Edited and reposted from Resurrection Sunday, 2013.
You know when you’re reading a story, especially a thriller or a mystery and there’s a lovely little (or big) twist at the end that is completely unexpected? It’s not where you thought the story was headed, not how you thought it would end, but it works. The ending or surprising climactic scene is something you never would have predicted, and at the same time it’s just what the story needed to tie or untie all the plot knots and make everything come out just right. The story, factually, and in mood and quality, succeeds.
Well, Jesus’s resurrection is sort of like that unforeseen but perfect ending. If I were the Author (thank God I’m not) of the story of creation, sin and redemption, I wouldn’t have been able to dream up the resurrection, not in a million years. My story, if I had been creative enough to write one at all, would have ended with the crucifixion. Jesus, a good man, lived and taught and died—an innocent sacrifice to the cruelty and blindness of both the Romans and the Jews. It’s a sad story, a tragedy, but perhaps one with a moral to it: we humans are hopelessly lost, and we have a tendency to kill those who tell the truth and demonstrate radical love and self-sacrifice.
Maybe we’ll do better next time, having learned the lesson of Jesus. Probably not.
Jesus is dead at the end of my story. He’s really, truly dead, by the way; this isn’t the sort of story where the hero was only mostly dead but turns out to be revivable. A Roman spear was thrust into his side. His body was sealed in a tomb with a big rock across the entrance, a seal of some kind over the rock, and Roman guards posted outside so that no one could steal the body and pretend to resuscitate it. Jesus’s followers were scattered, demoralized, and discouraged.
And then—the surprise hits me in the face, if I haven’t become inured to the shock from having heard the story so many times. On Sunday some women go to visit Jesus’s tomb, and they meet an angel who tells them that Jesus is not dead. He’s alive!
Whoa, whoa, whoa—wait! You mean the story is that he didn’t really die; he just got badly injured, but he was able to recover and make his way out of the tomb. Or he was a magician with a magic protection coat that made spears and nails seem to pierce him but not really hurt him at all. You mean he became a ghost and appeared to people in a spirit form. Or he was just asleep and looked dead.
Nope, Jesus was dead, and now he’s alive again. Resurrected, as Christians term it.
Could you have predicted that the Author of the human story would have inserted himself into history, allowed himself to suffer and to be killed at the hands of his own creatures, and then . . . come alive again? JRR Tolkien invented the term “eucastrophe”, meaning “a dire situation which is nevertheless salvaged through some unforeseeable turn of events.” (Wikipedia, Eucatastrophe) A resurrection is a really unforeseeable turn of events.
But, and here’s the kicker, the resurrection makes the story work. Without the resurrection, we have a weak, powerless, probably dead god who maybe had good intentions? Without the resurrection of Jesus there is no resurrection, no life after death, for any of us either. Paul said in I Corinthians 5:17, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” If Jesus is not alive, we have no hope of knowing God or having friendship with Him or making any kind of connection. He’s either dead or so distant that we can never get there from here. Without the resurrection, the whole story of human history, including the story of that “good man” Jesus, is essentially meaningless.
When I say story, I mean a True Story. If we are real, actual entities living in a real, fallen world full of real evil, we need a Real, Resurrected Savior who physically not only died but rose from the dead to reign over all things eternally.
And lo and behold, eucatastrophe!(I like that word), in a three-day turn of events I could never have scripted or invented or predicted, Jesus not only died and was buried, but he also rose from the dead and lives eternally. “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)
We serve a living, creative God of eucatastrophic artistry and imagination. And we have a Risen Savior because of the story-making ability and sacrifice of that same God.
Hallelujah! Eucatastrophe! (Thanks, Tolkien, and with some intellectual indebtedness to my pastor’s sermon this morning.)