Mark And The Choose-Your-Own-Ending Easter Story
Updated: Dec 20, 2022
Does anyone remember those choose-your-own-ending books?
In these books there were points in the story where you had to make a decision:
If you decided to go into the spooky old house, you went to the next page.
If you decided to go to the library to research the history of the old house, you went to page 12.
In a way, these books were the first interactive media
a precursor to video games where your input shapes the story
In the choose your own ending books, there were several possible endings.
The outcome depended on you and your choices.
Scholars tell us that the Gospel of Mark has multiple endings, too.
There are, in fact, three—
The shorter ending, where the women tell Peter and the disciples what they have seen;
The longer ending, where Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and commissions the disciples;
And finally, the original ending, which we read for today.
This original ending kind of reminds me of the first time I saw the musical JC Superstar.
I was a HS student at the time, and I was surprised by the ending:
It ends with Jesus’ death-- There was no resurrection.
How can it be the story of Jesus without the resurrection? I wondered.
Mark does, of course, record the resurrection, but I am surprised nonetheless
There is none of the usual joy one would expect.
In fact, nowhere in this original ending do we read anything about happiness or joy.
The Gospel ends starkly:
The women “fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them,
and they nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Here it is, Easter Sunday:
Amid the sunshine, fanfare, and the smell of lilies, we come expecting triumph--
And instead, we get fear.
What kind of ending is that??
But then I wonder: Isn’t that really closer to our daily experience?
We put on the Easter clothes and singing the Alleluias
But part of us is like the women coming to anoint Jesus’ body.
We are here out of duty—it’s a family thing
We are here out of habit—Sunday morning wouldn’t be the same without it
We are here to try to resurrect the past with the old familiar hymns and words
But we don’t harbor much real hope of change.
Another part of ourselves longs to hope.
We come thinking our lives are tombs sealed shut--impervious to help.
We’ve been down that path before.
We tried everything to repair, to reconnect, to restore what has been broken in our lives.
Like the women, we approach the scene of the resurrection still thinking:
Who will roll the stone away?
Who will shine the light of day in our darkness?
Who will breathe life into the stale air of our existence?
Then we hear this shocking ending:
The stone IS rolled away, but there is no Jesus.
Jesus is not there because he is risen.
He has broken the normal order of things, and we will see him—the dead alive!
You know what that means, don’t you?
If Jesus is alive, if what was once dead now lives, there is no telling what will happen.
The normal order of things has been totally upended.
Our tombs could be next on the list.
What if we were liberated from the darkness? What then?
Where would the light take us?
If my tomb is broken open, what will be left of me?
Like a newborn experiencing the jarring cold and unbearable light of that first shocking moment
We cry out in fear, because our whole way of life threatens to change.
What is resurrection, if not change?
It is the biggest change one can possibly imagine:
Change from death to life.
And if that can change, then everything else is up for grabs.
I am compelled by this original ending of Mark.
Mark wrote this account of Jesus’ life during the reign of Nero—
the crazy emperor who regularly fed Christians to the lions
and burned Rome so he could blame it on Christians.
Mark’s community so feared for their lives,
That they met for worship in the only safe place: the catacombs.
The disciples who ran away in fear from the scene of the crucifixion
And the women who ran away from the scene of the resurrection
Represented the temptation that Mark’s people faced every day—
To flee in fear and abandon their faith.
Mark’s original ending leaves the final outcome open:
Will the women tell the disciples that Jesus is alive?
Will they go to Galilee to meet Jesus?
Will they have the courage to tell the story, even when their lives are on the line?
(after all, their teacher was executed—they could be next)
The outcome is left open, waiting for interaction.
Like the choose your own ending book, Mark’s gospel reaches out to those who hear the story:
The people who heard it in Mark’s day, and to us.
What choice will you make:
Will you stay where you are, afraid of the changes that might come
if you take the step toward reconciliation, toward repairing the world, toward resurrection?
Or dare you hope, dare you trust, that this resurrection is God’s doing
And believe that if death is no longer a threat then nothing is a threat any longer?
Mark’s gospel asks the pointed question: What ending are you going to choose?
Will you live in fear, or live beyond fear?
Brothers and sisters, this day of celebration is more than the trappings of joy
It is a point of decision.
God has acted in the world.
Out of love for us, God has made a new universe possible.
But God does not do this without us.
God awaits our participation.
It is time to step out beyond fear, out of the tomb, and into light of the resurrection.