“Trembling and astonishment had come upon them … for they were afraid”
It is known as the short ending to The Gospel according to St. Mark because some of the earliest texts of St. Mark’s Gospel end at verse eight of the sixteenth chapter rather than with the further aspects of the resurrection that take us to verse twenty. To be sure, the canonical gospel, the gospel that is authoritative for orthodox Christians, includes those additional twelve verses. The shorter ending does not mean that Mark does not believe in the doctrine of the resurrection or that the additional verses are somehow unrelated and disconnected to the rest of his gospel and unfaithful to it. Quite the contrary. The Gospels could not even be written apart from the Resurrection. It is the Resurrection that brings everything into a new light of understanding. It changes everything.
“Be not afraid” is the good news of the Resurrection, after all, in the shorter ending. The word for being afraid is more about a kind of amazement or wonderment. The women were amazed to find “the stone rolled away” and to see “a young man clothed in a long white garment.” He responds to their amazement. “Be not affrighted” – meaning ‘be not amazed’. “Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: his risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.” But this only adds to their amazement. They “trembled and were amazed”, literally, they were beside or outside of themselves. Here the word for amazement is ecstasy – ex stasis. The whole scene is about confronting a mystery, the great mystery of the Resurrection.
So what are we to make of that shorter ending? From a literary point of view, I think it is powerful and poignant ending, and serves to make the doctrinal point about the resurrection even more strongly. Only in the light of the resurrection does the story of Jesus makes any sense. The resurrection has captured the imaginations of the gospel writers and compelled them to see things in a new light without which the Gospels would never have been written.