The Best Ending Ever

Easter Sunday March 27, 2016

There is nothing quite like a good ending. I loved how the tv show Breaking Bad ended – the last few episodes were just simply stupefying and satisfying and terrifying as each character found their conclusion in the story. I also love the end of 6 Feet Under, a show about the life of Funeral Directors. And MASH, do you remember how MASH ended? We all cried like babies.

In my book, a good ending can be a myriad of things: it can be jaw-droppingly surprising; it can be satisfying in how it addresses the show’s over-all plot; it can even leave me with questions. I don’t have strict orders for how shows are supposed to end.

But, I have to tell you: I hated the end to the tv series called Lost.  And I’m not alone, let me tell you. Without blowing it for any of you who will discover it on Netflix, I’ll just say this. It’s an amazing show that asks all the mysterious questions and blows your expectations with plot twists, poking at your perception of the show’s reality. But they tried too hard to answer The Question in the final episode: what’s the mystery at the heart of this show?

And then they told us and it was…disappointing. It fell flat. Really? That’s your answer? Huh.

The book of Mark ends as suddenly as it began: 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. Now this – this is my kind of ending. It totally fits the book’s pace, and the nimble way it tells stories. Unlike the other Gospels, Mark moves along quickly, using the word suddenly over 40 times throughout the book. Mark doesn’t explain things – he just moves the story along.

Now, when you get home today, open your Bible and turn to the book of Mark and you’ll discover 11 more verses after this one that we read today. And those remaining verses are enclosed in parentheses which indicates that they were added later, by someone perhaps unhappy with the ending, trying to tidy it up. Cuz this ending? Well, was there a resurrection at the end of the book of Mark? Is a book devoted to telling us Good News about Jesus Christ supposed to end this way, with no appearance of Jesus? No victory lap? No big speech?

The book of Mark begins with this proclamation: The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ and concludes with the women fleeing in terror and amazement and not telling anyone anything. Such a good ending, right?!

Or maybe you don’t like this ending and you want those extra verses to help you out. After all, these women, well they must have told someone, right, because here we are!

These women who stood at the foot of the cross and watched their friend die. They had not deserted him. These women who must have been part of his group of disciples and heard Jesus talk about being handed over and crucified and then raised from the dead. They didn’t believe the whole raised from the dead thing either. After all, they were going there to anoint a dead body that morning, not encounter news of a risen Christ.

But before they can even get there, did you catch their conversation?  Well, how the heck are we gonna get in there? Who is going to move that large stone? Will there still be guards there? How will we get in there?

They are distracted by the stone, wondering if they’ve come on a fool’s’ errand, not being able to get in anyway. They are distracted by the stone, they’ve lost the plot. Their grief has taken over. They’re trying to answer the wrong question.

Can you identify with these women? Do you get distracted by things that don’t end up mattering at all? Yet, the stone was rolled away. Their main worry wasn’t even something they needed to spend time worrying about at all – it was just gone.

We are good at distracting ourselves with inconsequential things, things that really don’t matter. Especially when we are afraid of the truth that lies behind it. It’s easier to be distracted by the stone in front of the tomb where your friend was laid then have to wonder how you will face his broken and bloodied and abused and tortured body. And then face life without him. Lets talk about the stone instead.

Maybe for you today it’s easier to be distracted by the Easter brunch or lunch and who is bringing what and you’re not going to wear that to church are you? Today it might be easier to be distracted by the unease in your family, the ritual of going to church and how uncomfortable it is for you. It’s easier to be distracted by the smoke and mirrors, the motions of religiosity, the details of the bunny cake awaiting you at home, the Easter egg hunt. It’s easy to forget the larger story. It’s easy to forget why we even gather together for worship.

What is in your way this morning? What is the stone that is just blocking out the sun for you? What is the thing that has you forgetting the bigger story? Is it fear of the future? Are you just tired of being sick? Are you afraid for someone you love? Is it the debt, the house payment, the divorce? Are you afraid your faith is gone? Do you have too much baggage with religion and the church for this to mean anything? Does it feel like your heart is made of stone? What is it that’s got you so distracted, you’re not even sure why you’re here.

The reality of today is the stone is no longer an element of the story when they get there. It’s been rolled away, taken care of.  There’s nothing in the way now of what’s really going on. And this is what’s going on: Jesus will meet you Galilee, where it all started in the first place. He will meet you there, just as he said he would. He will meet you there.

That’s the Good News, folks. Jesus will meet you right wherever you are: out of the tomb, out from behind the stone, out from behind the distractions. In your sickness, in your depression, in your anxiety and in your suffering.

Now, I hate to spoil a good ending but let me tell you what the promise of Easter is not.

The promise of Easter doesn’t mean easy answers.

The promise of Easter doesn’t mean clean test results or smooth sailing.

The promise of Easter doesn’t mean your family won’t fight anymore.

The promise of Easter doesn’t mean that everything is fine.

This empty tomb means that all that stuff that’s got you distracted and bent out of shape? It’s taken care of. All your brokenness and worries and lists of things to do are taken on by the one who knows you and loves you.

What Easter means is this: you are not alone. It’s not up to you to save yourself. Jesus is not trapped in church buildings or institutions. Jesus is not trapped by shallow-thinking Christians or people who use his name to write laws of exclusion or hate. You are not trapped by your life.

The empty tomb is the promise that Jesus is not trapped even by death and instead meets you in your life: wherever you are. God meets you in the mess of your addiction. God meets you in your deep joy and in your hot, fire-y anger. God meets you in your life that is falling apart or stressed beyond belief. God meets you in the sweet moments, too.

You see, God didn’t let our absolute fascination with minutia get in the way. We can spend all day joining in with the women wondering if there were foot prints around the stone and were there any markings on the stone and did anyone drop anything outside the tomb and was the stone still in tact and what’s a resurrection anyway and did they meet him in Galilee and well maybe the disciples got tired of hearing the women talk about the stone and they finally spilled the beans and told them even though they were afraid.

You see, God knows how our fear works, how our minds whirl with endless possibilities for hopelessness.  And then we stumble into an empty tomb with a messenger there saying, “he’ll meet you where you are” that’s the good news!

And today is the day we go from asking “Is this the feast of victory?” to proclaiming, “This is the feast of victory.” And we are amazed and afraid.

Because this is just the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ. It starts with you and me in the lives we are living right here and right now.  It’s the perfect beginning. It’s the most satisfying ending.

Thanks be to God.