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He has risen! An Easter reflection from James Martin, S.J.

Views James Martin, S.J. / March 30, 2024 Print this:
A fresco, depicting the Resurrection, in the Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta, in Tuscany. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The following reflection also appeared in our weekly newsletter on March 30.

To whom does the Risen Christ first appear? In the story we read from John’s Gospel on Easter Day, it is Mary Magdalene (Jn. 20:1-18). But in Mark’s Gospel, which is read during the Easter Vigil, it is a group of women who have come to anoint Jesus’s presumably dead body, “very early when the sun had risen.” These women were Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James; and Salome.

In Mark’s Gospel, all three had witnessed the death of Jesus and the “two Marys” had seen his burial. As in John’s Gospel, Jesus appears not to men, whose testimony in a patriarchal culture was thought to be more “reliable.” No, as during his public ministry, the Risen Christ favors those who are, in a sense, “on the margins.”

But Mark’s Easter narrative ends rather abruptly, with the “young man” in a white robe telling the women that not only is Jesus “not here,” but also he has been raised and will meet the disciples in Galilee, where his public ministry began.

As during his public ministry, the Risen Christ favors those who are, in a sense, “on the margins.”

Unusual for an Easter story, there is no direct encounter with the Risen One. The next verse, left out of the reading for Mass, is even stranger: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

How odd to end an Easter story without a direct encounter with the Risen Christ. Odder still to end the story overall on a note not of hope, but of fear!

What is going on?

Many New Testament scholars see these lines as the true end of Mark’s Gospel. In their Sacra Pagina commentary, the Jesuit scholars John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington write that it is a “curious but not impossible way to end a book.” They write, “If this was indeed intended to be the end of Mark’s Gospel it is what today we might call a ‘cliffhanger.’” 

Later, a few more verses were added, which recount what the other Gospels narrate: the encounters of the Risen Christ with the disciples (Mk. 16:9-19). Donahue and Harrington state that the last page, or pages, of Mark’s Gospel most likely were lost.

Another possibility is that these stories were deliberately omitted by Mark, which, again quoting Sacra Pagina, “demands a decision from the reader.” Since Mark was writing for his fellow Christians, he could expect his readers to know all about the Resurrection.

Mark’s abrupt ending asks us to fill in the rest of the story, as believers in the real and true resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Today, for example, we might read a biography of Jorge Mario Bergoglio that ends on the day before his election as pope. I’m not comparing Pope Francis with Jesus, only pointing out that readers today would know the end of the story. So there would be little need for the author to fill it in.

I’ve always loved the idea that Mark knew exactly what he was doing. His abrupt ending asks us, as believers in the real and true resurrection of Jesus Christ, to fill in the rest of the story. Those who had personally encountered the Risen One in the days and weeks following the first Easter could treasure those moments, which explained his public ministry. 

What about us? Where have you encountered the Risen Christ in your life? Where have you seen evidence of his promise of new life? And when have you looked in a place that was dead and thought, “He is not here!” Easter asks us to continue to search for him. Because Christ is risen indeed!

James Martin, S.J.

James Martin, S.J., is the founder of Outreach and the editor at large of America Media.

All articles by James Martin, S.J.

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