Summary: This sermon has a little fun with the "short" ending of Mark. We stand at the empty tomb... and it is up to us to finish the story.
The Lady or the Lion
By Frank Stockton (edited and revised)
In the very olden time there lived a semi-barbaric king, whose ideas were indeed semi-barbaric. The king had a daughter, beautiful and fair… the envy of every woman in the nation. She could have any man in the kingdom… but her heart was set on a lowly stable boy. He had no position and no wealth, but he was handsome and he made her heart leap. It was not long before the two fell in love and began to meet in secret. Unfortunately for them… their secret love was discovered by the king, and the king… furious… ordered the boy to be captured and jailed.
The king was outraged that his daughter has steeped so low, and he began to devise the cruelest punishment that he could fathom. And then… he thought of it. The boy would be taken into the public arena and be given a choice… a choice of chance. Two identical doors would stand before him… behind one, the loveliest maiden he could find in all of the kingdom, behind the other… the most ferocious lion that could be found. If he chose the door with the maiden he would be forgiven for his transgressions and immediately married to the fair maiden. If he chose the door with the lion, he would pay the price for his misdeeds and be torn to shreds and devoured.
The lion-cages of the kingdom were searched for the most savage and relentless beasts, and the country was searched for fairest maiden that could be found. The king found a particularly fitting woman, one that almost matched the princess in beauty, and one who everyone knew was close to the stable boy, perhaps even a little too close. It was known that the princess was jealous of this relationship and felt threatened by this fair maiden.
So the stage was set and the appointed day arrived. All was ready. The king and princess were seated, and as they waited… the king leaned over, and told the princess who the fair maiden was. The princess glared at him… oh how cruel. Anyone… anyone but her. Then… to her amazement the king told her which door she was behind. Then he sat back and smiled.
The signal was given. A door beneath the royal party opened, and the stable boy emerged. Tall, beautiful, fair, no wonder the princess loved him! What a terrible thing for him to be there!
He was pale and trembling with fear. His eyes were fixed upon the princess, hoping she knew… hoping she could give him some guidance. His glance shouted at her “Which?” and there was not an instant to be lost.
Her right arm lay on the cushioned parapet before her. She raised her hand, and made a slight, quick movement toward the right. No one but her lover saw her. Every eye but his was fixed on the man in the arena.
He turned, and with a firm and rapid step he walked across the empty space. Every heart stopped beating, every breath was held, every eye was fixed immovably upon that man. Without the slightest hesitation, he went to the door on the right, and opened it. The End.
No seriously… that’s how it ends. How many of you liked that ending? How many of you want me to tell you the ending? But that isn’t how it was written… it was written to leave you answering the question… who was behind the door, the lion or the lady? It is written to create that tension… what happened next!
Alright… for those of you who NEED to know how it ends, I don’t want to lose you completely… I don’t want you to miss the point of the sermon so I’ll tell you how it ends. Flying ninja’s swoop down with uzi’s and blow everybody up. The end. There… all those loose ends tied up quite nicely. We good?
Some of us like the ending of that short story… like the freedom… like the opportunity to use our imagination to craft our own ending. Others of us hate this ending… it is incomplete… unfinished… unanswered. And this tension sits there at the end of this story… just waiting to be resolved.
So what does any of this have anything to do with Easter? It is time to read our New Testament text. Open up your bibles for this one, because we get to something cool… something I bet you’ve never noticed before.
Mark 16:1-8 NIV
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 "Don’t be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ’He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’" 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.