Resurrection of Our Lord (B)

The place they will see Jesus is in the fulfillment of his promises


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Stairs going up from a cave, via Unsplash

March 31, 2024

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Commentary on Mark 16:1-8

Mark’s Easter sermon goes something like this: “Christ is risen! And they said nothing to anybody because they were afraid.”

There is no encounter with the resurrected Jesus at the end of Mark’s Gospel. Instead, there is a mysterious messenger who issues a promise and a command, plus an empty tomb, and a group of women who flee in terror, too frightened to speak.

Counting the evidence

Each of the other Gospels shares at least two pieces of evidence as proof that Jesus has risen from the dead: witnesses to the empty tomb and appearances of the risen Christ to multiple followers.

In Mark, the tomb is empty (apart from the messenger), but nobody gets to see Jesus or touch the nail holes in his hands. There is no great commission (Matthew), no recounting of the Hebrew Scriptures or a meal shared with travelers to Emmaus (Luke), and no intimate conversation with Mary in the garden nor sudden arrival of the risen Christ behind locked doors (John).

Apparently, Mark’s good news requires no resurrection proofs based on encounters between Jesus and his disciples.

Instead, there is a promise: “He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

Will the disciples trust that promise? Will we?


Although Jesus predicted (more than once!) that he would be raised after being crucified,1 the concept is so incredible that nobody among his closest circle is able to fathom it. On this early morning when the sun had risen,2 the disciples are nowhere to be found.

For their part, the women are expecting to care for his decomposing body with the spices they carry to the tomb.

Instead they see a messenger dressed in white (an angel), “sitting on the right side”—language that echoes the position of honor at the Lord’s right hand (16:5; see also Psalm 110:1). Their “alarmed” reaction (Greek: ekthambeō) carries the sense3 of being overwhelmed by surprise or perplexity.4

Nothing they see (or do not see!) makes sense. The idea that a person would rise from the dead is just as overwhelming and unbelievable as is the concept of a Messiah who gets crucified. It is no wonder that “terror and amazement had seized them, and … they were afraid” (16:8).

The absence of Jesus

One of Mark’s unique claims is that Jesus is absent. Not only is the tomb empty (as each Gospel reports), but Jesus is not there—and nobody sees him.

How can this possibly be good news? The other Gospels offer concrete assurances that Jesus is present with his followers even after the end of his earthly ministry. But in Mark there is no Paraclete to comfort them (as in John), no fellow traveler to explain everything (Luke), not even the promise “I am with you always” (Matthew).

In Mark, the resurrected Jesus is not described as being “with you”; instead he is “going ahead of you.” If that is true, then death is stripped of its power. There is nothing Jesus’ followers will endure, no place they can go, that Jesus isn’t already there.

Following after Jesus

At the beginning of his ministry in Mark, when Jesus calls his disciples, he invites them to “follow me,” represented by the Greek phrase “to go or come opisō mou (“after me” or “behind me,” 1:17; see also 1:20).

The same Greek phrase appears in the episode at Caesarea Philippi, when Peter is unable or unwilling to accept Jesus’ Passion prediction. “Get opisō mou, Satan” (8:33), Jesus commands, after which he immediately calls the crowds with his disciples and teaches all of them, “If anyone wants to follow opisō mou, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (8:34).

Thus, from the beginning, the proper place for a disciple of Jesus is behind (or after) him, recalling that Jesus is ahead of them—even when they are unable to see him. If Jesus “goes ahead of us in death, can there be any doubt that he will be there ahead of us wherever life might take us?5  

You will see him

When the women go to the tomb, they expect to encounter death. Instead, the angel’s message sends them to the other disciples and back to Galilee, the place where they experienced fullness of life within Jesus’ ministry.

In Mark, that ministry begins and ends with a promise—“The reign [New Revised Standard Version: kingdom] of God is at hand” (1:15), and “There you will see him” (16:7). The place they will see Jesus is in the fulfillment of his promises, and in the paradox and mysteries of his Galilean ministry.

Jesus is absent, but he has not abandoned his followers—he is “ahead of them” and ahead of us.

Among those with shattered lives who long to be made whole, the followers of Jesus will see him, just as they did in Galilee. They (and we) might at any second run into him as the reign of God comes into its fullness.

Don’t be alarmed! Look! Go! Tell!

The way of Jesus, according to Mark, is a way of mystery and paradox. God’s Messiah is crucified … and yet he lives. Terror and amazement silence the women … and yet somehow (somehow!) the good news is proclaimed. The disciples are nowhere to be found … and yet they carry the ministry of Jesus to Galilee and beyond.

The messenger at the empty tomb issues an Easter command and promise: “Don’t be alarmed,” Jesus said this would happen. “Look,” Jesus was truly dead, as you can see from the place they laid him, but death cannot hold him.

“Go” away from this place of death and of endings, and return to life and a new beginning.

Then: “Tell” his disciples, even (especially!) the one who betrayed him, that he is going ahead of you. You will see him!

Christ is risen, and this is only the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.


  1. Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34.
  2. An Easter pun, “When the Son had risen.”
  3. Walter Bauer,  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 303.
  4. See also Mark 1:27 and 10:32.
  5. Sally Bates, “Fill in the Words: Mark 16:1–8,” an unpublished sermon preached on March 31, 2002.