that the butler did it. Or the conclusion to a suspense thriller, where the good guy wins.
But not so in the story of Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospel of Mark (16:1-8), which will be the focus of our worship on Easter Sunday, April 5. In this Easter story, the ending is peculiar. There is no appearance of the risen Lord, no disciples putting their fingers in the risen Jesus’s wounds, no joyful seaside meals, no embrace in a garden, no cry of “He is risen!” from the disciples. Instead, Mark’s gospel ends on a very unsatisfying note, with three very frightened women fleeing from the cemetery in silence.
An ending like that to a novel would feel strange and unfinished. Why has Mark given us such a dangling and peculiar conclusion to the story of Jesus’s victory over death?
We might have a clue in the words the young man at the empty tomb gives the women: “Go to Galilee, there you will see him.” Galilee, the place where the women come from. Galilee, the province where most of Jesus’s ministry took place. Galilee, the district where Jews and Gentiles rubbed shoulders. And for these women’s Easter story to have a proper ending, they need to go to back Galilee.
Whether the women return to find Jesus in Galilee we are not told. That is left to the reader’s imagination. Again, we only have this peculiar ending, which literally translated reads, “To no one anything they said; afraid they were for.”
Maybe Mark has given us this peculiar ending because he wants us, the reader, to recapture the peculiar nature of Easter. Could it be that our Easter lilies, trumpet ensembles, Hallelujah! choruses, while inspiring, conceal as much as they reveal about the risen Christ? Could it be that our own discovery of the resurrected Jesus will be less in high and holy moments of worship than back in ordinary, everyday Galilee, the humdrum place where we live? And, could it be that if we don’t go seeking Jesus in Galilee, our Easter, like that which ends Mark’s gospel, will also be unsatisfying, and unfinished?