Gospel at Midnight Mass: Mark 16:1-7 Easter Sunday THE GOSPEL appointed to be read at Midnight Mass this year was almost certainly the original ending of Mark's Gospel, and what an ending!
All the way through the Gospel, particularly in the second half, we have watched awe-struck as the disciples make one blunder after another, and we are used to their failures by now, especially their supreme moment of dereliction of duty during the Passion.
In general, however, the women have got it right, and indeed our last glimpse of them was of their faithful, if remote, presence at the crucifixion. But now, at the moment of triumph, the Church chooses for the Gospel reading at the greatest and most joyful moment of the, whole liturgical year an episode that shows even those courageous and loyal women in disarray and blank incomprehension.
In the first place, the opening phrase of the chapter indicates how little they had grasped. It might best be translated: "when they had got through the sabbath", to indicate the weary impatience that Mark ascribes to them. Next we see that they had so failed to understand about Resurrection that they had actually brought spices to anoint the body. Then, in their impatience to get at the corpse, they come to the tomb "extremely early, on the first day of the week".
At this point. Mark permits himself a little joke at their expense: "when the sun had already risen". He is not talking about the time of day here, but about their Risen Lord.
Their next blunder, we discover, is that they have failed' to make any plan for rolling away the stone. 'I his is a mistake in two respects: in the first place, they have been improvident, and in the second they have failed to appreciate it is only God who rolls stones away, especially large ones. It is not a love of descriptive detail that leads Mark to comment of the stone "for it was very big".
Then they go into the tomb, and the next mistake they make is to be scared out of their wits by the presence of the young man. The clues are there all right: he is "sitting on the right", and "clad in a white garment", both unmistakable signs of God's action, but they have still not made the connection.
Many scholars, even today, understand this young man to be an angel, but it is surely meant to be Jesus himself, who is of course only dimly encountered at this point, since, as the apparition says, the real place where Jesus is encountered is not here, but in Galilee, in other words in the preaching of Him.
Then comes the great revelation: "Do not be afraid", which is always what God says when he appears to those who are faithful to him. "Jesus is risen". That is the joyful fact that we celebrate today, that the limitations of this existence of ours are not finally decisive but a summons to a fuller and more authentic human existence. The crucified one has cheated death after all; the one who died abandoned by God is after all rescued by Him, wonderfully present to Him.
Resurrection is not however a private joy, but good news for all the world, and so the women are given a job to do. They are to go to Peter and instruct him to start on the mission, so that the world may know about Resurrection.
And what do the women do? Very much what you or I might be tempted to do. Totally unnerved by this turn of events, where a corpse can't do the decent thing and stay where it has been placed, they flee in terror and fail in their mission. The astounding fact is that Mark's Gospel originally ended with these words: "And they said nothing to anybody; for they were afraid".
This was not the end of the story, however, otherwise there would have been no Gospel and no Easter Sunday. But Mark very much wants us and the Christians for whom he was writing to understand how powerful God is, who can preach the Gospel even with such unsatisfactory assistants.