In his best-selling book Setting the Table, successful New York restauranteur Danny Meyer writes about his philosophy for responding to mistakes which happen in his restaurants. With candid humour, he writes, “In our restaurants we’ve experienced all kinds of mistakes, mishaps and adversity . . . We’ve seen a mouse once run across a guest’s white tablecloth, and a beetle turn up in someone’s salad . . . We’ve sent out our share of garments for quick dry cleaning when servers have accidentally spilled soup or drizzled olive oil on designer scarves hanging over the backs of chairs. But the worst mistake is not to figure out some way to end up in a better place after having made the mistake. We call that ‘writing a great last chapter’ . . . While we can’t erase what happened, we do have the power to write one last episode so that at least the story ends the way we want. If we write a great one, we will earn a comeback victory with the guest.” (1)
On one occasion, a woman who arrived at one of Meyer’s restaurants realised she had left her wallet in the taxi, which had now driven off. Even in this situation, when the restaurant was not at fault, Meyer’s staff still sprang into action. They ensured the woman was seated with her other friends and, while they enjoyed their meal, a member of staff constantly rang the woman’s cell phone, until it was answered by the taxi driver who had taken her to the restaurant. By this time, he was some distance away, but the staff member took another taxi himself and met up with the first driver to collect the woman’s wallet. This going the extra mile to return the wallet produced such gratitude in the guest and positivity towards the restaurant that far outweighed the $31 round trip cost of the taxi.
When I think of the idea of “writing a great last chapter”, I cannot help but think of the first Easter and the role that God played that day as a skilful author whose writing would change the story of all the world.
The women who came to the tomb that first Easter morning were in their own way writing the end of the Jesus story. Their visit to anoint His body was to be their last act of devotion. A closing of the chapter. The end of their hopes, dreams and ideals. Everything had gone wrong for Jesus’ close friends. Their Master had been brutally killed and they gazed into the yawning chasm of His absence. But at least they still had their love for Jesus. For the women to come and pay their last act of devotion might have been a fitting way to wrap up the tale, except that God had begun another episode before the women had had a chance to finish theirs. While grieving women walked to the tomb and other despairing disciples hid away, God had been writing a last great chapter.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” asked the angels at the tomb. The women had come believing Jesus was still dead. But the living cannot be found among the dead. God had raised Jesus from death and now it was time to rekindle hopes, fulfil dreams and restore ideals.
How often do we encounter a situation and believe it to be the final outcome? We make mistakes, we let others down, we get our lives into a tangle, we fall down. And we think that’s the end. In his restaurant business, Danny Meyer has made the choice to transform bad situations by writing a great last chapter. Mistakes can happen in our lives, too, but we have a choice to remember that at Easter God demonstrated He had the power to end the story the way He wanted. Easter is God’s great re-writing of the script of the world. The Collect prayer for Easter Day puts this well:
Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in Him . . . (2)
The old script of the world was one where sin and death held the upper hand. Through the resurrection of Jesus, a completely new script is now the storyline for the world. The power of the grave is ended, our past can be forgiven, our present can be re-made and our future full of hope.
Easter teaches us that God’s plans are never thwarted by the full-stop which we ourselves may choose to place at the end of a chapter in our lives. So often our own actions can deny Him the opportunity to have the final say. We may write, “The End”; God may have planned a sequel. We may close the book; God may be turning the page. For all we know, our lives may be destined to include chapters that God has only just begun. And the only thing which will stop us reaching the ending He has for us is our own decision to settle for an outcome which falls short of this.
It is ironic that of all the people in the Gospels, the Pharisees were the only group who acted with any kind of expectation that Jesus might rise from the dead. While the Jewish leaders persuaded Pilate to seal up the tomb, the disciples sealed themselves up in the upper room. The women were preparing spices for Jesus whom they believed was dead; the Pharisees were setting defences just in case Jesus came alive. The early disciples were clearly not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead, despite all He Himself had said to this effect and despite the Messianic prophecies from the Old Testament which also foretold it. God’s next chapter in the Jesus story had been written, but not appreciated; studied throughout the generations, but not understood.
And God is writing new chapters for us, too. God is never left speechless or helpless. Will you let God write new chapters in your life? Easter, and the days which follow, are a wonderful opportunity to discover the new episodes which God has in store for us. We may feel at a dead-end in some areas of our lives. But God does not intend us to set up camp there and make it our home. He can show us a way out to fulfilment and purpose.
For Danny Meyer, writing a great last chapter to overcome a mistake could earn a comeback victory with a restaurant guest. On that first Easter Day, God wrote the greatest chapter that could ever be written with the comeback victory of His Son being raised from death. So, let us celebrate the God who takes our story on and can breathe life into what may seem a flagging narrative. Happy Easter!
1. Meyer D, Setting the Table, 2006, Harper Collins, New York, p221-222
2. Common Worship, Daily Prayer, Church House Publishing, London, p429