Not an Ending
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her. – John 20:16-18 (NRSV)
One of the enduring mysteries is what actually happened 2,000 years ago on that morning we now call Easter.
We have four unreliable narrators: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They all agree that Jesus really died. But then they diverge. Mark says the women found an empty tomb and ran away terrified, and never told a soul, which is naturally how everybody knows about it now. Matthew and Luke have slightly more optimistic accounts of Jesus coming alive again, walking, talking. John has the most to say about the resurrection, with Jesus showing off his grody wounds to Thomas, cooking kippers on the beach, and going on a whistle-stop tour.
One story, four different endings.
Here’s a shocker: Maybe the Gospel writers came up with four different endings because they were doing their best to comfort a people who needed hope, even not-quite-precise hope, even hope with a spin, even false hope.
We know about needing hope. Life is beautiful. Life is also very, very hard. Some years are years of Good Fridays that leave us broke and broken-hearted.
The unreliable Gospel narrators knew there were other versions of the story. They even borrowed from each other, like a cup of sugar between neighbors, a story just as sweet.
The authors didn’t care that their Easters were different. They experienced Easter each in their own way. They weren’t trying to write endings. They were writing beginnings.
Easter is not a history lesson with a tidy ending, but an invitation to look past death in all its disguises. After every death, new things get born. Your story is not over. You are a resurrection in progress, still becoming. You may sometimes have a year of Good Fridays, but Easter will always arrive.
God, I thought I was at the end. But you’re just beginning a new story in me. Write the first word.
Molly Baskette pastors at First Church Berkeley (CA) UCC. She is the author of several books about church renewal, parenting & faith, and spirituality. You can connect with her by subscribing to her newsletter, Doomsday Dance Party.