Most if not all of you are familiar with the names J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Tolkien of course is famous for writing the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and Lewis is famous for the Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity among many other works. What you may not know is that both men fought in the trenches in World War One. Tolkien entered the war as a faithful Roman Catholic and ended the war the same. Lewis entered the war as an atheist and materialist and also ended the war the same. But more on that later.
As you can well imagine the war had a profound affect on both men and heavily influenced their writings. For example the names and personalities of some of the Hobbits were taken from Tolkien’s fellow soldiers and he even made them small because that is how they felt on the front lines in the Great War.
But Tolkien’s faith also had a heavy influence on his writings. This is very obvious in the battles between good and evil and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Tolkien invented a word to describe the sudden and surprising turn in a story that shifts what looks to be certain doom into happily every after. He called it “eucatastrophe.” As a Christian he believed that the Resurrection of Jesus was the ultimate eucatastrophe
It certainly was for the disciples and the women who followed Jesus. I don’t think that we can truly imagine what doom they must have felt on Friday and Saturday. Just days before they were a part of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem when crowds laid garments and palm branches before Him and hailed Him as the Son of David. They did this because they believed that their king had come and they would be delivered not only from the Romans but from wicked rulers like Herod. Righteousness would once again reign over Israel! But then disaster struck. In less than a week Jesus would be betrayed by a friend, placed before a kangaroo court and crucified between two thieves. Their king was dead.
But there was more going on for them than just a shattering of their aspirations for Israel. They genuinely loved this man. So their grief was deeply personal and in addition they feared for their own lives. While the disciples went into hiding, the brave woman went to the grave to complete His burial preparations that had been interrupted by the Sabbath.
That is when they experienced eucatastrophe. Mary finds the stone rolled away and the tomb empty and she runs to tell Peter and John. They rush to the tomb to also witness that it was empty and as they return to their homes. Jesus appears to Mary and He tells her to go and tell the disciples that He lives. None of them expected this. St. John says, “for as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead.” But now they know and now they know the joy that a eucatastrophe can bring.
When I was in college for a year or more I was a part of Campus Crusade for Christ, a highly evangelistic campus ministry. While it did some good things as I look back on it and I see two glaring mistakes. First, and I can say this without fear of contradiction, it had the worst music in all of Christendom. I don’t know where they came up with the music but if their goal was to be cool for college students they missed it by a country mile. Here are the deeply theological and highly relatable lyrics of one song we sang. “Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace, I want to see my Savior’s face, heaven is a wonderful place.” Repeat. Now just the boys. Now just the girls. Now everybody together!
The second mistake we made, as you can tell by the lyrics of the song, is that we made redemption all about going to heaven. Some even used this as an opening line for their evangelism. “If you died tonight do you know for sure that you would go to heaven?” And while that is an important question to answer, and while heaven will indeed be a wonderful place, Jesus did not die and rise for the sole purpose of getting us into heaven one day. There are other incredible purposes for this eucatastrophe that we call the Resurrection and while they include us they are larger than us.
First Jesus’ resurrection fulfills God’s covenant with Abraham that through his offspring the nations of the world will be blessed. St. Paul writes that God made this promise to Abraham 430 years before Moses so this promise was made about 2,000 years before the birth of Christ. Now, 2000 years after His birth, death and resurrection there is abundant historical evidence that God had indeed blessed the world through Him. Not only in the salvation of the 1 billion Christians around the world today but the influence of the Gospel on laws and institutions and societies over the centuries. Think of all the humanitarian works that have been done in His Name. This would be a very dark would if the light of Christ had not entered it. But this is just a small part of the blessings.
Second Jesus’ resurrection insures the success of God’s goal which is, as Bishop NT Wright puts it, “the ultimate rescue of the whole creation.” St. Paul writes in Romans, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
When Adam brought sin and death into creation, by his disobedience to God, everything went amiss. Everything, even the created order. That is why Mother Nature can be so very cruel. Every day the news reports on man’s inhumanity to man. And yet even in the greatest skeptic’s heart there is a longing for more than just the material. The famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in his autobiography, “The center of me is always and eternally a terrible pain—a curious wild pain—a searching for something beyond what the world contains—something transfigured and infinite . . . I do not find it, I do not think it is to be found—but the love of it is my life. “
The promise of God, sealed by the Resurrection of Jesus, is that “all manner of things shall be well.” God’s blessing will culminate in a new heaven and a new earth. Swords will be beaten into plowshares, the lion will lie down with the lamb, and all creation will declare that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. This vision is so much greater than Clarence getting his wings!
A third thing that Jesus resurrection does is that it permanently ushers in the Kingdom of God into the here and now. Jesus did not say, ‘Repent and you will get to go to heaven when you die.” He said, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” In another place He said that the Kingdom was in our midst and He gave a number of parables illustrating that we are to seek it and find it now as our highest priority.
I submit to you that these three purposes of the Resurrection can have an impact on our daily lives and make our lives more meaningful if we will allow them to do so. First, the fact that God fulfilled a 2,000 year old promise to Abraham and did it through the eucatastrophe of the Resurrection of Christ, is all the evidence that we need that God is faithful. It means that we can confidently place our daily lives into His hands trusting that He will shepherd us through whatever the day brings. We can make it through the changes and chances of this life because we can rest in His eternal changelessness.
Second, His goal of the ultimate rescue of the whole of creation makes our daily work purposeful. We all have times when we fail to reach our own goals and we wonder if we are working in vain. Sometimes life feels like three steps forward and two back. Some even go so far as to wonder if this life is even worth the trouble. It all too easy to look at the problems in our lives, in our nation, or in the Church, and become discouraged. But if we will keep the vision of God’s ultimate rescue of the whole creation before us, then we will have an unconquerable hope that allows us to look beyond current problems. We need to keep in focus that there is yet another eucatastrophe, called the return of Christ, that is going to make all things new and so we work and watch with hope and purpose.
Third, Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom in the here and now means that we don’t have wait to get to heaven in order to experience the righteousness, peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. That is what St. Paul is talking about in Colossians where he tells us that we have been raised with Christ who is seated at the right hand of God. He is not encouraging pie in the sky theology here. Rather he is calling on us to live NOW as citizens of heaven. So if you are in fetal position over Brexit or the Russians or North Korea or especially over Comcast, do as St. Paul advised and “set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” You will have a lot more joy in your life.
Let me go back to C.S. Lewis. One of the major influences that moved him from atheism to being an Anglo-Catholic believer was the writings of Christian authors George McDonald and G.K. Chesterton. Lewis wrote in Surprised by Joy, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — ‘Bibles laid open, millions of surprises’… ‘fine nets and stratagems’. God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous”.
Another important influence upon him was his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkein. The two men had great respect for one another and shared many common interests. Finally Lewis found that he could no longer maintain his unbelief. This is how he described it, again in Surprised by Joy. “You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” As you know he did not remain dejected and reluctant. He even went on to give lectures over the radio on the Christian faith to all of Britain as they fought against the incarnation of evil, Nazi Germany.
I have two hopes for us on this glorious day of the Resurrection of our Lord. The first is that we will experience His resurrection as a eucatastrophe in our lives. Whatever sin that may have you bound or fear that controls your life or failure that has marked you; whatever lukewarmness you battle or doubt that concerns you, I pray that we will see the Resurrection of Jesus as the sudden and surprising turn in our own story that frees us and makes all things new.
The second hope is that all of us will become a J.R.R. Tolkien in the life of a
C.S. Lewis. This gift of grace, this surprised by joy that we have received, is not meant to be a secret for private consumption. Like Jesus Himself, it is a gift to be shared with the world. In the end the good news is not about great programs or slick advertising or figuring out how to be relevant. It is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find the bread. This beggar has found the bread and wants to share it with you. Alleluia Christ is Risen! Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.