Afraid, “And [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (v. 8)—full stop, here ends Mark’s original Gospel.
St. Mark’s termination is controversial ending on a note of fear. Many thought the women’s silence and fear inappropriate to the Resurrection good news. Mark would append longer endings, where Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the eleven.
On this vigil night, we have heard and believe the angelic young man, “He has risen… just as he has told you” (Mk. 16:6, 7) anticipating Light with the coming day; this night we confidently receive without fear Mark’s original termination.
Faith and hope inform the Resurrection. Like Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome after Jesus’ death tonight we stand watch; but not the same vigil. The genesis of the new creation groans as did the first until in the revelation of each, “there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (Gen. 1:5b).
Fear is a fruit of sin; disbelief of God’s word. Fear breeds contempt of what is good and true from God. Fear is a cancer that must not fester in the human soul and turn to anger.
The women left the disciples’ nighttime vigil to enter Jesus’ tomb with spices. The new tomb, located in a garden, received Jesus’s body on Good Friday; but following the Sabbath it was no longer there. Instead, an angelic young man dressed in a white robe (“stole”) (v. 5) greeted the women that Jesus had risen, assuring them not to be alarmed for it was, “just as he has told you” (v. 7).
Still the proclamation did not engage the women. None of what they heard and saw made sense. For fear, the women suspended their belief in Jesus’ promise to rise the third day. Dawn had arrived and they fled back to the darkness of the disciple’s burial vigil. Fear will cause the suspension of belief in promises; it breeds doubt and with time contempt, unbelief, and finally anger.
On Good Friday, at the foot of the cross, the women experienced against all faith full intensity at their fearful loss. Israel’s religious leaders also feared for place, position, and office against Jesus’ promise to rise demonstrated by Lazarus’ revivification, again present among them.
In their contest against God’s word, the Jewish leaders were a pack of enraged animals pinning their hopes in the falsity of the grave’s finality. Mutual support exacerbates contempt to conspiracy against God, his Christ, and his followers; this was the danger the church experienced on Resurrection-eve.
Jewish rage emboldened after Pilate presented Jesus in humiliation, shame, and “defeat”, saying, “Behold the man!” At the sight, the crowd was infected with the fear and anger of their leaders, giving full throated voice to their judgment, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Rage was at a crescendo at Pilate’s verdict that the man was “the King of the Jews” where at the cross, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b) was derided throughout his death throws.
Apart from God’s word, it is fear’s potential to infect return to old ways: disillusion, loveless accusation against brothers, anger, and rejection of Christ’s presence in the NT; a tragic loss of faith. Thus, Jesus consistently applies his benediction and Absolution to those with ears to hear, “Fear not”.
Against the angelic young man’s empty tomb gospel; Jesus’ rising and God’s vindication of his Son’s work on a tree; still unbelief and fear gripped the women.
When Jesus was with his disciples, we observed fear’s dominance. Jesus wanting to calm anxiety from stormy seas was met with unbelief. Jesus lamented, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).
In St. John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene confronted by her still unrecognized resurrected Lord, accused him of stealing the body; it is all her mind would allow; for her Jesus’ promised Resurrection was not within possibility, and so disbelieved. Jesus spoke her name by the Voice of the Spirit, and belief and sight imparted on that woman out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons.
Thomas, absent from Jesus’ first appearing, put the infidelity of fear this way, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place may finger into the mark of the nails and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25b).
Thomas’ refusal of a unified apostolic witness was the rage of a determined unregenerate mind. Human reason in fear, despite all evidence to the contrary, will reject that with God all things are possible, and that it is God’s ministry alone to impart saving faith, that whom he kills in Christ surely makes alive.
Tonight, we gather in vigil of Jesus rising from his three-day sabbath’s rest. Before encountering the empty tomb and the angelic proclamation as factual truth, the disciples had been on a vigil, not in hope of new Life, but in dread of Pharisaic power about to be unleased against all who had confessed Jesus, “the Christ” and “Son of God”.
The disciples in vigil for burial thought Jesus’ body was in an advancing rot; after all Lazarus on the fourth day of death was considered fully putrefied. The community would perform last rites in the tomb. It was important Jesus’ body be perfumed, not only to honor their deceased, but to spare stench to attendees.
But our gathering tonight is not a burial vigil. In Mark’s fuller termination our faith is summarized, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (16:16a).
On this vigil, the Lord with us; we are confident that the forces of darkness always fall back before the dominion of Light (Jn. 18:6). By the Light of Christ, we approach the empty tomb in the only way that overcomes what reason finds impossible; by faith.
Abraham’s wife, in old age, “the way of women had ceased to be with Sarah” (Gen. 18:11b). Her womb was no better than a grave from which life could not issue. Still, the Lord promised a child; she mocked the Lord; when confronted, Sarah denied laughter, “for she was afraid” (v.15b) in her unbelief.
Within the year Sarah birthed Isaac, the “beloved son” of Abraham’s faith, begotten from above out of a dead womb. Jesus is God’s promised Seed, who by his Passion must fall into the grave germinating new life from death.
By Abraham’s faith we are reckoned righteous and by the Light of God’s word in the Resurrection we trust by Baptism being made righteous without fear, which is to say, by Jesus’ faith in our Father’s love.
Tonight, the church stands vigil awaiting the Sun; Light to dispel fear, anger, and recrimination, that the Truth of God’s promises are greeted by the church’s faith in “Alleluia Acclamation”. Amen.