16 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “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.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What to do with this educator’s commentary

This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation. They will help you answer for yourself the question in the last words of the text: ‘what does this mean?’

This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.

Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.

In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretation and to listen to that of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.

Structure of the commentary:

The world behind the text

See the general introduction to Mark.

The world of the text

Text & textual features

Characters & setting

Ideas / phrases / concepts

Questions for the teacher

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher

Meaning for today / challenges

Church interpretations & usage

The World Behind the Text

See general introduction to Mark.

The world of the text

Text & textual features

This passage is acknowledged as the original ending of the gospel of Mark. Verses 9-20 are often noted as being later and in a different style from the rest of Mark. Most scholars agree that the two sections, often called the Shorter Ending and the Longer Ending were not part of the original Gospel. They were possibly added to make the gospel feel complete. McKinnon identifies elements from the three other gospels and Acts in these later, added verses [see John McKinnon  Mark 16:9-20]. 

This text links with the opening passage in, Mk 1:1-13. In these 13 verses Mark’s prologue presents Jesus of Nazareth and the Good News. This passage, at the other end of his work, is epilogue – a conclusion, and while addressed to the community he knew, it holds much for disciples of all time. 

The passage is divided into two sections:

vs 1-4  the empty tomb             

vs 5-8  the empty tomb explained   

The passage takes place when Sabbath is over (about 6pm, as the Jewish day went from sunset Friday to sunset on the Saturday). The women bought spices – wanting to complete a proper burial process, which included anointing.

It is the first day, the day after the Sabbath, ‘the sun had risen’ – a play on words in English – son, sun.

The stone – difficulty was anticipated by the women – the stone was deliberately heavy, shaped to fit into specially hollowed grooves it resembled a coin; Mark emphasises how big the stone was – and yet it was already rolled back.

The young man – in a white robe, sitting on the right-hand side, regarded as a position of privilege.

The women are alarmed – words used for fear/amazement – alarmed (16:5), terror, amazement (overwhelmed with wonder), afraid (16:8). These elements of fear and amazement are frequently signs that one has experienced the awesome power of God. 

Characters & Setting

The women:

are anxious about the stone needing to be rolled away, and are alarmed by the young man in the empty tomb. 

The young man in white:

sitting on the right-hand side – the privileged side. A contrast with the young man who ran away (Mk 14:51) and left his clothing behind – a linen cloth. There are some elements of the Transfiguration – clothes became dazzling white – a voice from heaven. Is this an angel? An angel was regarded as a messenger from God. Words of assurance were also signs of angelic visitations. 

The young man told them not be alarmed, Jesus of Nazareth who had been crucified, was raised. The young man tells them ‘he is not here’, but they will see him in Galilee, ‘as he told you’. 

They are told to go, and tell the disciples and Peter, to give them the Good News, but the women fled in terror and amazement, and said nothing, for they were afraid. 


Once again (see 15:40-41), it is the women who come to attend to Jesus’ needs. But Jesus is not there. They are told that Jesus will go ahead of them to Galilee, where they will see him, just as he told them (14:28). It seems likely that the early Christian community of Mark’s Gospel felt keenly the absence of the physical presence of Jesus. The Gospel is filled with accounts of Jesus interacting with them and people they met, or who came looking for help from Jesus. Their life and belief in Jesus went on in the darkness of faith.

Even though the text states that the women said nothing to anyone, they must have told the disciples and Peter, because the story was told, and written down. Otherwise, there would have been no Christian community and no gospel of Mark. [This point is developed in F Moloney, A Friendly Guide to Mark’s Gospel, p. 42-43]

At that time, a woman could not take part in legal proceedings as a witness. This might explain why Luke and John have a male disciple verify that the tomb was empty.  Does this mean it was probably Mary of Magdala who discovered that the tomb was empty? (Achtemeier, Invitation to the Gospels, p. 205)

Questions for the teacher:

What is the text saying? What am I wondering about the text?
How can you enable your students to engage with the actual text? What might they wonder about?
What of this information is important to share with the students?

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher:

Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.

How do you respond to the text?
What does the text tell us about the world that God desires? What might the Holy Spirit be asking you and asking us to do?
In what ways do you hope your students will respond to the text? What do you want them to know, believe and do?

Meaning for today/challenges

This is Mark’s dramatic way to refer to the whole mystery of the Christian experience. The Christian disciple’s encounter with the risen Christ would be real; it would be life-changing;  yet it would always be mystery.

Mystery is consistently experienced as fascinating yet terrifying.

John McKinnon, Mark 16:1-8

The women were filled with amazement and fear, and ran away, just like the disciples when Jesus was arrested (14:50).  A constant theme in Mark’s gospel is that of fear, weakness and lack of understanding by the first disciples of Jesus. We are invited to consider why mark wrote his ending this way when he clearly knew this was not ‘the end’. How did this ending provide challenge to the community for whom Mark wrote: how does it provide ongoing challenge today? 

Mark’s Gospel acknowledged the fear and anxiety of the disciples, and offered encouragement to the first Christians, and to us today. We are encouraged not to give up, and to remember that Jesus remained faithful, even when his disciples failed. By going back to their first experience of Jesus (in Galilee) they will see him there. Current believers can do similarly by remembering where they first met/experienced Jesus.     [Michael Fallon  Epilogue: The Tomb and the Promise]

People today can be plagued by doubt and confusion in living their faith. This Gospel tells us to pay attention to Jesus and listen to him. 

Liturgical Usage

This passage is only used in the liturgy on Easter Sunday in Year B, when the gospel of Mark is used in that year.