Isaiah 25:6-9 & Mark 16:1-8
The last word in the gospel according to Mark is a conjunction. The earliest manuscripts do not have 16:9-20, and so that last word of what is probably the oldest gospel is γάρ [Strong’s G1063]. It is frequently translated as “for,” “and,” “because,” “even,” “indeed” or even left untranslated. My favorite translation for the last word of Mark was from a friend of mine who said that the first gospel ends with the conjunctive phrase “and then…”. In any case, Mark’s hurried gospel is always telling the reader “and then…” and “immediately next…” and leaves us wondering what happens next.
Mary Magdalene; Mary the mother of James and Joses [and Jesus]; and Salome the mother of John and James the disciples came to anoint Jesus’ body after Joseph of Arimathea hastily stashed him in a tomb. They must have been reeling with hundreds of questions. Even for us, death frequently comes as a surprise that the extended family is not equipped to deal with. Where do we bury him? What kind of funeral would she have wanted? What do we do with their stuff?
The women at the tomb had had some of these questions answered for them. Joseph, a man who we do not know of from previously in the gospels, probably paid the Romans to receive Jesus’ body. He was kind enough to bury Jesus in his own tomb, but still it is easy to imagine that Jesus’ closest followers and family had not be consulted. Jesus’ few possessions at the time of his death were commandeered by the Romans who killed him. The state-sanctioned murder had happened quickly, without a chance for them to make preparations. Without a choice of what to do with his things, or even where to bury him, these faithful women showed up to at least give him the ritual re-burial that they knew he would have wanted as an observant Jew.
One of the women who bankrolled Jesus, one of the mothers of his young disciples and his own mother showed up to do their last, best act of caring for the man in whom they had placed so much hope, and loved so thoroughly. As they were recognizing yet another problem [the stone would be too much for them to roll away on their own to gain access to his body], they were shocked to see that his tomb was open, and that a man was just sitting inside of the tomb. He told them that Jesus of Nazareth had risen, that they should go and tell [making them the first apostles] Peter and the disciples. They said nothing to anyone else, as they apparently hurried to tell the male disciples who were all in hiding.
But then what? What happened next? Did the disciples see Jesus immediately? Did Jesus conquer the Empire of Rome that had killed him? Were all the prophesies immediately fulfilled? No. Jesus gradually appeared to larger and larger groups until he ascended into Heaven. Rome stayed in power and crushed Jerusalem only a few decades later. So many of the prophesies are only partially fulfilled.
The passage from Isaiah that is the scripture portion for this week points to God’s triumph through Jesus over sin and death:
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-9)
We celebrate because death has been swallowed up forever, the sheet that obscures the eyes of the nations from seeing God’s salvation has been destroyed. But the rest of the chapter talks about how God will destroy the cities of the proud and terrible invaders (v2, 3, 5, 10-12) and be a shelter for the poor and refuge for the distressed and will shield them from the ruthless (v4).
Even as the gospels were being recorded, the Roman stranglehold on the Holy Land was tightening until in 70CE and 136CE, Jewish revolts were put down with overwhelming force. Thousands of people; men, women and children; were massacred by the proud and terrible invaders. Josephus relates that the Romans lined the walls of Jerusalem with thousands of crosses in 70CE in order to crucify the 500 Jews captured daily [Jewish Wars, Chapter 11]. The Christian community, which was hardly distinct from the Jewish community in the Holy Land, must have seen hundreds, if not thousands of their brothers and sisters murdered in the same way as Jesus.
In the face of this terror, they recorded that even though they were scared, Mary, Mary and Salome went to share the good news that Jesus had risen from the dead. At a time when so many of their neighbors were being executed, the early Christians dared to hope, dream and believe that Empire did not have the final word, and that God was redeeming from sin and death. Even in the darkest of times, when our friends and siblings are being killed, when the promised prophesies are not being fulfilled [yet], it is still true that Jesus rose from the dead.
Would the Prince of Peace triumph over the power of empire? Isaiah 25 argues that it will certainly happen! The gospel of Mark doesn’t say. What we know from the gospel of Mark is that Jesus was raised from the dead. The powers of sin, death and empire couldn’t hold him. He wanted his disciples to know that he was going ahead of them. And then…