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  • Larry Payne

Easter's Liminal Space

“And then what happened?” The question from a child is natural when the storyteller pauses. The tale isn’t finished, the action incomplete, and the ending left dangling. How does it end? Even adults sometimes skip to the end of the thriller to answer the question!

“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.”[1]



In the earliest and best manuscripts (dated to ~300 years after Jesus), the Gospel of Mark ends with those words. Why doesn’t it continue like the other Gospels, which offer stories to finish the drama of Easter Sunday? No one knows. In succeeding centuries unknown editors tried to fill in the gap, cobbling together rather clumsy summaries. These additions are different linguistically and don’t appear in ancient sources until ~450 CE. Most Bibles today note this discrepancy, as did the Church Fathers centuries ago.[2]

Some hold that Mark intended the story to end like it does. Others say the last paragraphs were lost inadvertently, or perhaps they were censured for some reason. One theory holds that the ending was absorbed into Luke and Matthew’s Gospels, showing up where these writers agree nearly word-for-word.

I find the words of verse 8 about the terror of these devoted women an encouragement for modern disciples. Deep down in all of us is a hard lump of fear. As we try to protect ourselves, we may flee from it, fight it, freeze near it, or fawn to appease it. The women who had come to do the normal duties to honor their dead rabbi encountered events so strange they turned to run away in fear. How normal this is! Each of us has done something similar as we encounter the inexplicable.

In modern terms, a “liminal space” is a physical or mental place that is different from normal experience, unsettling, even mysterious, yet may offer a transition to a new reality.[3] Some people experience the sensation in elevators while for others it appears after a midlife birthday creates a disturbing loss of normal mindset. Liminal space brings us to the verge of something different, a time where life is shifting to form what cannot be yet discerned.  

I think God uses the liminal times to disorient us so we can be dislodged to a new way of living. We become aware that the answers or behaviors we once held dearly are not working now. We may begin a search that feels dangerous, pushing us to cross a threshold (in Latin “liminal”) to something new. The journey is not easy. If we persist, however, we may find the Divine waits ahead, like the angels promised the trembling but faithful women near the Tomb.

How does the story end? Maybe that’s the point Mark wanted to make. Each of us must write our own narrative across the liminal path to a new way of living. The only certainty is that we are not alone—maybe afraid for a while, but not alone on our way home.  


[1] Mark 16:8 NRSVUE

[2] Craig Evans, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol 34B Mark 8:27-16:20. Zondervan Publishers, 1988

[3] “What Is Liminal Space And How Does It Affect You?” Betterhelp Editorial Team. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/general/understanding-how-liminal-space-is-different-from-other-places/

Photo by Elijah Hail on unsplash.com

 

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