Saturday in the Octave of Easter

Lectionary: 266

When Jesus had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.


Biblical scholars in the Roman Catholic tradition generally agree that the passage we heard today from the Saint Mark's Gospel was written by someone else and tagged onto the end of the document. Apparently some members of the Church felt Mark had finished too soon, so they added certain stories from the writings of Saint Matthew and Saint Luke. This passage is honored as "canonical" and also recognized as an afterthought. 

The original document ended with the women finding a young man in the tomb, hearing his message and leaving: 
Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Like everyone else, I have wondered about this abrupt ending to Saint Mark's story. Why does he not tell the stories that another scribe added to the text? Is it possible he didn't know them? 

But, in fact, all of the "resurrection narratives," taken as a whole, leave a lot unsaid. First, nothing is said directly about his resurrection. We're only told what happened afterward. "An angel came and rolled away the stone" but apparently not to let the revived corpse escape. He was already gone! Artists have given us pictures of his resurrection but they take their details from his Transfiguration when his clothes were brilliant white and his face shone like the sun. No one saw him rise!


Scholars point to two different traditions. Luke and John finish their stories in Jerusalem; Mark and Matthew direct the disciples back to Galilee for Jesus' final appearance. The modern reader would ask, "Which was it?"


Only Luke tells us about his appearances for forty days but very little about what happened during those days. Did he walk with them, eat with them, laugh and talk and teach them as he had before? In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter says certain witnesses "ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead" but we do that every day at Mass.


We'd like to know more. John says he appeared on Easter Sunday and on the following Sunday. There is one final appearance by the Sea of Tiberias but he does not tell us whether that was soon after Easter or years later. The Evangelists and other New Testament authors give us no consistent narrative about Jesus' resurrection. So Saint Mark's abrupt, inconclusive ending is different, but not very different. 

I have found that imprecision curiously satisfying. It's a story that tells much but leaves much unsaid because there will never be an answer to all our questions. Over the centuries Christians have speculated endlessly about the incidents of that weekend. And we have artifacts like the Shroud of Turin, Veronica's Veil, relics of the True Cross and hundreds of nails to buttress our accounts though none of them proves much of anything. All the facts in the world do not add up to Truth. 

Our faith, the Church, and scripture tells us the Father has raised Jesus from the dead. We're delighted by that. We celebrate it daily in our prayers, weekly in our Mass, and annually with our cycle of liturgical seasons. That's all ye know and all ye need to know. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.