What if the ending of the classic movie, Gone With the Wind, had been re-written? What if the final scene with the line Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn had instead been a scene where Rhett strides back into Tara professing his love for Scarlett, and they walked off into the sunset together? An alternative ending could have happened if the movie had been made today instead of in 1939. Today many movies are put before preview target audiences first – audiences who are then watched and asked about their reactions to the ending. Sometimes the ending is changed.
It’s rumored that J.K. Rowling wrote an alternative ending to the final chapter in the Harry Potter series – an alternative ending in which Lord Voldemort lives rather than dies. An alternative ending that flashes forward even further into the adult life of Harry and his young co-horts and finds that in 2030 Harry is (a very old) headmaster at Hogwarts, Ginny has turned herself into a bird who doesn’t grow old, and all memory of Voldemort and his dark days has been long erased. The story ends with hints that Harry’s great, great grandson may be the next great dark wizard. Would that ending have pleased or angered the millions who sat with their popcorn and watched.
Ernest Hemmingway re-wrote the final page of A Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was satisfied. When asked in an interview what it was that stumped him the first 38 times, Hemingway said: I just needed to get the words right. And, it is a very common exercise in writing classes for aspiring writers, to be given an assignment of rewriting the ending to Flannery O’Connor’s famous short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find.
How does one go about writing the perfect ending? What makes it perfect? Is a perfect ending one that makes everybody happy? One that ties up all loose ends?
Which brings us to the Gospel of Mark! The gospel writer who has in his hands The Greatest Story Ever Told and this is his idea of the perfect ending? The other gospels do it so much better. Matthew describes the first Easter morning as beginning with an earthquake and an angel coming down from heaven to roll the stone away and sits on it, when suddenly Jesus appears. Matthew has people running to tell the good news. In the Gospel of Luke, the stone has already been rolled away, and there are 2 men sitting inside the tomb. And Peter goes inside and sees the linen burial cloths all folded. And then Luke continues the story with Jesus appearing on the Road to Emmaus to the disciples. In John – perhaps the most beautiful telling of Resurrection story, with Mary at the tomb, and Jesus calling her name, and Mary recognizing who he is, I have seen the Lord. And on the same day, there he is for Thomas to put his hands in his wounds to know that it was him.
And Mark? Mark starts out in the usual way – it’s early Sunday morning, it’s dark, the women are going to the tomb to tend to Jesus’ body, the stone is rolled away, they get word that Jesus has been raised, they’re sent back to tell. Except they didn’t. Say anything to anyone. There’s no body. We don’t get to see Jesus, and the women fail in their mission. There you have it – a resurrection scene without Jesus that ends in failure. What can we possibly do with that?
We could write an alternative ending — and someone actually did that, though it’s generally disputed that it was Mark who added it. The alternative ending just doesn’t sound like Mark who begins and ends the story of our savior in less than satisfying fashion. If we are looking for shepherds and angels and a babe in the manger and appearances of Jesus after his death, we won’t find them in Mark.
But what Mark does for us is to give us space. And voice. If the women are silent and terrified, then someone has to tell the good news. It’s up to us. If anyone is to know, we must be the ones to proclaim that He Lives.
Clarence Jordan says it this way: The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives in not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.
Mark has given us a precious gift on this Easter morning, April 8, 2012. He has given us space to write more chapters. The women’s silence at the tomb creates room for God’s voice to be heard about all others. The absence of a body opens our minds to what God’s presence might actually look like.
Mark left it open-ended expecting our input. Jesus left us with the Holy Spirit to encourage it. And through God’s grace, we have more life left in us and a story to tell. It’s less about the perfect ending and more about the perfect beginning.
He Lives! Who will you tell?
He Lives? What can that mean for your life?
Happy Easter. Alleleuia. Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!