Once I taught a class who were the bottom set. It is rubbish to be the bottom set. They were the bottom set in English and they were all boys. They called me Doc T, and so did everyone else, but only that class occasionally forgot themselves and called me Mum, and then they were deeply deeply embarrassed. They supported Hibs. When we had a lesson on Monday mornings they told me how Hibs were doing and I secretly assessed their talking skills. They objected to any literature – well, really, they objected to any literature at all, but especially to anything about people with finer feelings and doubts and uncertainties and complex emotions. They wanted everything to be clear and to happen immediately and with a total lack of subtlety.
And, you know, there is a lot to be said for their point of view; and maybe you and I have more in common with it than you or I might think.
I used to look for books that they would like. Books where, even if people might have feelings which might even be complex, at least a reasonable proportion of things were clear and happened immediately and without subtlety. I don’t know why, at the time, I never thought of the Gospel of Mark. It would fit the bill.
What I thought of was a novel called Cal, by Bernard Mac Laverty. It’s a good novel and I won’t tell you the story. But Cal is the name of the main character in it. He is guilty. He is mixed up in guilt up to his neck, and the person who is a note of grace, a glimmer of redemption in his whole situation, is part of what he is guilty of. Has been wounded by what Cal did. The whole thing is tangled, confused, awful, and yet there is this glimmer. And it ends very suddenly, abruptly, not in violence but with a violent suddenness; it ends with what Cal has been dreading; and yet the end of it is hope.
You can see why I might have thought of the Gospel of Mark. Something terrible has happened. It has finally happened. All sorts of people are mixed up in it. The story rushes headlong on and hits the buffers and there is this horrible crunch of the crucifixion. And instead of sorting everyone out at the end, the Gospel stops suddenly. Abruptly. With fear. With people running for their lives. And in hope.
Well, my class quite liked Cal, and they hated the way it ends. They wanted it explained. They wanted to know what happened. They felt short-changed. Why isn’t there a proper ending? And I would say, well, maybe the writer wanted to make us think. And one day there was a sixth-form conference and Bernard MacLaverty was there, and some of us ended the day having a drink in the bar in Waverley station before he got his train, and I asked him about the end of Cal. ‘To make people think’, he said. I came back and told the boys. They looked at me incredulously. ‘You? You were having a drink?’
Of course we know what happened after the end of Mark’s Gospel. Of course we know that the women told someone what had happened: is Mark not writing it down? The end of Mark doesn’t even stop at making us think. It pulls us into the story. Us. You, me. You. It doesn’t end with God mopping everyone up, sorting everyone out. God is ahead of us, drawing us on. Jesus has gone ahead into Galilee. Everything is beginning and we are part of it now.
You. You are part of this. This answer is for you. You, the reader, the listener, the running women, the people hearing their story, the person mired in guilt, the woman with the alabaster box anointing Jesus and sneered at for her pains by the others, the lepers, the passers-by, the arresting soldiers, the betraying friends, you, Cal, me, the bottom set. Us.
Jesus says, of the woman with the alabaster box: Let her be. She has done what she could. The end of Mark says that to everyone. It sets us free. Free to become who we really are in God. Free to do what now we can. Free to run.
Easter Day 2014, St Mary’s Witney