Scripture for Easter Sunday:
Isaiah 25.6-9; Psalm 118.1-2,14-24; Acts 10.34-43; Mark 16.1-8
Anyone who has seen the film The Shape of Water will have either been intrigued, or made slightly uncomfortable (or both!) by its enigmatic ending. A film or a book with an inconclusive ending often leaves us feeling slightly uncomfortable. We prefer tidy conclusions.
Mark’s gospel, in its oldest, most authentic form, has an enigmatic ending. We are left with an empty tomb and a man in white who tells three women to convey a message to the disciples about going back to Galilee. It was apparently sufficiently disturbing that someone felt it necessary to add some concluding verses that just are not in the oldest manuscripts.
However, the “cliff-hanger ending” is a well-used literary device, and God, as the author of all our stories, knows well its value in drawing us in more deeply. The enigmatic ending actually draws us into the story. We share in the women’s amazement (shock, more likely!) and are left wondering. What was it like for those women? What was it like for the disciples? What happened next? Without the other gospels, what would we know? Mark’s was the earliest gospel to be produced, and so would have been the only written account for a while. We are invited to shed two thousand years of getting used to the resurrection story to the extent that we take it for granted – yet it should still surprise and shock us today. Jesus is risen! This is no small thing!
The instruction to the disciples does, in fact, work as an instruction to the reader. Go back to Galilee. Go back to the beginning. Read as if you haven’t read it before. Then read it in the light of knowing the ending – such as it is, and allow awe and wonder to invade our approach to Easter.
There is, in fact, an end to this gospel, not unlike the end of The Shape Of Water. The end is what we make of it – or, rather, what we make it. At the end of another film, Nanny McPhee, one of the characters, Evangeline, says that her reading is coming along, but that she has not finished the story. “No need,” says Nanny McPhee. “You are the end of the story.” And so it is with Mark’s gospel. We are the end of the story. Someone thought that putting us at the end of this story was worth dying for. Given that cost, let’s try to make the ending a good one.