The Gospel of Mark invites us into a new story

Written by Caleb Unrau

            Whenever I choose a movie, I tend to pick ones with sudden endings. I appreciate films that don’t tie up every loose end but instead leave some of them there as invitations to the audience to discover for themselves what happened. These loose ends are invitations to search the story for clues, to seek what kind of ending fits best, and maybe even to go out and discover for themselves what ending is most realistic. Not everyone is a fan of my movie choices.

The original ending of the gospel of Mark is also uncomfortably abrupt. Mark does not tie together all the loose ends, but invites readers to overcome their fears and doubts, enter the story, and discover the risen Jesus for themselves.

            Like all the other Gospels, Mark ends with a group of women finding the empty tomb where the dead Jesus had been laid and being greeted by a messenger who tells them Jesus is alive. The unsettling part is that the oldest manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel end before the women encounter the risen Jesus. Readers are even left pondering whether the women shared the news, given their fear.

The Gospel’s final words read: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). This original ending doesn’t seem compelling. If Mark wanted people to believe Jesus is alive, why not give them more details?

But he leaves us hanging, presenting just enough evidence for readers to go out and discover where Jesus is, promising that in their obedience they will see him (16:7). Maybe abrupt endings like Mark’s are not endings at all, but invitations to join in the ongoing story that continues to unfold before our very eyes.

What if the story is not over? What if the missing Jesus is still alive and active, meeting people today who are willing to overcome their fears and take a leap of faith?

            Erin Vroom in an article for The Bible Project writes, “The early church had a practice of reading the gospels out loud, together. Imagine yourself hearing this abrupt conclusion decades later in an ever-expanding room full of Jesus followers. Just by standing in that room, you would know the gospel had overcome the women’s failure! Despite your doubts, maybe you too could step forward in obedience to the gospel, just like these women must have.”

Often I will find myself pondering the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus, and I admit sometimes that even with strong evidence I can respond with skepticism, fear, and even disbelief. Mark tells me I am in good company as I read about the women coming to see the empty tomb and responding with fear, skepticism, and astonishment.

As we read Mark coming to a screeching stop, we find ourselves brought into the story. We find ourselves standing at the empty tomb asking, “Where is Jesus?” “Where does the story go from here?”

Timothy Geddert writes in Mark: Believers Church Bible Commentary that at the end of the gospel, “we long for more until we realize that there will only be more if we continue the story.” It is that very feeling of coming to the end and wanting more that compels us to continue the story.

In The Gospel According to St. Mark, Marna Hooker writes that “this is the end of Mark’s story because it is the beginning of discipleship.” If Jesus is not dead and is truly alive then we can still discover him today, transforming people and communities and turning the world upside down through his resurrection power.

As we journey with Mark, we come to an empty tomb and we can decide: Will we turn in fear or will we search desperately for the Jesus who is already searching for us? In this way, what is Mark’s ending could also be our new beginning.

Caleb Unrau and his wife Kristen are associate pastors at a Manitoba church where they work mainly with students and families. Caleb is passionate about making discipleship a priority within the Church.