Which resurrection story?

As it's Easter Sunday I've been contemplating Mark ch16, the first gospel account of the resurrection. Most Bibles have a footnote saying that the most reliable versions of Mark stop at verse 8, and that verses 9-20 were added on later. Which is significant, because it means 'Mark' gives us two quite different stories.

The longer version is the standard resurrection story, roughly as we know it. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, to two friends on a journey, to the eleven disciples in a room, and then ends with a commission and Jesus' ascension. It's a short but exuberant account. Jesus tells his disciples they will be able to pick up snakes and drink deadly poison. More than that: they will have the power to forgive and condemn. This account carries with it the scent of victory.

The short version, by contrast, is an extremely curt and confused affair. Three women approach the tomb to find it empty, except for a man dressed in white who tells them that Jesus has risen and gone ahead to meet them in Galilee. The women flee and 'said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.'

It's easy to understand why someone felt Mark needed a better ending!

But the triumphal version isn't Mark's. And I'm left wondering why he ended the way he did? This is the very first account of Jesus' life to ever be narrated like this! And the empty tomb is the very climax of his story! Isn't this precisely the moment for a victory round, a resurrection lap of honour?

At my church this morning we sung the classic Easter hymn:

Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son;
endless is the victory Thou o'er death has won!

This is the glory story. The version of Easter that trumpets the resurrection as a victory, and the Son (of God) as the conquering victor. But here's the question that nags at me:

Is Jesus the new Caesar?

Are we celebrating the rise of a new superpower at the expense of another?

Does Jesus conquer death like a mighty king vanquishes an enemy? Or does Jesus reconfigure the very system in which victory is understood? Is the resurrection a sign of total power - even over humankind's ultimate nemesis? Or is it an escape, eluding death to bring life to all?

I have to say Mark is a bit ambivalent. 1:1 introduces the gospel with an announcement of 'the "evangelikon" (or "gospel") of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.' This is a direct challenge to Rome. Whenever the Caesars achieved a military victory they would send the evangelikon, or 'gospel' - the 'good news' - to be proclaimed throughout the Empire. The proclamation would hail Caesar as a 'son of god'. To give Jesus this introduction and insert the title Christ (literally meaning 'anointed one', but to everyone at the time basically meaning 'revolutionary') is nothing short of eye-balling Rome. The spirit of Mark's opener is clear: out with the old and in with the new. Caesar is being replaced by Jesus.

But that isn't really the story of the gospel itself. (And actually there are question marks over whether Mark wrote 1:1 as well, though scholars aren't agreed, unlike the ending which is clearly a later addition.) Mark has Jesus engage in symbolic action against Rome, by exorcising demons called 'legion' (the name for a Roman army unit) and, through them, driving pigs into the sea, for example (a deeply meaningful image in a culture in whose memory remained the story of the Egyptian liberation where Pharaoh's armies were destroyed by the Red Sea and in which pigs represented all that was unclean about the Jew's current oppression). But Jesus never takes up arms to fight the Empire; quite the opposite. He challenges the violent Jewish factions to live a different way and to respond to a domineering power with forgiveness and nonviolent resistance.

So which resurrection story do we follow?

The all-conquering death-beater? Or the humble Galilean who conned death by escaping its power?

The new incumbent on the imperial throne? Or the earthquake which shakes that throne's foundations and opens up a new space for life together, free from the long, cold shadow of power?

Could the empty tomb of Mark 16:1-8 be the spectral threat of sacrifice?

That in the face of an all-conquering 'Gospel', Jesus refuses to play by the rules.