April 8, 2012

Acts 10:34-43 – Peter’s sermon at Cornelius’ house: God shows no partiality. Anyone from any nation who fears God is accepted by God.


Isaiah 25:6-9 – On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make a feast for all people, swallow up death forever, wipe away the tears from all faces.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 – I shall not die but live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.

I Corinthians 15:1-11 – For I handed on to you what I received, Christ died for our sins, was buried and raised on the third day.


Acts 10:34-43 – Peter’s sermon at Cornelius’ house: God shows no partiality. Anyone from any nation who fears God is accepted by God.

John 20:1-18 – Resurrection appearance. Mary: “I have seen the Lord.”


Mark 16:1-8 – Empty tomb. Mark’s original ending: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
In his great mercy God has given us new birth into a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…
1 Peter 1:3

Mark’s Hidden Resurrection

According to Gordon Lathrop, in his book The Four Gospels on Sunday, Mark ends in the same secrecy motif with which it began. “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Or as Lathrop translates, ουδενι ουδεν: “They said absolutely nothing to anybody at all.” As most students of the Bible know, everything after 16:8 was added later.

Throughout the beginning of the gospel, Jesus heals and exorcizes, telling people not to tell anyone. This is often called the secrecy motif. Of course, anyone who has ever read Mark runs into the humor right away: Everyone goes out and tells everyone, the exact opposite of what Jesus asks. The story leaks out little by little, divulging what the reader already knows, having been told in the first verse of the first chapter. Lathrop names this verse as the title of the book, because it has no verb:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

The reader (and, of course, the demons whom Jesus tells to be silent) already knows who Jesus is from the very first verse: the messiah, the Son of God. It is the rest of the actors of the play who are just figuring this out, as in a Shakespearean drama. Lathrop also reminds us that this very title is sedition because, as everyone in the Roman Empire knows, it is the emperor who is the Son of God. It even says so on all the coins. The author of Mark’s gospel proposes nothing less than an alternative allegiance.

mark graphic

Lathrop also goes to great pains to show the chiastic structure of Mark’s gospel, a circular pattern that is employed frequently in ancient literature. Here’s why this is important: The meaning of the story is usually hidden at the center of the circle, which in Mark’s case is chapters 8-10, which contain, among other things, the Transfiguration. For modern readers, who are used to a linear construction, we look for the point at the end. There is much curiosity why Mark doesn’t include a resurrection appearance. There is no doubt that many are floating around. After all, by the time Mark has written his gospel, Paul is dead, and the news of the resurrection is foundational for Christian community.

What we discover is that instead of putting it at the end, he has hidden it at the center. The secret gospel is buried in the text, for those who wish to find it. Scholars have often mused that Mark’s Transfiguration is actually a misappropriated resurrection appearance, but what if the author intended it that way? Located close to the passion prediction of the center section is also a resurrection prediction. But it is more: It is a resurrection foreshadowing, vision, a picture, an icon of the resurrected Jesus in his glory in heaven with Moses and Elijah. The lights then come down, the scene darkens, and we are back on the mountain. Jesus predicts his crucifixion.

Mark has a resurrection appearance. We’ve just been missing it all these years.

It’s just not so important to Mark whether or not the resurrected Jesus can eat fish, can be touched in his hands and side, can walk through walls. For Mark, the important thing is this: There is more. There is something beyond the grave, and this Jesus is there to show us the way. In Mark’s gospel we see in a mirror dimly reflections of what is to be, but cannot yet be seen. It is an elegant gospel that proclaims hope in an unvarnished way, ending with the words, “and they told absolutely nobody at all.”

The gospel is proclaimed boldly in John’s gospel. In Mark the gospel is a secret hidden in Mark’s narrative, revealed in carefully unfolding events even as the disciples bumble around in the dark. The author of Ephesians says, “Now this secret was not disclosed to the people of former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles by the Spirit (3:5). Colossians 1:26 says, “The mystery that has been kept hidden from ages and generations… now has been revealed to his saints.” This gospel is veiled, just as Moses wore a veil when he came down the mountain after seeing God.

In any case, the Easter message is the same in all the varied gospels. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus reveal God’s not-so-obvious future for humanity. Death does not have the final word. “Death is swallowed up in victory,” Paul says. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. On Easter we proclaim a God who loves us with an everlasting love, one that even death cannot destroy.