There have been a number of movies, the most recent one being The Hunger Games, which come in multiple parts. The 7-part Harry Potter series comes to mind, and before that Star Wars, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, and many more which you can probably name more readily than I. Many of these are based on books, of course, which provide those of us who love them long hours of reading pleasure and escape, savoring the clues and details, getting to know the characters better than many of the people we encounter everyday.
Though each of these books or movies has to stand on its own, I find that often the second one in the series– once we are totally committed to following these characters and seeing how all the loose ends get tied up– the ending of the second installment, I find, is utterly unsatisfying. What?! You’re ending it there?! When does the next one come out? What do you mean, next Christmas? How can I possibly wait that long?!
It’s brilliant, really, ending it like that, with all sorts of clues left dangling, some of our favorite characters in mortal danger, missing perhaps, and everything left in the least likely, most incompetent hands of characters whose abilities we sorely doubt. There’s no way we’re not going to go to that next movie when it comes out, or buy the next book when it is published.
The writer of the Gospel of Mark was an early prototype for this kind of story. In fact, he ends his gospel with a line that sounds a lot like Master Yoda in the Star Wars series– The Greek says,“To no one nothing they said, they were afraid for…” What?! They said nothing? It ends with a preposition? It’s almost as though Mark had been snatched away from his writing desk, pen in hand, and carried off, which is actually not so unlikely a scenario, given the situation in Palestine in the 60’s (the original 60’s).
But the earliest readers of Mark’s manuscript couldn’t believe it ended there either, so they took a couple of shots at finishing it, neither of which sound like Mark. Still, those alternative endings have stayed attached to the gospel because the original ending is so unsatisfying–”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.”
What were the women afraid of? Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome are the women Mark names, but these are the three, he also says, who traveled with Jesus and who stood by throughout the crucifixion, watched Joseph take the body off the cross, and lay it in the tomb. These were not women who were easily scared off by the authorities or even by what other people thought.
They weren’t even afraid to go into the tomb, which had obviously been opened, but when they saw the young man inside, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side, “they were alarmed,” Mark says. “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.’”
That’s when “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.”
“Do not be alarmed,” the young man in the white robe said. “Don’t be afraid,” almost every messenger from the Holy says. It is a fearful thing to come into the presence of the truly Sacred, not because we fear being harmed or punished but rather exposed. Our raw edges, all that isn’t the absolute truth about us gets exposed, along with what is the absolute truth about ourselves, that in us that recognizes and connects to that revealing Light, all of that gets exposed, and that can knock us speechless.
“You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here…he is going ahead of you to Galilee and there you will see him, just as he told you.” He did say he would be killed, and then after three days be raised, the women remembered. Now that it’s happened, we realize that we hadn’t really believed him. We didn’t think it was possible. We thought for sure the alphabet ended at “Z for zebra.”
What the women were threatened by was resurrection. ( cf. Mitzi L. Minor, The Power of Mark’s Story, p. 105) If he is not here, if he has gone ahead to Galilee, where he first began toteach about the reign of God having drawn near and already begun, if that is all true, then it’s not all over but the crying. The world is still a mess– the powers that be – Rome, or the empires of various names, including our own, or the financial markets, or multinational corporations or bankers or the “globalized, technologized economy” (Elizabeth Goodman, Journal for Preachers, Easter 2012, p. 4) –the powers that be are still on their thrones, the earth’s climate is in upheaval, our lives may be in upheaval, we may even be dying, but, oh my God it’s true–the reign of God has drawn near and has already begun, and Christ is loose in the world, and we are part of this resurrection process now. Scary? You bet. But also joyful.
Psychologist Rollo May writes,
“Happiness is related to security, to being reassured, to doing things as one is used to and as our parents did them. Joy is a revelation of what was unknown before. Happiness often ends
up…on the edge of boredom. Happiness is success. But joy is stimulating; it is the discovery of new continents emerging within oneself. Happiness is the absence of discord; joy is the welcoming of discord as the basis of higher harmonies. Happiness is finding a system of rules which solves our problems; joy is taking the risk that is necessary to break new frontiers… The good life, obviously, includes both joy and happiness at different times. What I am emphasizing is the joy that follows rightly confronted despair. Joy is the experience of possibility, the consciousness of one’s freedom as one confronts one’s destiny. In this sense, despair, when it is directly faced, can lead to joy. After despair, the one thing left is possibility. (Freedom and Destiny, cited in An Almanac for the Soul, by Marv and Nancy Hiles, for Feb. 22)
The women had known despair. Now they were faced with possibility.
Maybe Mark actually knew what he was doing, ending his gospel the way he did. He didn’t spend much time on the beginning of his gospel either–no birth story, no genealogy, no setting down intentions–just, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” That’s it? Just, “the beginning,” like some stories end with, “the end”?
Actually, when you get to the end of Mark’s gospel, with the women just running away afraid and not saying anything, you know that isn’t the end because somehow you’ve heard this story. Somebody must have said something sometime. So you go back to the beginning and read it again, go back over all those clues and secrets and things that now, looking back, start to make sense. And you realize, O my God, I’m the next part of the story, we are the next part of the story. It continues in us. The reign of God has drawn near and in fact has begun. Love is loose in the world. The story is far from ended, so let us be on the Way!
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark