Connections 03.27.2016: The First to Know

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Mark 16:1-8

When I was seventeen, my church put on an Easter play that one of our members wrote, paraphrasing directly from various Scripture accounts of Jesus’ last week, his death, and his resurrection. During most of the play, I stood to the side with the choir, singing between the segments of drama. In this way, I was both witness to and participant in something that took my breath away. Watching people I knew take on the roles of Jesus, Peter, Mary, and others made the Passion story more real than it had ever been for me.

Played by my friend Mr. Bill, Jesus interacted with the disciples as friends. He spoke passionately to them about what they were all to face. Their love for each other was evident. Then, as he hung on the cross in agony, he still showed mercy and forgiveness to the thief who was crucified alongside him. These scenes were powerful, emotional, and unnerving.

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” I left the choir and went to change into a white gown. It was my job to stand by the empty tomb and announce the stunning, impossible, life-altering news that Jesus was alive and had gone to Galilee ahead of his friends. What struck me as a teen was that the women were the first to know. They came to take care of the small details that otherwise get lost in the big events, only to discover the biggest event of all time.

I spoke my lines in a loud, clear voice: “Do not be afraid! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. Here is where they laid him, but he is not here! He is risen. Go and tell the disciples and Peter that he has gone ahead of you to Galilee” (Mk 16:6-7). My friends who played the roles of Mary, Mary, and Salome looked shocked and terrified by this glorious news—just as the Bible says they did.

Wouldn’t we all look that way, at least in the beginning—especially if we were the first to know? What if it’s a trick? Even if it’s true, what could it possibly mean? How will anyone believe us? Will we be mocked? Ignored? Shunned?

People have always debated over the ending of Mark. Some early manuscripts stop after verse 8, while others add a parenthetical “shorter ending” and still others add twelve more verses. In each of these added endings, it’s obvious that the women moved past their initial fear and went on to share the good news. My thought is that, even though we’re unsure exactly how the events following verse 8 took place, we can be certain that the story continued.

We believe today because the first to know spread the word. They were witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and then they were participants in his glory by sharing the news with others and moving forward in faith. We are witnesses too. May we strive to go a step farther and be participants in the life of faith—on this Easter Sunday and every day of our lives!

Discussion

1. How has the Easter story been made real to you? What helps you picture the scenes of Jesus’ last week, death, and resurrection?
2. What feelings do you experience when you imagine yourself as one of the people who knew Jesus firsthand and went through these days with him?
3. What is the burden of being the first to know important news? What is the responsibility?
4. Think of a time when you have witnessed a major event. Have you ever participated in such an event? If so, how?
5. How are you a witness to the life of Christ? How are you a participant in the Christian faith?

Reference Shelf

The words of the angel in the tomb are a summary of the early Christian preaching. Peter’s Pentecost sermon contains the following references to the tomb and Jesus’ resurrection: “this man . . . you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up” (Acts 2:23-24); “I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day [the implication is that although David’s body lay in the tomb, as they all knew, Jesus’ body did not]” (Acts 2:29); and “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses” (Acts 2:32). Similarly, the early tradition that Paul recites in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 summarizes the kerygma, the content of the Christian gospel, in four balanced clauses:

a. “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,”
b. “that he was buried,”
c. “that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and”
d. “that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

The parallel to the words of the angel is striking:

a. “you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.”
c. “He has been raised; he is not here.”
b. “Look, there is the place they laid him.”
d. “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”

Mark therefore caps his account of “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (1:1) by linking the preaching of the gospel to the historical datum of the empty tomb and the revelatory words of the interpreting angel.

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 587.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters, and watching television shows on Netflix.

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