Sunday, April 08, 2007

First Easter

Since I grew up as a child with a father who was a minister, and with parents who were missionaries, I have had a long exposure to the Bible. I absorbed a great deal more than I realized—so much so that when I went to a college that at the time required all students to take a Bible course, I tested out of the entry level course. That meant that I got to pick what Bible course I wanted to take!

I took more than one such course in my college career. Eventually, in my senior year, I took a course on the Gospels. We studied the synoptic Gospels together—that is Matthew, Mark and Luke. Synoptic derives from two Greek words meaning “seeing” and “together.” These three Gospels tend to tell the same stories. Then we studied the Gospel of John alone.

For the first time, I learned that in the oldest documents that Biblical scholars have (since there is no extant original Bible) the Gospel of Mark, which is widely accepted as the first gospel recorded, ends abruptly in chapter 16, at verse 8. The closing words are: ‘. . .and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Later translators, aware of the unresolved aspect of that closing, added the remaining verses out of other textual traditions. The great Catholic theologian Raymond E. Brown argues, in his work The Birth of the Messiah, that the construction of the Gospels likely began with disciples assembling the arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection accounts. That makes sense—when someone we love dies we gather around and reminisce about how he died. Then, like the disciples, we move on to the remembrances of the person’s life. Brown says that the birth stories were probably collected last.

Reflecting on the abrupt ending of Mark, several years ago, I wrote a poem about that first Easter. I offer it here, as a reflection on the meaning of resurrection for us today on Easter.


Mark was always breathless in the telling of the story
Too rushed to even be bothered
To let us know how Jesus was born
Jumping right in to “the beginning of the Gospel”
Crying make way, make way.

Too hurried to attend to mundane details like babies
Crying in the night or shepherds shivering on the hillside.
And so it comes as no surprise that Mark dispenses
With details yet again. Right to after Sabbath sunrise
He leads the two Marys coming to complete the burial.

Almost an idle chatting, who will roll the stone, they ask.
Then looking up they see an open tomb. And Mark tells
Us they were amazed. Who wouldn’t be?
Angelic assurances aside, we’d be amazed to learn
That Christ has risen.

Is it any wonder that Mark ends abruptly the telling
That he began without fanfare or flourish. What is
There to say in the face of such wonder? Addenda
Are extraneous. And we can even forgive those early
Believers their silence and their fear.

By Donna F. W.
© 2003


Ginger said...

Loved this post...and learned something new. Thanks.

Happy Easter!

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful! Happy Easter to you and your family!

Ruth said...

I remember as a child that the Gospel of Mark was the first one I read from beginning to end in one sitting. It is short, simple and to the point. Your poem describes it well.
Happy Easter.

thailandchani said...

Very interesting! "for they were afraid..." makes a lot of sense.



Climenheise said...

I've read different explanations of the abrupt end. We don't know, and perhaps some sort of poetry is necessary to guess at the meaning.

A friend of mine observed that stories without the punch line lose their punch, so to speak. He holds that the missing ending is the punch line: that the readers were supposed to fill in the ending with their own lives. Maybe.

As I walked briskly to the sunrise service this morning (the air was brisk indeed), I felt the lines deep inside: "Very early on the first day of the week ..." The environment, Zimbabwe, so many reasons to despair; and hope lives!

Mary said...

Happy Easter, Donna. Today is time for reflection and you did a great job in helping us through. I wish our sermon today was as good as your post.

Pam said...

A thought provoking poem and post.
Your life is most interesting, as are the subjects you write about.

Cathy said...

Beautiful. I love this expression of understanding for these very human disciples.

Anonymous said...

Hi Donna - I always learn something here but I never feel talked down to, I feel as if you have lifted me up to your level so gently Donna. Lovely poem. Such a deep understanding of life here.