In the Gospel of Mark, the account of Easter morning ends in mid-sentence: “8So [Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, [for] they were afraid, and yet…. — Mark 16:8 The best explanation for this is that the end of the gospel’s original scroll was somehow torn away and lost. What’s left is a non-ending, a history that’s incomplete, a story that’s meant to be continued. Those women anointers in Mark’s gospel stand, in fact, for all the friends of Jesus down through the ages whose lives have been changed by Easter. Jesus’ friends came to see that this was not only Jesus’ story; it was theirs, as well.
The Easter event remains incomplete when we think of it as something that only happened to Jesus. The ancient Easter greeting is not, after all, “Christ once rose from the dead.” It is “Christ is risen.” He is risen now, and if that is so, where else can he be risen but in our own hearts and lives? Mark’s incomplete Easter account reminds us that there is still much more to come. This story of liberation, blessing and joy is meant to continue with us. We are meant to write the story’s next chapter with our own lives.
Someone once told me how Puccini’s great opera, Turandot was written. The composer died before finishing the work, but Puccini’s friends lovingly completed it from the notes he left behind. While conducting the premier performance, Arturo Toscanini came to a certain point in the score, put down his baton, turned to the audience and said with emotion, “This is where the master ends.” Then, he lifted his baton and, before giving the downbeat, he said, “This is where the friends continue.”
Mark’s triumphant Easter account is not concluded in the Gospel, it is meant to be continued by us as Jesus’ friends and followers. We are called to be an Easter people, living as “Alleluias from head to toe,” as St. Augustine is said to have put it. We are meant to be an Easter blessing to whomever we meet, a resurrection benediction to our nearest and dearest, a sign of the joy and love that is Easter for a needy, struggling, desperate world. Each of us can do this, whether our powers are great or small.
I had a touching reminder of this a few days ago. Recently my oncologist set me free from treatments for a while. To celebrate, I decided to accept a last minute invitation to serve as chaplain on a cruise from South Africa to England. Before boarding the ship, we organized an excursion from Cape Town to Cape Point where high cliffs protrude out into the oceans that meet at the tip of the African continent. Although I’d been given a reprieve from chemotherapy, the regimen’s effects weren’t completely gone. I still felt petty weak. When we arrived at the Cape, our driver suggested that I use a wheelchair to get up and down the precipice.
I had never been in a wheelchair before. I quickly discovered that once you’re in one, your perspective is immediately changed. Instead of looking at people’s faces, you’re now contemplating their hips, and attendant anatomical parts as well. It’s not always an inspiring perspective. And when you’re in a group, because you’re at an odd level, people tend to ignore you. They don’t want to talk down to you, — quite literally — so they act as if you’re not there at all.
As I was being wheeled down the crag, I was ruminating on these melancholy matters and feeling a little sorry for myself. Suddenly at a turn in the path I saw someone else being pushed up the mountain in a wheelchair, a ten year old little girl. To my mind, no child should be in a wheelchair and in fact there were able-bodied children scampering up and down the path all around us. As our eyes locked, I could see a smile of recognition grow on the child’s face. We were both on the same level, she and I. Life had presented its struggles for each of us recently, that was certain. She seemed to recognize me as a companion along life’s difficult way and greeted me as if I were her long, lost grandfather now returned. The unabashed wave she gave me in that moment was a blessing I will not forget. She blessed me with an innocent joy somehow born out of suffering and weakness and hope.
I have been blessed by many important prelates over the years, by dignitaries ranging from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Bishop of Rome. But no blessing was ever so touching, so healing or so restoring as the smile and the wave that little girl offered me that day. That’s how Easter should be continued by us. No matter what our powers or circumstances, we who have been caught up in continuing Jesus’ joyous liberating story can be an Easter blessing of love, trust and healing with whomever we meet, wherever we go.
© Edward R. Dufresne 2019 P