Original post at http://www.daltonrushing.com/2012/06/day-28the-end-dreamumc.html
He lived there for two whole years, welcoming and proclaiming and teaching.
This is how Luke ends his epic story of the Disciples figuring out how to become the church after the Resurrection. The grand story that began with an angel of the Lord ends with, well, nothing. We are cordially invited to twist in the wind. The story just stops, like a book that has run out of pages or a recording that cuts out before the final scene. Paul welcomed others, proclaimed the word, and taught about Christ, and just as we seem to be getting to the good part, Luke just quits writing.
Now, as every freshman writing student knows, you have got to have an ending. You cannot just stop. You have to have some sort of end, some sort of resolution. Without the ending, the reader turns the page and finds, well, nothing.
After all, even life has an ending. We live for a time, and then we die, and that is the end of it. If I am to tell the story of my grandfather, his death is a necessary, if sad, part of the story. Death is not the most important part of the story, but it is part of the story. Even good stories must end.
Acts, however, does not end. At least, it does not end in a way that gives me any feeling of resolution. It just sort of keeps going, though not because we do not have any idea about what happened next.
We do, in fact, have a pretty good idea of what happened after Paul's two years of preaching. What is not said in Acts is that after he preached for another couple of years, Paul was most likely killed, beheaded as was his privilege as a Roman Citizen, though it does not seem like such a great privilege to me. Paul’s death is part of his story, even if Luke does not write it down, preferring for whatever reason to leave the Book of Acts a cliffhanger forever. I do not know what Luke was thinking when he simply neglected to finish the book. Luke’s other book, his Gospel, ends dramatically, with Jesus’s speech to his Disciples, followed by the Ascension and Luke’s acknowledgement that even after Jesus was no longer physically present with them, the Disciples responded with joy.
You can easily trace the narrative arc of the Gospel: Jesus is born, Jesus lives and teaches, Jesus dies, Jesus rises, Disciples rejoice. That is a real story.
Acts has no such arc, and the lack of an ending may itself be the point, especially when measured next to Paul’s continued work. Though he is imprisoned, and though he has lost his freedom, Paul continues to work for the sake of the Gospel. If the letters of Paul and his story in Acts are any guide, Paul is no fool. He is many things, but he is no fool. Paul knew what awaited him. Death was the only option. Not even his silver tongue could save him.
In the face of certain death, Paul just kept going, teaching and preaching and going about doing the business of the kingdom of God. It was as if Paul knew that the grand story in which he found himself was not, at the end of the day, about him at all. It was as if Paul knew that the story which began with an angel would not, in fact, end with him. Though Paul carried something very precious, though he was entrusted with carrying the mission of the church for a time, he knew that the mission would not end with him. The mission was much larger than one person. It could not be dragged to the bottom of the sea. It could not be locked up in a cramped, mildewed cell. It could not be left for dead on an island. The mission was larger.
So Luke leaves Paul preaching and teaching. No use focusing on the death, because while there is something to be said for Paul’s courage, it is the continuing that matters. The ultimate business of Acts is the establishment of the Church, and while we do often speak of death in the church, we do not speak of death for death’s sake. We speak of death as it relates to resurrection, as it relates to the continuing of God’s spirit in the world, as it relates to God’s call to continue being about the work of the kingdom of God.
Paul was killed. Though this fact is not written into the story, you will find it in the footnotes. But Paul’s death, though tragic, was not the end of the story. For the story of the church is one of resurrection, such that neither a cell nor an executioner’s axe could stop the story.
After Paul, others welcomed the stranger in the name of God and in Paul’s memory, teaching and proclaiming the word of God in places of which Paul had never even heard. After Paul, others came, including Luke himself, to tell the story and continue the work. Some of those who came later died because of their beliefs. Some survived the trails of faith and died after long, fruitful lives. Some continue still. The story has not yet ended.
I have heard it said that the church is always one generation away from extinction. I would simply add that I am far less concerned about the church simply ceasing to exist because of some sort of lack of interest in eternal matters than I am about the church dying because God’s people decide that the story is over. The ending is not ours to write, and when we insert an ending just because it makes more sense that way, we are not doing justice to God’s story, to the story that in some ways began with an angel but in other ways began much earlier and has in its inception traces of the breath of God.
It is easier to end the story, of course. It is much easier to declare that everything has been finished. It keeps us from having to take part in keeping the story alive. We say that the story is finished, that we will receive our reward, and we use whatever ending we have created to prove our points and win our arguments. It is much easier to end the story early. It keeps us from having to fully participate in it.
The Book of Acts is full of people who knew that the story was bigger than their own lives. Peter sold everything he owned to lead a group of earnest but thoroughly human Disciples on an unpredictable adventure. Ananias went to look after a murderer, against his better judgment. Even certain death could not make Paul retreat within himself. There is no earthly logic that demands this sort of commitment; the law of self-preservation forbids it. And yet . . .
The story of God was bigger than this entire cast of characters. It continues to be bigger. There is no ending to this story, at least not yet, because the story is not over yet. So go ahead and add your piece to this grand story. Claim your spot. Keep writing. God is depending upon it.