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April 21st Meditation

""I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you." (John 14:25-26)

I remember a quote that I believe was attributed to Orson Welles: "If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story." There are many places where the story of Jesus could have stopped. It could have stopped on the night of his last meal with his disciples. In John's gospel, the focus of that night isn't the meal but rather Jesus' act of washing the feet of his disciples followed by a very lengthy farewell speech in which, among other things, he promises the gift of, "the Advocate, the Holy Spirit." At that point, Jesus could have simply gone into hiding or been swept up to heaven like Elijah and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, his followers could have tried to start a movement. At least that's not an unhappy ending. It could have ended on the cross or in the tomb. Jesus is dead. All the hopes and dreams his followers had seen in him would now have to live on without him. It could have worked, perhaps. Other martyrs have inspired followers even after their untimely deaths, from Joan of Arc to Martin Luther King, Jr. But like those stories, I wouldn't call it a "happy" ending. The gospel of Mark stops in a very unusual place with a group of women fleeing from the empty tomb in "terror and amazement." According to Mark, they didn't say anything to anyone. I can certainly see why the other gospel writers, and even some of Mark's future editors, rewrote that ending.

For a happy ending we turn to the stories of the resurrection; stories of Jesus appearing to his followers and breaking bread with them and breathing the Holy Spirit upon them. That seems like a more happy ending. Of course, then we have Pentecost and the birth of the church. Peter and the other disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin sharing everything Jesus had done and everything Jesus had taught them. But the story doesn't stop there. The fire of the Holy Spirit spreads, lighting upon Stephen and Paul and Lydia. It spreads throughout Judea and Asia Minor and then to Rome. Eventually the Good News is proclaimed, as the book of Acts promised, "to the ends of the earth." Is that the happy ending we've been looking for? No. It's a story that continues to be written. The story of God's presence in the world extends through Jesus and down to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. It's inspiring us to love to our neighbors and heal all creation. It's a story that is still being written - your story is still being written - and it will not stop until God's kingdom comes, on earth as it is heaven. Now that's a happy ending.

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