The message the women heard from the “young man” is found in St. Mark (16:5-8). Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome carried their spices to the tomb, thinking to anoint the body of Jesus. Apparently, none of them gave much thought to removing the stone from the entrance, except to fret about who might be enlisted to do it.
But you know the story well enough—the stone had already been removed. A frightful curiosity moves them to the interior of the tomb and there, on the right side, sits a “young man” with a message. After telling them “Don’t be alarmed,” largely because they needed telling, the young man continues:
You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples, even Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (My emphasis added)
Even Peter is something of a variant reading. Most renderings of και τῷ Πέτρῳ are and Peter. To twist even Peter from the text would require, technically, the more explicit ακόμη και Πέτρ.
If even Peter isn’t exactly correct, it may still indicate the young man’s inflection when saying and Peter to the women, as if expressing some small but not unnatural hesitation over words he is commanded to speak.
I recall a pastor reading the day’s Gospel, one of those real howler Sunday readings around which smart pastors schedule vacations. Once finished, he declared, “The Gospel of the Lord?” with an inflected question mark. Given the reading, really, it did make sense.
Knowing just a little about Peter as reported from the gospels, even Peter is the more sensible approach. Can you hear the young man? “Go and give this message to his disciples . . . [long pause, heavy sigh, a reluctantly mumbled] . . . even Peter.”
Other translations put this as (long pause, resigned heavy sigh) including Peter. A contemporary paraphrase renders it as and don’t forget to tell Peter, which leads me to wonder if the young man may have worried they might not. That line—I can hear it spoken in the voice of the anhedonic stuffed donkey, Eeyore.
Yet and Peter by itself can be heard in a tone of distinct hesitation. It sounds like the young man just gets stuck with it, an assignment he must complete, whether he wanted to say it or not. If you are going to tell one, he has been instructed, you had better tell them all, and (long pause, heavy sigh) Peter.
This is the original ending, the first ending, to the Gospel of Mark. This ending just cuts off, and everything remains up in the air. The reader is compelled to ponder what that might indicate.
A strange young man, a dubious instruction to include even Peter, and a cryptic note: “You’ll find him in Galilee,” and three people, the women, so “trembling and bewildered” they say nothing to anyone. There’s the end of it.
Had nothing else been ever been added to the report of St. Mark—and for the longest time nothing was—Mark would have left us with the most troubling story of the resurrection. If all we had was the first ending we would never know, not from Mark, at any rate, how Jesus ultimately reconciled with his disciples:
-with the ones who fled and scattered when he was arrested,
-with the disciples who followed Jesus when expedient but did not speak his name when imperiled,
-and with that disciple, the one who swore God’s name three times that he never knew the man, that disciple, Peter.
Given only the first ending, I see why even Peter is the rendering I have always liked best.
All four Gospels go into slow motion as Peter methodically renounces Jesus. The tale is excruciating. A fissure opens slightly, and suddenly everything gives way as one detail surges into another. This happened, and Peter denied his teacher. A little while later another question, and again Peter said this, another denial. About an hour later, he is asked again and, again, Peters disowns him whom he has called Lord and Messiah.
“Peter, don't you know what you have said?” sings Magdalene in Superstar. “You've gone and cut him dead.”
Why is there such detail? Because the Church heard the story and memorized and repeated it timelessly long before Mark took pen to paper, having first heard it from the only one who could tell it with such embarrassingly specific candor, from Peter himself.
Peter tells the story to the Church. He told it many times, doubtless, but fortunately it was the sort nobody ever tired of hearing, telling of reconciliation, of a forgiveness that raises us from our lowest moments, one that came to even Peter.
Like I said, it’s just one of those things the young man had to do. If you’re going to tell one, you had better tell them all.
Russell E. Saltzman, who writes from Kansas City, Missouri, is also a contributor at Aleteia. His latest book is Speaking of the Dead. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @RESaltzman. His previous First Things contributions are here.