Resurrection Appearances – St Mark’s Gospel
As we continue our series of reflections of the resurrection appearances of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the disciples, this post is probably going to be a bit of an odd one out: the original conclusion to the Gospel according to St Mark contained no references to appearances of the risen Christ, dramatically concluding with the incomplete and unresolved tension of the empty tomb (16:8). Within a few years of its first completion, for reasons about which we can only speculate, somebody added verses 9-20, depicting in laconic prose the numerous appearances of Christ and His ascension to the right hand of the Father.
It would be wrong, however, to say that this earliest ending of the earliest canonical gospel contains no reference to the resurrection. Not only does the short ending contain a reference to the empty tomb, but the entire gospel presupposes the resurrection: it is the person of the risen Christ around which this earliest Christian community, to whom the Gospel is addressed, are gathered. By finishing on the tantalising note of the empty tomb, seeming to leave off a story as abruptly as the Gospel first picked it up, the original audience (for it seems possible that this was a gospel written for performance, rather than for written distribution) are left with the question ‘…and then what?!’
To answer that question takes much more than words: the answer is found within the life of the community, and particularly with the apostles around whom it was formed (in which St Peter, of whom St Mark was a disciple, occupies pride of place). It was they to whom Christ appeared, they who could recount the stories of their first-hand knowledge of Jesus, and their lives that were eloquent testimony to his rising power; this was a Church in which the Acts of the Apostles was still being written!
As time elapsed and the first hand witnesses to Christ’s resurrection became fewer, the community distilled the bare bones of their anecdotes into the longer conclusion that is now customarily attached to the original. But this is little more than an outline, and certainly no replacement for the living tradition of the Church in which we, who witness Christ – and witness to Him – in today’s world, are heirs. Although we have a completed text of the Acts of the Apostles, there is a sense in which the full history of the acts of Jesus’ apostolic community is still being written in the history of His Church, and will not be completed until we too return with Christ to be with the Father, and join the angelic hosts in the singing of Holy! Holy! Holy!