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How You Should Not End the Easter Story

Updated: May 17


How does a story end? A fairy tale ends predictably. The frog turns into a handsome prince after the princess kisses him. A tragedy ends catastrophically. Romeo drinks poison. Juliet stabs herself with Romeo’s dagger. A comedy ends joyfully. The hero and heroine get married, especially if it’s opera.


How do the gospel stories end? All four gospels end with the resurrection. Matthew and Luke end with the women at the tomb and rushing back to tell the good news and with Jesus appearing to his disciples and commissioning them to go and preach his message to the world.


John ends with Mary Magdalene visiting the tomb alone, Jesus appearing to Mary, Mary telling the other disciples she has seen Jesus, Jesus appearing to his disciples in the Upper Room, the encounter with “Doubting Thomas,” Jesus appearing to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and Jesus commissioning Peter three times (20-21).


Mark's Disappointing Ending


How does Mark’s gospel end? Ready for a shock? Mark’s gospel ends with Jesus appearing to nobody and Mary Magdalene and the other women not rushing back to share the good news because they are “afraid.”


The ending of Mark’s gospel is a complete let down. The last word of Mark’s gospel is ‘afraid’. Is this a tragic, comic or fairy tale ending? Or is it no ending at all? Did Mark have a heart attack before he could complete his gospel? Or did he compose a glorious ending which was damaged because it was at the end of the scroll?


Alternative Markan Endings


Scribes in the early church found Mark’s abrupt ending terribly embarrassing and so composed two alternative endings.


The shorter ending is just one verse. It reports that Mary Magdalene and the other women obeyed the young man in the tomb and went and told Peter and the other disciples about Jesus’ resurrection. After Mary does this Jesus commissions his disciples to go and preach the gospel “from the east to the west.”


The longer ending is juicer. Here, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, she goes and tells others, Jesus appears to two disciples and to the eleven. He commissions them to go, preach, and baptize. Those who believe, he says, will cast out demons, speak in tongues, handle snakes, drink poison and heal the sick. This is a cool ending! Try nibbling on a cyanide capsule if you think it’s part of the original gospel.


The Women at the Tomb


Why does a great storyteller like Mark end the greatest story of all on such a disappointing, dissatisfying, discouraging and disheartening note?


Mark’s story begins with three women. They are present at Jesus’ death and burial. They are going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ corpse. On the way, they are talking about the “exceedingly large” stone blocking the entrance to the tomb. Mark alone describes the stone in this manner. As women they aren't sure they have the strength to move it. When they arrive, they “look up” and “see” that the stone has already been moved.


The Greek word for “look up” is the same word used to describe a blind person regaining his or her sight (Mt 11:5, Jn 9:11, Lk 4:18). Is Mark alerting us to the fact that their eyes of faith are about to be opened in a startlingly new manner that has never happened before?


The Young Man Who Fled Naked


Entering the tomb, they see “a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side.” The young man is not an angel as in Matthew’s gospel (28:5). In Luke’s gospel, the women see two angels at the tomb (24:4). Who is this young man? Mark refers to him twice.


The first time he refers to the young man who ran away naked while Jesus is led to his crucifixion because he is afraid (Mk 14:51-52). He is so scared he even leaves behind his underwear. This scene is so important that the church remembers it on Maundy Thursday by stripping the altar of its linen the church of every piece of fabric.


The second time Mark refers to the young man in the tomb he is wrapped (not dressed) in a white covering—probably linen. Now if this is the young man who runs away naked where would he get this linen cloth? Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that Joseph of Arimathea wrapped Jesus body in a linen cloth (Mk 15:46, Mt 27:59, Lk 23:53).


From Fear to Faith


Has this young man repented of his abdication, plucked up courage, and is now present at Jesus’ tomb? Is he using the shroud from Jesus’ body to cover himself? Has his fear been overcome by his faith? Mark is portraying a young man who has been transformed from a cowardly follower to a courageous disciple. Some scholars think that the young man may have been Mark himself.


The story goes on to tell us that the women are afraid—literally, terrorized. The young man asks the women not to be afraid. He orders the women to “go” and “tell” Peter and the other disciples the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Then Mark’s story ends: “So the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8).


Is this the way the greatest story is supposed to end? With people who know the story succumbing to fear? Mark knows the paralyzing power of fear, especially if he is indeed the young man. But he has overcome it. This young boy has overcome fear and is now a witness of the resurrection.


He is telling the story to women who are afraid because he is no longer afraid. The faith of the young man who is equally vulnerable because of his age and low status challenges the fear of the women. Perhaps later, they will remember that he was the same person who ran away naked, and they will find inspiration and courage to calm their fear.


Will You Provide the Ending?


Mark knows that when Jesus confronts us with the good news of his resurrection, he will also commission us to go and tell others this good news. Mark knows that while we may be bursting with joy, we will also be paralyzed by fear. Because people will ridicule, persecute, and even kill those who announce the good news of God’s victory over death, sin, and Satan.


Mark is writing his gospel at a time when followers of Jesus are being persecuted for preaching the gospel. Mark ends his gospel with disciples who say nothing because it is “fear” that is paralyzing some in the early church. And Mark is saying to them, “The story ends here if you don’t pluck up the courage to go and tell others.”


Perhaps Mark’s ending is not so disappointing after all. Perhaps Mark’s ending is the most exciting ending of all four gospels. Sometimes a clever writer does not provide a fuller ending to a story because he expects you to provide an ending. He draws you into the story so you can provide the best ending to the story.


I had this sense when watching the movie Unfaithful, where Richard Gere kills his wife’s lover and covers every trace of the murder. The movie ends with husband and wife reunited. They are driving and talking about escaping to Mexico. Suddenly the traffic light turns red just outside a police station. Their car stops at the signal. The movie ends.


How would you end the movie? I think I'd let the husband and wife escape to Mexico. Both have suffered enough, are now reunited, and have an eight-year-old son to bring up.


The power of the story is in leaving the ending open and offering you the choice of how to end the story. Mark ends his story by giving you a choice of how to end the story. He knows you are afraid—especially in a world hostile to the Gospel.


It is up to you to provide an ending to the story. If you don’t provide an ending to the story by going and telling others about Jesus and the news of his resurrection, the story will end abruptly and disappointingly. How will you end the story?


Dr. Jules Gomes, (BA, BD, MTh, PhD), has a doctorate in biblical studies from the University of Cambridge. Currently a Vatican-accredited journalist based in Rome, he is the author of five books and several academic articles.


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Thank you for a great article Jules. The account of the young man running away naked has been the subject of recent discussion with some friends. Some have never really thought about what it actually meant, others believe it refers back to Adam, naked in the garden. Others have been told this was the young man who was told by Jesus to go and give all he owned to the poor then come back and follow Jesus. The last is the only version I had heard for many years. A bit of thought could well generate alternative solutions, possibly correct but is this the right time for this to be revealed?

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On the road to Damascus the only fear is of being blind. Having to be "re-educated" is scary enough in this world. The passion becomes our supernatural faith even Jews have to admit that our God is of "of the imposible". Fear is a certainty for mortals. Death becoming life is only scary when our faith becomes hate speech in this time...as we are to "re-live" the inevitable persecution of God's word. May he bless you and your words of the greatest love you share with all who must fear never hearing them. To all a Blessed Easter forever!

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The loss of clothing has a parallel after the first sin in Eden when Adam says to God I was naked and afraid so I hid myself . Jesus in Mark dies alone, naked and humiliated but he does not hide. He has overcome the effects of the sin of Adam. He has opened the gates of heaven. He has defeated Satan. He has proven that he is more powerful than the greatest religion and the greatest military rulers of the day. The victory began on the cross at a great cost. Bishop Sheen explained that pain was Gods megaphone. The church of nice, the church of tolerance the church of fear has nothing to say about pain, heav…

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Excellent thoughts Dr. Gomes. Thanks for continuing to share your insights through this new forum. I will be contemplating this and Michaels new post all week. These are exactly the kinds of mind expanding theological propositions and conversations we need to advance in our spiritual lives. Thanks again and Happy Easter!

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I've read that story a few times about the man running away naked wondering, "What's that about? Why write that down?" Yours is first I'd been offered a possible explanation. Things can appear odd when viewed from the outside. Does anyone on first sight understand stained glass from the outside? Pope Saint John Paul II was said to have observed that the Church may be understood from the inside. Have a blessed Easter, Jules.

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