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Saturday, 16 April 2022 21:58

Easter: A Literary Reflection

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“So that is the outline of the official story—the tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men he had made, and the men he had made broke him and killed him. This is the dogma we find so dull—this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and the hero.”

- Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church

 In the opening lines of the essay quoted above, Dorothy Sayers writes, “The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man [. . .].”[1] Put plainly: the Christian story is the best story ever told. In literature classes, stories are discussed in terms of plot, character, setting, climax, and resolution. The Gospel story, too, has these elements. The main character is Jesus, along with His disciples, the religious leaders, and others who enter in and out of the timeline. The setting is 1st Century Israel, and the plot is when God came to earth and lived as a sinless man.

Today, on Holy Saturday, we sit in what would have seemed to be a sad resolution to the story of Jesus. After uttering the powerful words “It is finished” from the cross, He dies and is buried. It seems that everything has gone horribly wrong, the climactic ending to Jesus’ life a gruesome death on a cross. On Holy Saturday, all was quiet. God was dead. The world mourned.

Prior to Holy Saturday, a powerful series of events transpire. Barely a week before, on Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the excited shouts and waving palms of the people. On Thursday of Holy Week (now often referred to as Maundy Thursday), Jesus spent an intimate evening with His disciples. He washed their feet, reminding them He came to serve, and He shared a Passover meal with them. He instituted what we now know as the Lord’s Supper, foreshadowing His own death with the breaking of bread and drinking of wine. Judas leaves to betray his friend and Savior.

On Good Friday, the unthinkable takes place. So different from the beautiful scene of service and fellowship depicted the night before, Jesus stands alone before the Sanhedrin to answer for His supposed crimes. The disciples have fled, terrified. Peter denies having anything to do with Jesus. Jesus is brutally beaten, mocked, and repeatedly accused and questioned by different people. Pilate washes his hands of the entire matter and sentences the God of the universe to death on a cross. All of this, in technical terms, can be called rising action. Then, we reach what would seem to be the story’s climax as the Son of God is nailed to a tree between two criminals and suffers an agonizing death as His followers watch, aghast. The sun stops shining, the ground shakes, and the Father turns away from the Son as He bears the sin of the world. In a single, stunning line, Luke writes, “He breathed His last.”[2]

What now? They take His body down from the tree, anoint and bury it, and shell-shocked disciples hide in a second story room. If this was to be the end of Jesus of Nazareth, it was an end that crushed all of our hopes and left us in deep despair. At precisely this moment, however, another literary element enters our story. It is what J.R.R. Tolkien called a “eucatastrophe,” meaning a good catastrophe or a joyous turn in a story made all the more meaningful by its appearance in the midst of sorrow.[3] Just when it seemed that all hope was lost, Jesus walks out of the tomb, having defeated sin and death forever. The angel outside the tomb says, “He is not here! He has been resurrected, just as He said.”[4]

The beauty of considering these literary elements in the Gospel story is that they help us to track and appreciate not only the events but the emotions that go along with them. The eucatastrophe of Jesus’ resurrection comes as a breathtaking burst of joy in the midst of deep sorrow. It not only ends the story of the incarnation on a victorious note, but it strikingly punctuates Jesus’ entire life and ministry. He had done what He had come to do all along, providing a way for people to be reconciled to the Father. All of our longings find satisfaction in this intimacy, made possible because of His sacrifice and resurrection.

May we joyously answer the oft repeated refrain of “He is risen” this Easter with “He is risen indeed!”

 

[1] Sayers, Dorothy, Letters to a Diminished Church (Thomas Nelson, 2004), 1.

[2] Luke 23:46b, HCSB

[3]Marquette, Katie. “Eucatastrophe: Tolkien’s Joyous Turn.”  https://www.bornofwonder.com/home/eucatastrophe-tolkiens-joyous-turn.

[4] Matthew 28:6, HCSB

Last modified on Saturday, 16 April 2022 22:06
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