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Rector’s Letter April 2017

Each of the four Gospels gives us its own unique portrait of Jesus and his ministry. There’s much common ground between them of course, but Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have each chosen from the traditions about Jesus which were extant in oral or written form to give their own particular slant on his life and teachings. And this is as true for their resurrection narratives as it is for the rest of the Gospels.

Matthew, Luke and John each have memorable stories to tell of appearances of the risen Lord, amongst these are: the walk to Emmaus (Luke); the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the garden and Thomas refusing to believe that Jesus was alive until he saw him with his own eyes (John); and Jesus’ commissioning of his apostles to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them (Matthew).

Mark is unique among the Gospels in that he has very little to say about appearances of the risen Lord. True, at the very end of the Gospel there is a very hurried and sketchy summary of some appearances of Jesus ending with his ascension. But most scholars believe that these are later additions to the original Gospel which they think probably ended with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome discovering the empty tomb and meeting a young man in a white robe who tells them that Jesus has been raised and they are to go and tell Peter that they will meet the risen Lord in Galilee. If these scholars are right the original Gospel of Mark ended with the rather unpromising words ‘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’.

I am inclined to agree with this assessment. If you read chapter 16 of Mark it really does look as if someone has added on to what is a coherent account a very brief and garbled summary of some of the stories from the other Gospels together with a unique version of the commissioning of the eleven apostles. My feeling is that at some stage after Mark wrote his Gospel, either Mark himself or someone else has looked at the accounts of resurrection appearances in other Gospels and has felt that Mark’s Gospel ought to have some too! But what do you think about it? Read Mark 16 and make up your own mind.

But if the Gospel did end with the three women fleeing from the tomb in fear what are we to make of this? Why did Mark leave everything ‘up in the air’ so to speak? True, the resurrection is definitely mentioned and the women are told that the disciples would meet the risen Lord in Galilee. But it all seems rather low key.
Now I love the resurrection stories from Matthew, Luke and John as much as anyone else. I find them to be profoundly moving and they help me to know the presence of the risen Lord in my own life. On the other hand I rather like the ‘open ended’ way in which Mark may have ended his original Gospel. The women leave the tomb in a bewildered and fearful state – though of course we know that eventually they will indeed meet the risen Lord.

I think that this open ending teaches us that it is often when we go out in faith and trust – even if we are bewildered, fearful and confused – that we will meet Jesus in our daily lives. Like the women fleeing from the empty tomb, we have not ‘seen’ Him. But if we venture out in faith we will encounter him in scripture, in prayer and in the Eucharist and in the ups and downs of our daily lives just as the women and the other disciples would indeed find him when they had the courage to journey to Galilee in faith.

I pray that this Easter our faith in the presence of the risen Jesus will be renewed and that we will meet him in the Galilee of our lives.

Fr. John

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