The End Is the Beginning Is the End

kelly-sikkema-mY6cga4GgOI-unsplash (1)That November day, the car full of three humans and two very upset cats, felt like an ending. And it was, that slog out to Long Island in the pouring rain. It was the end of fourteen strange and beautiful years in the city, the beginning of an adjustment to a place I’d never lived that sometimes I think I’m still making. And as such, the ending and the beginning bleed into each other, never more than on the still-too-rare days when I make it back to the city, where there are friends and museums and precious quirky shops and the toughest of restaurants and coffee shops to visit, and of course the toughest and quirkiest and most precious place of all, Judson.

In his sermon, Roy highlighted something I’d noticed on my read-through of the Bible last year, that the Gospel of Mark has two endings. One is gloriously ambiguous, even suspenseful, carrying notes of both awe and terror as an angel informs Mary Magdalene and her companions that the tomb is empty and Jesus has resurrected. They can only flee in fear, and tell no one of what they’ve seen. Then, the last eleven verses, which look as hastily slapped-on as many scholars believe they were, tie everything up neatly, cutting and pasting the meetings in the upper room and the road to Emmaus and the Great Commission and the Ascension—incidents, in this case, removed from the context and narrative that give them power in the other Gospels. The first ending carries with it the potential of beginning: the beginning of new stories of discipleship, of a multiplicity of possibilities for what the resurrection was and what it meant; the second spells it out, presenting the resurrection as an order rather an invitation.

Can I sit with the first ending of Mark? Sometimes I feel like I’ve done quite enough of that, having lived through the thickest days of the not-yet-concluded pandemic.  I want to either turn back or move on. I want to root myself in the lovely church we’ve found in our still-new home, throw myself into the same level of involvement I once had, or I just want to sit in the room where I was married and where I was held so closely for so long and feel all the same feelings, good and bad, that I always felt there. I want to be an entirely new person as a mother, free from the anxiety and pettiness that marked my pre-parent life, or what’s even the point? I want the ending that those final eleven verses of Mark pretend to offer, but I know, when I look closely, that they only offer the illusion of cohesion and closure.

There is such a long and messy overlap between ending and beginning in the story of my last few years that I might do well to leave those terms behind altogether, to accept the suddenness of what looks like a loss and the opacity of what might be an opportunity, and just keep showing up wherever I am. That’s how it works in Jesus’s story, which invites us into and out of time. In the Transfiguration, when Peter wants to fix the dazzling Jesus in place on the mountaintop, Jesus declines. This story gives us permission to close one chapter and move on to the next one. And in the first ending of Mark, the story of the resurrection gives us permission to not move on, to not chase the satisfying ending, to stop and tremble and wonder and invent. Living in this tension is one of the many invitations the resurrection offers. 

I got to drink Judson’s free coffee, congratulate Jean on his moral and legal victory over the unjust immigration system, hug Valerie and Essie and Marlyn, listen to Ruby sing (!!!), and be in the beautiful space that’s made it and is still making it, and then I got to go home and look forward to what’s next. May the resurrection allow me, and everyone, the opportunity to continue to do both.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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