Many scholars think the original version of the Gospel of Mark ends with its three women witnesses to the resurrection fleeing from the empty tomb. “And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid,” the closing line reads.
Yes, in all of our Bibles, there is more there in Mark, brief accounts of Christ’s resurrection appearances, his instructions and even his ascension. You don’t have to be an expert, however, to see how the writing seems different, how everything beyond verse 8 feels added on in some way. Indeed, the extra material cannot be found in most of the oldest manuscripts, and most good translations today mark “for they were afraid” as the original ending of Mark.
It makes for a relatively bleak Easter account, one noticeably different from the other gospels, where Jesus appears repeatedly, comforting his followers and offering them peace. The author of Mark may have been deliberately trying to communicate a different idea, however. His ending captured something we sometimes miss, the fear that must have run through Jerusalem when word of the empty tomb first began to spread.
Let me illustrate. I’m going to tell you a story that’s not exactly biblical. When you consider a couple of incidents that are in the Bible, however, a version of this story very well could have happened.
You may recall from Matthew that when Jesus was before Pontius Pilate to be sentenced to death, Pilate was reluctant to send Jesus to the cross, believing him innocent. Pilate passed sentence only because he felt politically pressured to do so. He also performed a symbolic act, however. He ritually washed his hands to show he did not consider himself guilty of Jesus’ death.
As he washed his hands, he declared to the crowd, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”
We are told the crowd answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” For all practical purposes, they were calling down curses on themselves.
Imagine, if you will, a father and mother in the crowd with their two children, a little boy and little girl. Led in what to say by powerful looking Jewish leaders and swept up in the mob mentality, they join the cry, nervously looking at their little ones: “His blood be on us and on our children!” It would have been a powerful oath to make, a powerful curse to risk, particularly for a people raised on the idea that God punishes sin for three generations or more.
Jesus, of course, is taken away and nailed to the cross. With the large number of witnesses, word of his death quickly spreads. The parents of these small children, perhaps a bit embarrassed at what they said, mostly are relieved the day’s strange events are over. Until …
Until Sunday. Until word begins to spread the tomb is empty. And everyone, everyone who doubted Jesus, everyone who had discounted him, feels a shiver of fear.
Imagine being those parents, looking at those precious children and considering what might be in store for this cursed family. Jesus demonstrated great power before; now it is clear he has power to overcome even his own death! What will the punishment be for those who sent him to the cross? Death for the son? Barrenness for the daughter?
Except for the fortunate few who encountered the resurrected Jesus, that fear must have continued for some time—for seven weeks, I figure, until the day of Pentecost. That’s the day the Holy Spirit falls on Jesus’ followers; that’s the day Peter preaches to the crowds who gather at the scene. I like to think the family with the two children are there as he preaches.
Oh, Peter lets them all have it. He makes it clear they were all complicit in Jesus’ death. But as they declare how they are cut to the heart with guilt, Peter begins to tell them about the promises. The resurrection is about hope. It is about a glorious future with God.
“For the promise ….” Hear what Peter says? The promise, not the curse. “For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” Imagine the relief as the parents grip their children close to them.
Here’s a strange notion: It is good to have the blood of Christ on us and our children. By his blood, all curses are reversed. The sin at the root of all our stupid decisions, our foolish statements and our bad acts is washed away. And eternity is ours.