I heard something today which inspired me to think up an apologetic response to some scholars who suggest that the ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) could neither have been authored by Mark nor by any person contemporary with the Apostles. The tantalizing insight was this: that Marks’ Gospel begins with the words:
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
This ‘beginning’ may imply that, like Luke, Mark’s work was implicitly reflecting an intention to write a supplementary volume. Mark may have written a Gospel to be shared with prospective converts and catechumen, while keeping the ending, the true ‘good news’, as something to be expressed in the Liturgy. In other words, the resurrection would be proclaimed in the Liturgy, but the ‘Gospel’ was composed with an abridged cliff-hanger ending precisely in order to invite suspicious attraction to the Mass, where the ‘bow’ to the whole Gospel would finally be present-ed. This is actually in accord with what we know of early Christian practice. The early Christians practised something they called ‘the Secret’, which simply implied keeping certain parts of the Mass from being publicly exposed, precisely in order for people to find it for themselves (perhaps among other reasons). If Mark’s Gospel was carried by communities which self-consciously practiced this discipline of keeping some of the Liturgical richness hidden away for Catechumens, then it makes sense that they would end the Gospel they circulated publicly where scholars often suspect it originally ends. Notice how brilliant a cliffhanger the shorter ending is:
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.
The Resurrection, a literally earth-shattering event, leaves the early disciples speechless and in perplexed, albeit wonderful, fear. That ending to the Gospel, without resurrection appearances, sounds ‘unfinished’ to our modern ears, but if one imagines that the Gospel was designed to end that way precisely to attract open eyed curiosity then one can imagine that it would have this effect, and that the ‘ending’ (intended to compliment ‘the beginning‘) of the Gospel was simply reserved for the context of the Liturgy (perhaps even acting as the reading for ‘Easter’). The longer ending could have been written by Mark, or Peter, or perhaps even developed in the context of a nascent liturgy which was in development as the Apostles were still walking among us.