Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sunday Scripture - Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8

16:1-8 – Mark has twice mentioned the Sabbath in his account of Jesus’ burial—once, to note that he was buried at the end of the Preparation Day, before Sabbath, and here in v.1, to indicate that just after Sabbath came the discovery of the empty tomb. This is an important point to note—that Jesus’ “rest” in death is, quite literally, a Sabbath-rest. Some theologians of the early church were fond of pointing out this interesting note, and surmised that it was perhaps in foreshadowing of this very event that “God rested on the seventh day.” Why, after all, would God need to rest? Certainly the institution of the Sabbath was for mankind’s benefit, to give a needful cycle of work and rest to our days, but a second, hidden meaning now also emerges—the Sabbath was a weekly enactment, a weekly anticipation throughout the whole history of God’s people Israel, of the death of the Messiah in their behalf. God’s first Sabbath-rest in Genesis marks the end of his acts in making the old creation, and Jesus’ Sabbath-rest in the tomb marks the inauguration of a new movement of creation—on the first day of the week, with his resurrection from the dead, the “new creation” is set in motion. Even with that understanding underlying the text, one might still wonder why the women in Mark’s account even bother to show up at the tomb—they clearly think it will be difficult to access the body, buried behind a heavy stone. The reason for this seems to be that Jesus’ burial came so close to the beginning of Sabbath (sundown on Friday) that there wasn’t time enough to complete the proper burial rituals. Thus, they had to wait over the Sabbath, and then hoped to be able to complete the work on Sunday morning. But they arrive to find the stone already rolled away, and the tomb empty. Skeptics like to point out the minor differences between the Gospel accounts of the resurrection (such as the number of angels that speak to the women), but obsessing over such minutiae tends to miss the point. Variances like this are not necessarily indications of fabrication, but were considered well within the bounds of appropriate and valid historiography in the ancient world. What is truly extraordinary about the Gospels are the number of strong similarities in the accounts, together with enough variation in incidentals to imply independent source material for each account (thus pointing to a widely-held, established tradition of a real event, rather than a conspiratorial deceit), and the truly astonishing fact that each Gospel records women as making the initial discovery of the resurrection. This is a point that would not have been included if one were making this story up, for the simple reason that women were (unfortunately) not considered reliable witnesses in the ancient world. But every Gospel holds up their testimony as the primary witness of the event, which really points to only one conclusion—that this was a real, historical occurrence, which these women actually experienced, and which was indeed confirmed by the many well-documented meetings with the resurrected Christ recorded in the other Gospels and Acts. Mark’s own account probably ends with verse 8, because this is where some of the best and earliest manuscripts of the Gospel stop. It would be an unusual place to stop unless that was where the actual text of the original stopped; so most scholars believe that the additional verses, which traditionally have been accepted as canonical, were added by later scribes in an attempt to fill out Mark’s account with details from the other Gospels and bring it to a nicer conclusion than a jarring picture of those poor women running away from the tomb, terrified by what they had seen and heard. The addition of the other verses is understandable, then, but it shouldn’t be taken as some kind of cover-up: even with Mark ending at v.8, there is still a very clear proclamation of Christ’s resurrection (vv.6-7).