And he said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Mark 16: 15-16
The gospel reading today comes from one of the added endings to the gospel of Mark. The first readers of Mark’s gospel clearly were dissatisfied with the original ending at 16: 7-8: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee. There you will see him, as he told you. And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and bewilderment took hold of them. And they said nothing to anyone. For they were afraid.” In both the original ending and in the verses quoted above from one of the additional endings, there is a command to “go out” in one case and to “go into” in the other. In the first case, the three women, the first witnesses, go out in “trembling and bewilderment” — in a raw and dark faith to tell the disciples and Peter that they are to go to Galilee where they will meet the Lord. They are to go out and into a world where abides the Risen One, but it seems that they are to discover and experience him in the same way we must: recognizing his presence in the world itself. In the ending of the gospel we read today, the disciples are sent “into the whole world” by the glorified Jesus himself, immediately before he ascends into heaven.
Perhaps the two different endings are expressions of the two different aspects of how we encounter the Risen Jesus. In the original, it seems that the angel is telling the women that the disciples are to go out into Galilee and there they shall come to “see” the Lord. That is, the Risen Lord is to be recognized and known as we go out into the world in a spirit of love, service, and reparation. In the alternate ending, the Lord comes to the disciples in a privileged and compelling way and then tells them before departing from them that they are to “go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” out of the fulness they have received. In the first case, we “go out” in fear and trembling to be taught and discover the presence of God in the world, that the one we seek is in all and everything. In the the second instance, we receive in solitude, prayer, and contemplation the reality of union, a received intuitive comprehension of the fullness of the glory of God in us and in all, and then “go into the world” to proclaim or show to that world the love from which it comes and in whose glory it exists.
The story of the fall in the book of Genesis is a story of how what was once integral and whole became separated. It is a story we know only too well in our own lives. What we most suffer in our lives is our mistaken sense or feeling that we are separate and totally alone. Most of the time, we are not aware of our union in God with all that is. The more “developed” that human cultures seem to become, the more that loneliness, anxiety, and depression seem to dominate our existence. The past days in the United States there has been much attention to the death of the musician and performer Prince. The other day on the evening news there was a video clip of a fairly young woman who was expressing her grief at his death. She spoke of how sad she was that he died alone, and went on to say that she hoped he now understood how much he was loved. While appreciating the sincerity of her sentiments, I couldn’t help but wonder what love meant to her, and to most of us in our time. She was probably referring to the emotions that she felt on hearing of the death of this musician and performer whose music had affected her. Do all who are part of the outpouring of feeling and emotion at the news of Prince’s death, truly love him? Can we say that we love another without “going out” to them?
In yesterday’s gospel from John we read: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13: 34). To love another, to love the world, is to love as Jesus did; it is to pour ourselves out on behalf of the beloved. In certain moments of prayer, we know the truth that we are not separated and alone: that our true life is a shared life, and that without the breath of God’s life in us we do not have life. As with us, so with every other human being and with the very created world itself. Once we realize, even momentarily, that our life is an experience of love, we must “go into the world” and proclaim, that is offer, that love to any and all who will receive it. We need not merely “hope” that another knows they are loved; we feel compelled somehow to show them that love.
This, however, is where I find the original ending of Mark’s gospel far more compelling. There are those who think they are proclaiming the gospel when they out out in pride and self-assurance. They think they are somehow privileged with a truth that they must somehow inflict on others. The three women, however, leave the tomb and go to tell the disciples what they have heard in “trembling and bewilderment.” To go forward in faith is not to live with self-assurance or certitude. We are impelled to love others out of the love we have received and known, but we do so as the weak, vulnerable, small and incomplete being that we are. We know, as Julian of Norwich wrote of the hazelnut, that “God made us; God loves us; God cares for us.” It is this experience that allows us to trust in God. The trust we have in God, however, is not that of the professional or business expert. To love as a human being is always an act of vulnerability. To love is more than to hope that another somehow knows that she or he is loved. It is to dare, in “trembling and bewilderment,” to connect and make contact with that other. It is to proclaim, not as an old fashioned preacher, but in word and act God’s care for another, which we can only attest to by our care.
God does not need us because of anything in particular about us—because we can solve God’s problems(!), because we impress God, because we are successful, powerful, whatever. That would mean that God would be more interested in those human beings who have made a good job of their lives than in the rest of us—and that would run dead contrary to most of what the gospels have to say. But if God does not need us for anything, or even because of anything, we have to say that God simply ‘needs’ what we are, no more, no less; God ‘needs’ us to be. And this is not because God’s own being is incomplete without us; rather God ‘needs’ to be God’s self, to exercise the love that is God’s eternal life, bringing forth out of God’s infinite being those fragmentary reflections of its richness that are the lives, the realities, of the created world. God loves the reflection of God’s love within creation; God cannot bear to be separated from it and goes eagerly in search of it, hungry to find in the created ‘other’ the reality of God’s own life and bliss.
Rowan Williams, Ponder These Things, pp. 26-7