Writing the Endings to Scripture
We are to be the playwrights, scripting the ending of the story with our very lives.
There are more than a million ways to practice resurrection, big and small.
We practice resurrection every time we break the chains of addiction, or risk forgiveness, or welcome a stranger
We practice resurrection each time we hope in the midst of despair, dare to imagine that peace is possible, or let go of one thing so that something else can be born.
We practice resurrection every time we take action despite our fears of inadequacy, or trust in the power of the risen Christ, or show reverence for life.
New life is God’s gift to us; it’s a gift for us to use in our freedom and to live in our lives.
Two years ago the TV show Hawaii Five-O made television history when it became the first primetime drama to let viewers choose the ending of an episode in real time. In that episode, a university professor is killed, and there are three viable suspects—the boss, a teaching assistant, and a student who’s been caught cheating. During the show the viewers were able to vote on cbs.com or twitter for the person they thought committed the crime; the most popular response became the ending. The boss was exposed as the murderer in the East Coast ending, and the student was found to be the killer later in the West Coast airing. This real time participation by the audience might have been new to TV, but interactive theater has actually been around a while.
One such drama, Shear Madness, is said to be one of the longest-running nonmusical plays in the world, having first debuted in Boston in 1980. The plot involves the murder of a landlady, Isabel Czerny, who lives above a hair salon. After the audience attempts to solve the crime by questioning the actors, they vote on the ending.
The truth is, though, that even modern interactive dramas like Shear Madness are really just taking an act out of a much older playbook, a much older drama—the drama of scripture. Scripture was never intended to be read or absorbed passively, or for its interpretation to be guarded so closely that it ceases to be a living, breathing document. We are meant to interact with scripture—to bring our own imaginations to it, to write our own endings. There’s a wonderful parable in rabbinic Judaism that speaks precisely to this point; it goes like this…
A king had two servants that he loved very much. He gave to each of them a measure of wheat and a bundle of flax. One of the servants took the flax and wove it into a tablecloth. The same servant sifted and ground the wheat, making it into a loaf of bread. He set the loaf of bread on a table and covered it with the tablecloth. The second servant, though, did nothing with the flax and wheat that had been given to him. After being gone for a while, the king returned and said to both servants, “My sons, bring me what I gave you.” The first servant brought out the table with the loaf of bread and tablecloth on it. The second servant brought out a basket containing the wheat and flax, just as it had been left to him by the king. “What a shame! What a disgrace!” the parable says. “Need it be asked which of the two servants was the more beloved? He, of course, who laid out the table with the loaf of fine flour upon it.” The text ends with this lesson: “The truth is that when the Holy One gave the Torah to Israel, He gave it to them as wheat out of which the fine flour of Mishnah [commentary] was to be produced and as flax out of which the fine linen cloth of Mishnah was to be produced.”
Our first impulse may be to think that our most faithful act is to let scripture remain in our minds and hearts just as it is—nothing changed, nothing of our own added to it. But this parable tells us something very different. It tells us that God expects us to enter into the text, to transform it and make something new and living out of it. Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Judaism is based on a minimum of revelation and a maximum of interpretation."  I think the same can be said of Christianity and, judging by his resurrection account, the gospel-writer Mark seems to agree.
Mark’s is the only resurrection account in which Jesus doesn’t appear to the women or to the disciples—there’s no beautiful reunion in the garden, no grilling out fish on the beach, no breathing the Holy Spirit into his followers, no wounds on a resurrected body that the disciples can touch and see, no great commissioning to go out into the world proclaiming the good news and baptizing people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Nothing—just this statement… “So the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
It’s uncomfortable, this ending with which Mark leaves us. In fact, its abruptness, its raw and intense emotion, ultimately proved too unsettling for scribes in the early Church; soon other verses would be added on—verses more comforting, verses that made the disciples sound more faithful, verses that left no question at all about the fate or success of the mission of the early Church.
Mark is an early practitioner of interactive drama. He refuses to wrap up the resurrection with a carefully-scripted ending that leaves nothing to be decided. Instead, he puts the ball squarely in our court. We stand right there with the women; we are the three women. As Barbara Lundblad writes: “Of all the Easter gospels, Mark’s story invites us to stand where those first trembling witnesses stood. Those three women didn’t see Jesus. Neither do we. They didn’t hear Jesus call their names. Neither have we. They weren’t invited to touch his wounded hands. We haven’t touched Jesus’ hands either. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome are our silent sisters. The narrative is left for us, the readers, to complete."  It’s a minimum of revelation waiting for, even demanding, a lot of interpretation.
The revelation is an empty tomb and a promise that we will see Jesus. The revelation is “that there is no death so dead that God cannot find life in it."  We have the revelation. Now God expects us to interpret that revelation, to act on it, to become co-creators with God, to make Easter morning real in the world. New life is God’s gift to us; it’s a gift for us to use in our freedom and to live in our lives. We are to be the playwrights, scripting the ending of the story with our very lives.
But unlike the episode of Hawaii Five-O where there are only three endings to choose from, we have an infinite number of possibilities in front of us. There are more than a million ways to practice resurrection, big and small. We practice resurrection every time we break the chains of addiction, or risk forgiveness, or welcome a stranger. We practice resurrection each time we hope in the midst of despair, dare to imagine that peace is possible, or let go of one thing so that something else can be born. We practice resurrection every time we take action despite our fears of inadequacy, or trust in the power of the risen Christ, or show reverence for life. Every time we try again, fight for justice, adopt a child, love one more time, embrace transformation, or look for a beginning in the midst of an end. There are as many endings to the gospel of Mark as there are people on this earth, maybe more. The question is: how will you write yours?
 As told in Karin Hadner Zetterholm, Jewish Interpretation of the Bible: Ancient and Contemporary(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012) 5-6.
 As quoted in Zetterhorn 6.
 Barbara K. Lundblad, “Beyond Fear and Silence: Mark 16:1-8,” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/onscripture/2012/04/beyond-fear-and-silence-mark-161-8/.
 John C. Holbert, Feasting on the Word Year A Volume 2, eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, page 355.