Based on Acts 10:34-43, 1Corinthians 15:1-11, Mark 16:1-8
I am a great fan of stories that are open ended. Stories like “The Lady or The Tiger” or “The Handmaid’s Tale” are both great (if somewhat troubling) stories that allow the reader to decide upon an ending. I like these stories not only because they are egalitarian (i.e., everyone’s ending is equally valid) but because they can change as my mind and experience changes. Many folks are familiar with “The Handmaid’s Tale”, now in its fourth streaming season, less so the old tale of the Lady or the Tiger. I’ll do a “Readers Digest” version of the latter.
The short story “The Lady or the Tiger” was written by Frank Stockton and published in 1882. It details the way that a certain king deals with punishing crimes in his kingdom. Those who are brought before the king for committing a crime are placed in a public arena which has two identical doors. Behind one door is a handsome man or woman (depending on the gender of the accused) and behind the other is a very hungry tiger. The accused must make a choice – if they choose the door with the human behind it, they must marry that person immediately (even if they are already married) and they are considered innocent of the crime of which they were accused. If they choose the tiger, they are considered guilty and they lose their life.
A certain young man of low station fell in love with the king’s daughter and she with him. They were eventually found out and he was sentenced to the arena. Behind one door was a lovely young woman of appropriate age and station for the accused – behind the other was a ravenous tiger. The princess was watching the event, and when her boyfriend looked up at her she moved her right hand ever so slightly. Without hesitation, the young man moved and opened the door on the right…and there the story ends. What was behind the door, the young lady or the tiger?
Why am I telling you this story on Easter Sunday, you may be asking yourself? What does it or the genre of unfinished short stories have to do with the resurrection of Jesus? Both are very good questions that I will answer once we take a moment in prayer asking for God’s love to transform us once and for all times into Easter people…
The Gospel according to Mark is the oldest of the four Gospel accounts of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. It is used as a source text for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The writer of Mark always seems to be in a hurry – there is no background information given on Jesus, no birth story, and none of the embellishments that characterize the other three Gospel accounts. To my mind then, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the text just suddenly ends at verse eight of Chapter 16. There are no post-resurrection stories of Jesus and his friends, no stories of the Ascension…just silence. Verse eight says this, “…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….” This ending, in the oldest document that exists reads this way, “…To no one anything they said; afraid they were for….” We as disciples of Jesus are left to ask, “and then?”
We want to know for what the women were afraid. After all, the man in white had told them what they needed to know and do. In verses six and seven the angelic person says, “…’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….’” Of what or whom were the two Mary’s and Salome so frightened by that they were silenced? The answer to that question remains a mystery.
Like the story of the “Lady or The Tiger” this ending leaves us in a quandary. It leaves the ending of the Gospel up to us – doesn’t it?! This abrupt and seeming incomplete ending to Mark’s Gospel leaves open all that happens next. The later writers of Matthew, Luke/Acts and John fill in some of the gaps left by Mark. They gave answers to the new believers who came along later in that first century, and that made them and us feel better. However, those other Gospel endings may not be very helpful in the development of our relationship to Jesus. I say that honestly because each and every believer is required to work out their own understanding of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. Everyone has to answer the question whether is Jesus truly alive in their life or is he still entombed behind the stone of unbelief, worldly distractions and distortions?
Answering the question of the reality of the Resurrection – it is why you came here this morning and why you come consistently on Easter – even when you may come inconsistently the rest of the year. Folks turn out in droves to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus. You come at those special times in the church year because you are seeking Jesus – just like the first “spice girls” (Mary, Mary and Salome) came seeking Jesus on that very first Easter morning. You come seeking Jesus in your own life – seeking the Risen Jesus for yourself, only to find that He is not here. He is not entombed in a church building nor on the church grounds nor contained by church liturgy or sacraments – He has gone ahead of you, just like He told his friends. The Cross which we have as a symbol of our faith is an empty cross – Jesus is not there, he has left the Cross and tomb behind and all of us have to go and find him.
In order to finish Mark’s resurrection story, you have to go from here and discover who Jesus is in your life. You have to write what comes next beginning with “and then…”. Like the women at the tomb, whatever it is that you fear about giving your life to Jesus has to be overcome or you will never progress beyond an immature faith. The Savior that you seek is not here – He is risen and goes ahead of you into the rest of your life. He is expecting you and desires to be in relationship with you so that you might discover how it is that God wants you to use the gifts that God has given uniquely to you to bring God’s kingdom here to Earth. The Gospel of Mark ends abruptly. It invites you to pick up the story of your relationship with Jesus and the larger Body of Christ and lead your life so as to finish the leading statement “and then”… In that way, Jesus will truly be alive and active in your world and ours. May God’s Almighty love guide and empower your spiritual journey as your life writes your ending to Mark’s Gospel. Amen!