What makes a story? Depending on which English/Literature teacher you talk to they may answer this question slightly differently, but many will say there are basically five essential parts of a story: characters, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution. These parts are all important to creating a good story. Leave one of these out and the story won’t make sense. I can remember my children asking me when they were little, why does there always have to be a bad guy in the movie. My response was always the same. Without a bad guy, or some sort of conflict that has to be resolved for the main character, there’s not really a story. We need a plot; a conflict that has to be resolved. In the same way, no one wants to watch a movie or read a book that doesn’t end, or that doesn’t resolve the tension at the end of the story. It’s a cliff hanger that leaves the reader frustrated and wanting more.
That’s sort of what Mark does with the resurrection of Jesus, Mark leaves the story of the resurrection hanging. In Mark 16 the women go to the tomb and find it empty, but the story ends with them leaving the scene frightened and amazed, and also silent. The tension is never resolved. The reader is left wondering, what happens next? Do they go tell the disciples? Do they spread the news? Do they keep silent, afraid of how the Romans will respond. The story is unending. It’s missing a key component.
None of the other gospel writers end their stories this way. Matthew shares almost the same exact verses as Mark, but Matthew adds that while leaving the tomb, the women actually meet Jesus and interact with him. Luke has the women leave the tomb and tell the disciples. Peter then goes and sees the empty tomb for himself. While there’s no appearance of Jesus, at least the women are spreading the news. (Luke later reveals a post-resurrection appearance.) John combines Matthew and Luke. First the women go and tell the disciples about the empty tomb, and Peter and John run to see the tomb. After the disciples leave, Mary meets someone whom she thinks is the gardener, but later realizes is Jesus. For the other three gospel writers, they all resolve the tension. But not Mark. Mark leaves the story hanging. Mark makes us wonder what happens next.
Perhaps that’s the beauty of what Mark is doing. Remember, Mark is not writing a history, but a gospel. Mark is sharing the good news to try to bring people to faith; it’s an invitation to join the story. Mark’s ending fits into that same message. Mark leaves the story open-ended so that we are forced to ask questions and choose the ending. So Perhaps, Mark leaves this ending on purpose to make us think, what will we do next with the story? As we are reading the story we come upon the women walking away from the tomb and we begin to wonder; what happens next? What do they do with the news of the empty tomb? Do they share the news? Do they walk away? Are their lives forever changed? Do they do nothing?
And then we begin to realize that we have been given the same story. We’ve just finished Holy Week, as we traveled from the Triumphal Entry to the Empty Tomb. We saw the last supper and the crucifixion. We have become witnesses of the empty tomb and the Good News. We weren’t literally at the tomb 2000 years ago, but the story has been passed on to us. We have experienced the empty tomb. We have experienced what this life changing story of Jesus can do in our lives. We have experienced that Jesus does things differently than all of the other power structures of the world. And the question becomes, now that we have this information and know the story up to this point, how will we resolve the story? How will we finish the tale that has begun? What will our role be?
In some ways it’s like a choose your own adventure novel. Mark leaves us at the empty tomb and asks the questions, what will we do with the resurrection? We can set the story down, walk away, and never think about it again. Or, we can take the good news of the resurrection and let it change our lives, and the lives of others, forever. The choice is up to us.
The resurrection happened. The only question is, what will we do with the news?