Everyone loves a happy ending.
It had been a while since Andy and I went to a movie or even rented any, so we picked up three last week: Marley and Me, Twilight, and Slumdog Millionaire. Marley and Me had the predictable ending but we were both still bawling at the end of it [Andy has banned the movie from our house]. Twilight, a popular movie with the teenagers, was actually much better than the low bar I had set for it. I justify seeing it by explaining its necessity for Youth Ministry research, and anyway I can’t even really remember how it ends…And Slumdog Millionaire was by far our favorite…and not only because of its ending.
Besides being blown away by the incredible cinematography and the beautiful children that played the various parts, we loved the story line. For those who haven’t seen it yet, it was a movie that premiered last year at various independent film festivals, and actually almost didn’t make it to the US American screens because the independent film department of the original production company had folded under financial strain, but thankfully it was picked up by another company that saw its potential. It ended up winning 8 Academy Awards this year including the one for Best Picture.
The movie is about a young boy named Jamal Malik, a former street child from the slums of Mumbai who rises to unparalleled success on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? He exceeds everyone’s expectations and arouses the suspicions and jealousy of the game show host, so he is turned over to law enforcement officials the night before the final question. The officer demands an explanation and together they watch a recording of the entire show up to that point. The story follows the series of seeming coincidences from his childhood that allows Jamal to know the answers to the random questions on the show. For instance, one game show question asked “what president is pictured on a $100 bill,” and he promptly answers “Benjamin Franklin.” Somehow he knows who’s on this bill, even though he doesn’t know who’s on an Indian banknote [it’s Gandhi, by the way]. As the movie shifts to a flashback, Jamal explains to the officer that he once ran into a former street child friend who was begging in a subway tunnel, and in his search for a long lost friend, Latika, he offers the street child a $100 bill for his help. The friend is skeptical and asks him to describe who is pictured on the bill. Jamal says “an old man that’s bald,” and the friend replies, “Ah, Benjamin Franklin.”
While the story line is centered around Jamal’s success on the game show, it is also a story about lost love, the search to recover it, and the redemption of people and relationships. There are some intense parts: The abject poverty of the children, the abuse they experience living on the streets, as well as gang violence. But, it’s well worth it. I highly recommend it, so, obviously, I won’t give away the whole ending, but I can at least say that it is a happy ending, and a story that you might discover was truly meant to be written.
Of course, we know not all things are written with a happy ending.
Look back at Holy Week: There wasn’t much of a happy ending for the disciples when they watched Jesus taken away by the religious officials. There wasn’t much of a happy ending when they watched Jesus stumbling toward Golgotha dragging that wretched cross on his blood-stained back. There wasn’t much of a happy ending when they watched Jesus on the cross breathe his very last, and cry out “It is finished.” I’m sure that in their minds so many questions were turning round and round, “How could it be finished? How could he be gone? How could it end this way?” The credits start rolling, and they are left sitting in the dark with shattered hopes and dreams, happy memories quickly fading away.
But, we know that there’s supposed to be a different end to this story. We might remember that there’s something about an angel and blinding light, frightened Roman guards, an impossible boulder being rolled away, and a tomb empty save for some linen coverings. Somehow all this conveys that Jesus has miraculously risen from the dead, he is truly God’s Son, and doing even more unimaginable and unpredictable things at that moment.
Still, even here in Mark’s Gospel, on this Easter Sunday, on Resurrection Sunday, we get somewhat of an enigmatic picture of what happened at the tomb.
The whole account itself is quick and short. Fred Craddock describes, “What happened is told in five verses. The stone has been rolled away, a young man in white (an angel?) is seated inside on the right, and as would be expected when experiencing a divine revelation, the women are alarmed. The Easter message they receive is brief: do not be afraid; Jesus was crucified; he was placed here; he is not here now because he has been raised. Then they receive an Easter commission: go, tell his disciples and Peter that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee.”
The ending itself is almost so awkward that “many writers have tinkered with Mark’s ending,” as Patrick Wilson writes, “The church knew the story couldn’t stop so abruptly; faithful Christians insisted there was more. Someone added ‘the longer ending’ to Mark’s Gospel, a solution accepted by tradition…” but still, it isn’t Mark’s perspective, they are not his words, and it is clearly an editorial comment, as if to say, “This doesn’t feel right so we’re going to add some stuff to it so it has a happier ending.” The ending “is short and even mysterious, leaving us with no appearance of a risen Jesus to put a nice, happy ending to a story of suffering and death. I’m sure most of us prefer an ending that’s satisfying when it ties up loose ends, answers our questions, and leaves just about everyone happy? But, Mark’s story of Jesus’ ministry, passion, and resurrection terminates abruptly with fear, flight, and silence,” (Kate Huey). It leaves us in our cushy theater seats, shifting uncomfortably, looking around, and wondering if we should wait for the credits to roll to make sure it’s really over.
How often does this happen in our world today? Not simply a troublesome or perplexing ending, but perhaps an ending that leaves us flabbergasted, flailing our arms, running off terrified and confused by it all? Or an ending that leaves us lost or alone. Or an ending that makes us angry and bitter. Or perhaps an ending that terminates one season in our lives, and we realize on the other side of it that things didn’t go exactly to plan.
Jobs lost, wars lost, people lost. Some of us might have heard recently that the city of Detroit closed down 23 schools. Thousands of students will be displaced by these foreclosures and hundreds of educators will need to look for work. And that city hasn’t had it easy. Time magazine always has a section called, “The World – 10 Essential Stories,” and most of the stories end pretty bleakly: A recent raid on a police academy by a Taliban group that left 12 people dead; An accident where 200 people from Libya attempted to illegally enter Europe but drowned at sea; North Dakota constantly battling horrible blizzards and flooding this time of year; and the main article showed 10 species on the brink of extinction, animals like the Javan Rhinoceros, the Giant Panda, and the Sumatran Tiger…Can you imagine your children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren growing up with science books that have the rhinoceros or tiger as part of the chapter with the dinosaurs? Another article explored the stress military recruiters have been experiencing this last decade, which resulted in the recent suicides of 4 military personnel unable to deal with the extreme pressure to sign new service people. Of course, the magazine is peppered with advertisements about financial planning and recovery, and the constant reminder of the economic issues in this world.
One ending after another, businesses ending, lives ending, stories ending…all this leaves us uncertain and bewildered, maybe even paralyzed by fear to go on to the next chapter in our lives. We make plans, and they don’t work out, they end up dying and we have to bury them. Then we make new plans, plans to move on, then even those plans end up awry, and instead we’re told to go where we least expect by the least expected creature. We’re left at an empty tomb trying to make sense of it all, so, the only thing that makes sense is to run as fast as we are able and…hide.
Where is our hopeful ending, an ending that makes sense…?
This is the way Mark’s Easter “dawns upon us: with promise and apprehension.” But “Mark was trying to impart a different kind of Easter joy, trying to reveal another dimension of the Easter faith. As you come to the last verse and contemplate the unfinished ending, fretting that the Jesus story ends in mute fear and wondering where to go from here, suddenly an insight shatters the silence…” (Huey). Listen carefully to the words of the strange visitor in white: “Go to Galilee.” This would be the point where the movie would flashback, and we would return to the beginning of the Gospel, to a rough-looking John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness, and a panoramic view of Galilee. Tom Long reminds us, ‘Jesus came first to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.’” “Matthew, Luke and the anonymous authors of the longer and shorter endings understood this story cannot end here. Again, Mark hinted at the truth in his first verse: ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ The story goes on…His story goes on, my and your story goes, and our story together goes on,” (Wilson). In other words, ‘reader, the story isn’t over.’”
The strange ending invites us to read again, look again, and search again…
We are invited to look back, at all the stories, not just in Mark’s book, not just in the books of the Bible, but at all the stories of our lives. When we do it, we will be able to see with our post-resurrection eyes, how all these pieces, salvation and redemption, God’s passion for us, these are threads running through every story…our stories. And we can journey forward now, we can leave the empty tomb, a blank canvass and a new page into the next chapter, with the promise that the story isn’t over because now we carry that ending, more than that, we’re the ending…an ending that has no end…
The women left together to go to the disciples, which reminds us that we, too, “have one another, we have and are the Body of Christ, the church in the world, and we have a call from the one Who Loves Us. Things may never be the same, our assumptions may never be safe, but we are not alone. Campbell has said it beautifully: ‘Jesus is loose in the world. He is not in our present as a lifeless corpse or in our past as a distant memory. Rather, he goes ahead of us into the future to meet us there and claim us, not on our terms, but on his. We no longer deal with Jesus as a dead body, safely buried in a tomb, but now we encounter him as a living reality,” (Huey).
So, we go on, led by our encounter with Jesus, surrounded by the people of God, and “we proceed with the promise that accompanies our uncertainty. And we live by faith, then, precariously balancing between the angel’s promise and the women’s fear and astonishment. We will naturally seek ending after ending, perhaps this is a part of being human, only to discover that every ending that we fashion inevitably disappoints us. Every finale forecloses the drama prematurely. An ending says too much too surely, and therefore it never says enough. Although it may satisfy us for the moment, we sense its failure and falsity. The angel in the tomb understands that there is more to come. ‘He is not here,’ not in the tomb, not at the end of the story; ‘he is going ahead of you,’ always ahead of us; and ‘you will see him,’ in Galilee and in places we would never have expected before. He is going ahead of us, and of his story; there is no end,” (Wilson).
I always appreciate Ann Weems’ words, particularly from her poetry on this season: In “And the Glory” she writes:
And the Glory
The silence breaks into morning.
The one star lights the world.
The lily springs to life and
Not even Solomon…
Let it begin with singing
And never end!
Oh angels, quit your lamenting!
Upon your knees in tearful prayer,
And take your hearts
We who were no people
Are named anew
For He who was not more
Friends, hear and believe the Good News: Jesus Christ has risen, know and believe that there is and always will be more to the story. Our stories were meant to be written by our Savior, the Author and Perfector of faith, and because he has written our names on the palms of his hands, these stories will go into eternity. There’s no ending to give away here, no sitting with the credits rolling prematurely…only the promise that there is none. May we be and live out that story and carry it to those people and into those places that are shrouded in darkness giving them a light and hope that will never end.