The Voice: Night, Dawn, Day
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid (NIV).
The Gospel of Mark ends with a picture which serves as a description for our discipleship. In this narrative, in no small part due to Mark’s detailed telling, we are able to follow three women as they search for Christ. Their experience is marked by three distinct times: night, dawn, and day. All three times speak to the kind of space we can find ourselves in as we seek to make sense of faith and life.
The first space is located in the night: and the women emerge out of that darkness. As soon as the Sabbath was over (sundown), they purchase what they need to anoint Jesus’ body the next morning. Yet implicit between the end of the Sabbath and the dawn is the imagery of night. Figuratively, it is night because of Jesus’ death; literally, it is night before they can physically visit the tomb.
We know from the verses before Mark 16 that at least two of the women had witnessed the trauma of the crucifixion. Now their devotion and faith are expressed as they do what is required at a time best described as night: go to the tomb and attend to Jesus’ body. So they emerge out of the night and head towards the tomb.
For the most part, they walk a path that is expected. They know what is required, where it is required, and what to expect when they get there. Their conversation is centred on the very large stone which will present a problem upon their arrival (v. 3). Yet, they faithfully walk on.
To put it in a way for us today: we think we know what God wants, where God wants us, and what to expect. We think we know what is required even though is night or we are emerging out of night. We think we know what needs to be done even though we are aware of the obstacles that we will encounter. Yet for all of that, we have enough awareness of what the expected path is. To use the vocabulary of Mark 16; we know the rules concerning the Sabbath, we know where to buy spices to anoint Jesus, we know the way to where we last saw him, and we know the obstacles that await us.
My point is simple: there are times in our faith which are marked by darkness and yet we remain determined to seek Christ.
So we follow the women in Mark 16 to the tomb – out of the night and into the dawn (vv. 2-4).
The women arrive at the tomb and discover that everything they had and the concerns they held were all unnecessary. They look up and see the stone has been rolled away. There is no body to anoint; so no need for the spices. There is no stone to roll away; so, no need to worry about how to remove it. There is no shame in the manner they are found walking into the dawn. There is no criticism to be levelled at them. They did more than most that first morning. Instead, we look upon this and delight. We delight not at the unnecessary actions and conversations of the women but at the extraordinary act of God which wondrously makes it so unnecessary!
Confronted by the utterly unexpected – an open tomb – the women enter. There is no record of fear at this point. The obstacle which threatened to stop them anointing Jesus’ body was removed. Now they could do what they had walked out of the night and into the dawn for. But now they were to experience something that took them from an expected path marked by night to an unexpected way marked by dawn. They hear what God wants, where God wants them to be, and Who to expect waiting there.
Mark tells the story of Jesus with simple, straightforward sentences. Such a telling keeps us in the story as if we are there with the three women. Mark writes about past events as if they are presently happening. That places us in the story. He includes details that the other Gospels don’t; especially the emotional responses of people. That makes us feel in the story.
So the women enter the tomb (v. 5) and there is a young man in a while robe. Mark is restrained in how he describes what is clearly an angel:
Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you (vv. 6-7).
But the women are alarmed. This is a word (ekthaubeō) only Mark uses in the New Testament. It has a sense of dread. Coupled with this is the angel’s statement that the women are “looking” for Jesus. In Mark the concept of “seeking” is mostly used in a negative way. Here it is used to indicate that they are mistaken. He is not here. This makes us change direction in the story.
The angel’s message is to look at where he is not (v. 6) and to instead go where they can see him, Galilee (v. 7). He is not here. The women have emerged out of the night, into the dawn, and are now being invited to walk through the day. Remember, Mark writes in such a way that draws us into the story as if we were actually there. “He is not here” is not only a statement about the empty tomb at that time, it also is a summary of the actual story we are reading. This is the only resurrection account where Jesus does not actually make an appearance.
He’s not here!
Not only do the women need to heed the angel’s message, so do we: “He has gone ahead of you – just as he told you.”
As disciples, we walk into the dawn on an unexpected path. The sun rises. The message lands in our heart, our vision clears, and we discover that he has gone ahead of us. The message we hear is to meet him there.
Let me explain. Eugene Peterson made it his practice as a pastor to turn up to every meeting or pastoral visit in response to the angel’s message in Mark 16. Peterson’s approach was, “I have been anticipated. The risen Christ got there ahead of me. The risen Christ is in that room already. What is He doing? What is He saying? What is going on?” So, for example, Peterson would set off for a hospital visit and recite the message: “He is risen … he is going ahead of you to St Joseph’s Hospital; there you will see Him, as He told you.”
Once on a trip into South Asia to conduct preaching training, I was especially anxious. It was the first time travelling alone to this region and to a place I had never been and the first time experiencing a monsoon. So, taking Peterson’s lead, I prayed at each leg of the journey: “He has been raised … He is going ahead of you to [wherever]; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
When I arrived at the training venue it was surrounded by a heavily forested area in a steep hilly area.
One day, during a lunch break, I went to the edge of the property and there was a path into a forest and down into a gully. Two of the course participants were seated on a concrete seat somewhat down the path. They walked up and said I really needed to go down there and enjoy the scenery. So the next lunchtime I walked down the path. Just as I neared the place my friends had been sitting I noted another path leading off to the left. I decided to follow it. As I did, I noticed something in the distance through the trees. I came into a clearing and there hewn out of the side of the hill was a tomb – life-size! A large stone was rolled to one side and written on it the words, “Hallelujah. He has risen!” In the entrance of the tomb an image of the risen Christ.
It was one of those moments when it is as if God says, “Any other questions?”
This way of walking confronts us and even stops us in our tracks. Such encounters may even shock us. We are where we thought we needed to be with what we needed to attend to Jesus. But the call is to go further and initially we are left thinking, “But nothing has prepared us for this. We are scared. We have a sense of dread. This cannot be right!” Yet the word of the angel, indeed the Word of God, is telling us: hear what God wants; go where God wants us to be; meet him Who awaits us there.
We discover that the path is full of the unexpected. We discover we have emerged out of the night, into the dawn and are now invited to walk through the day.
For, if “out of the night” represents an expected path and “into the dawn” an unexpected path, then “through the day” represents an exceptional path. We can be overcome by the enormity of it all and it remains to be seen and heard how we respond to what God wants, where God wants us to be, and Who we will meet there once we arrive.
Mark records the women’s reaction: they flee in fear and bewilderment (v. 8). But if the Bible teaches us anything, it is that whatever direction they are going in, one thing is for sure, it is irrelevant.
The presence of God is inescapable.
And whereas the story began with conversation (v. 3); now it ends with no conversation (v. 8) They are saying nothing; to anyone! Fear and amazement have seized them!
And not only does this story end here but the most authoritative and reliable manuscripts of this Gospel end here. That’s it?! The women have walked on an expected path out of the night; which led to an unexpected path into the dawn and are now invited to walk an exceptional path through the day. The disappear from sight and out of the story. The way Mark tells the story we are left uncertain what happens next. The women supposedly travel to Galilee walking an exceptional path.
Mark’s way of writing calls us to do the same.
I like how Peterson puts it: this story and the whole Gospel of Mark finishes with a foot in the air:
[The ending of Mark’s Gospel] leaves us in mid-stride, off balance. The other foot has to come down someplace. Where will it come down? In belief or unbelief? Will the invasion of new life that completely rearranges reality for us, confronting us with more life than we ever imagined and so calling our minimal lives into question, send us scurrying in anxious fear for cover or venturing in reverent fear into worship? … Mark is saying “Here, you write it, write a resurrection conclusion with your life.”
Authors are required.
Perhaps the prospect of this exceptional path is too much for you. You have been alarmed by what God has said to you, what God wants, and where God wants you to go to.
While the last recorded description of the women is their fear, and in Mark’s Gospel, fear is most often related to demonstrations of Jesus’ power and majesty. “Fear is the constant reaction to the disclosure of Jesus’ transcendent dignity in the Gospel of Mark . . . the silence and fear of the women are an indirect Christological affirmation.”
So that struggle and fear you have in your soul – of trying to comprehend all that God is doing and saying – perhaps it is evidence of the presence of God. Jesus has gone ahead of you and there you will see him, just as He told you.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24).
Geoff New is Dean of Studies at the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership (Dunedin). He is a trainer for Langham Preaching in South Asia. He also leads Kiwimade Preaching. His doctoral research explored the impact of utilising Lectio Divina and Ignatian Gospel Contemplation when preparing sermons.
 William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 25–26.
 Lane, Mark, 587.
 Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: an exploration in vocational holiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 127-128.
 Peterson, Plant, 127.
 Peterson, Plant, 196.
 Lane, Mark, 591.
 Lane, Mark, 591.