When the end is just the beginning

“The end is just the beginning.” — T.S. Eliot

Have you ever been so engrossed in a book or a movie that the ending sneaks up on you by surprise? If the book was mediocre, the last few pages can feel like a sweet relief. But if the book moved your heart and settled into your consciousness, the final pages of a good book can often seem like a long sad goodbye.

When I get to the very last word of a particularly wonderful book and the words “the end” appear on the page, I do not always feel that they are a welcome sight at all. In fact, I once threw a book clear across my living room when I came to the final page because I felt so cheated that the story had come to an end!

Many times, we are journeying along with the reader and are left wanting more. “The end” means there are no pages left to read and so the story comes to an abrupt halt. And the same will be true of our journey into Holy Week as we face, not “the end” but “an end,” only to be gifted with the surprise of new beginnings.

As a season, Lent begins with the solemn silence of Ash Wednesday and the reminder that we are dust and to dust each one of us will eventually return. Palm Sunday’s celebration commemorates Jesus’ joyful arrival in Jerusalem to the exuberant cheers of the crowd. We know that later on, many of those who had been cheering for Jesus will be among those shouting for his execution and asking for “an end” to be put to his very life. Lent will end with the triumph of the resurrection on Easter Sunday, signifying that Jesus Christ has risen and triumphed over death, but we as Christians know that it is not “the end.” And yet, sometimes we forget this, just like the disciples did.

In the Gospel of John (20:19-31), we read of the despair and doubts that plagued the disciples after discovering the empty tomb. But the silence of the Holy Saturday tomb stands between what the disciples think is “the end” on Good Friday and the joy of the resurrection in which we have all been brought to new life. That is a powerful lesson for us. In times of darkness and despair, God’s silence does not mean his absence. An end is not THE end.

If you think about it, we face all kinds of endings throughout our lives. We end projects, tasks and relationships. Perhaps your Lenten journey didn’t go as well as you wanted it to. Perhaps you are struggling in your faith. Or perhaps you are in a place in your life where you feel like you are at the end — of your patience, of the limits of your forgiveness, and maybe even, your ability to make it through another day. But there is always hope.

Each of us can begin again during Holy Week, for there is no holier place to start. During Holy Week we must die to ourselves and try to put an end to our selfish ways of being, to our stinginess and to our doubts so that we can live with the joy of the resurrection in our hearts. St. Paul remarked to Timothy: “This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him” (2 Tm 2:11).

You have probably heard the expression that “all good things must come to an end” many times, right? But when it comes to our faith, endings and beginnings intermingle all the time, as death gives way to life and life gives way to death. For the disciples and each one of us, the story is not finished as Jesus invites us to experience him and his love anew. Good doesn’t end, it just continues in another way, often a more profound way.

Nowhere is this more true than during Holy Week. The end is just the beginning. It’s time to die to live again.

Stanz is director of Discipleship and Leadership Development for the Diocese of Green Bay.