Saturday, April 7, 2012

Happy Endings?

Easter Sunday (Year B) Mark 16:1-8 April 8, 2012
I recently had the opportunity to see the Lorax movie. The animated movie is based on the 1971 book of the same name by Dr. Suess. It was an is my favorite Suess story and I credit it with my love for the environment. I remember reading the book and seeing the 1972 TV special as a kid growing up in Michigan in 1970s. The book's ending is, well, it's an ending. But it's not a happy ending. One of the main characters, the Onceler, tells his story of how he chopped down all the trufula trees to make "Thneeds." The Lorax, who speaks for the trees, pleads and prods the Oncler to not go down the road he is so hell-bent to take. But Onceler ignores the Lorax, until there are no more trees. When the last tree is chopped down, the Lorax picks himself up by his tail and floats away, as the Oncler is left dealing with the wasteland he created.

The book ends on a note of hope, but it's not a "happy ending." The Oncler tosses the last Trufula seed to the boy listening to his story and tells the young man to plant it. We don't know what happens after that, but we hope that the boy will do as the Oncler says and heal the world.

 The new movie version takes most of the major elements of the story and keeps them intact. However, there were some additions, but the one most glaring was the ending. In the movie version, the Trufula seed has been planted and small saps are starting to appear. The Oncler is out watering the young trees as he sees the Lorax return. They greet each other as good friends who hadn't seen each other in a long while.

 I won't say I didn't like the ending, it was okay as endings go. However, it seemed like the ending was tacked on to make the story "complete." The book's ending was open-ended and really up to the young boy. We don't know what happens next, but we hope for the best.

Today's gospel is probably the oddest of the gospel accounts on the Easter texts. We don't have proof of a resurrected Jesus walking around having dinner with his friends or asking Thomas to put his fingers in his wounds. There is no Jesus here. All we have is a young man dressed in white saying Jesus has been raised and is in Galilee. What we have are the women who came to take care of Jesus' body and come and find this odd man and no body. It's not a happy ending.

This had to bother some folks because there were some additional verses added to Mark 16 some time after the gospel had been written. Someone wanted to have a happy ending. When I was younger, I hated this shorter ending of Mark. I liked the other gospels with their longer versions of Jesus' resurrection. But as I've gotten older, I tend to like this version because it's more real. When people first encounter the empty tomb, I don't think there was a lot of joy. I think people were scared and wondering where the body had been taken. I think people had to wonder who was this weird guy doing sitting in the tomb and saying Jesus was raised from the dead.

But what if Mark is doing a Dr. Suess? What if the ending is one more of hope, the hope of resurrection and the hope that we will tell the world that Jesus is no longer dead by living? David Lose seems to think that's what the writer of Mark is getting at:
Mark writes this open-ended gospel that threatens to end in failure, you see, precisely to place the burden of responsibility for telling the good news squarely on our shoulders. Mark isn't terrible at endings, it turns out, he's brilliant, and by ending his account in this way, he invites us into the story, to pick up where these women left off and, indeed, go and tell that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised, and is going ahead to meet us, just as he promised.
But it's also hard to tell that message when we are faced with empty tombs. We are afraid because we don't know always what's going on let along understand it. And yet, there is this call to not be afraid, to go and tell and to know that Jesus is ahead of us. Bruce Epperly reminds us how the resurrection is an ongoing event:
Resurrection will always be a mystery. But, we know it when it happens. Mark’s resurrection story (Mark 16:1-8) ends with the women in awe, fear, and silence. Resurrection is too much to comprehend when we assume the finalities of death and defeat. But, the empty tomb portends an open future in which the Risen One goes ahead us as companion, guide, and inspiration. While I don’t worry about the mechanics of the resurrection, I believe that Jesus lives – I have seen resurrection in unexpected courage and surprising love; in the face of my grandson, the child of a cancer survivor; in willingness to sacrifice for a great cause; and in the persistent quest for justice despite the odds. I believe that Christ is alive and in his resurrection, we can face the future with strength, courage, and wisdom as we take our place as God’s partners in healing the earth.
Mark put this odd and scary event in our laps and asks us what we will do with it. It's our Trufula seed. Let's run with it, plant it and see what happens. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

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