Tag Archives: crucifixion

The Resurrection Is the Greatest “Eucatastrophe”

More than a few writers have talked about the place where Joy and Sorrow meet.

In a moment of deep contentment, someone may say, “I’m so happy I could cry!” And in the moments of deepest and most unutterable joy, we say nothing at all. We don’t live long before we learn that tears are more precious than diamonds, and the best tears are tears of joy.

When those joy-tears come, we usually don’t analyze them; we live the moment. But if the time comes to talk about such moments, author J. R. R. Tolkien, most famous for his amazing Lord of the Rings trilogy, has kindly coined for us a very good word.

That joy and sorrow are so closely intertwined is ironic. And so, at first glance, seems Tolkien’s word: “eucatastrophe.” “Eu-” is a Greek prefix meaning “good,” and “catastrophe”? Most of us are all too familiar with the word and the situations it describes.

“Catastrophe” is a Greek word brought directly into English that means “destruction.” According to Webster’s, it has come to hold such decidedly negative meanings as “a momentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin,” a “violent usually destructive natural event,” or an “utter failure.” Understandably, most of us seek to avoid such. I think of the crash of the Hindenburg (see the first meaning). Or, more personally, I remember the first time I sang publicly in a quartet and we started the same song in different keys (see the third meaning).

But the word first had, and still has, a more technical meaning. In literature, especially in tragedy, the “catastrophe” is the technical term for the final conclusion or “unraveling” of the drama’s plot. No surprise that in tragedy, that conclusion is sad. Tragedies in literature, by definition, have sad endings.

Ah, but fairy tales are different. A true fairy tale always has a happy ending. Thus the master wordsmith Tolkien coined the word “eucatastrophe” to describe just such an ending: “I coined ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce).” He goes on to explain that what we call fairy tales actually point to the deepest truth and happiest ending of all (really a beginning), that good will overcome evil.

Tolkien knew that the Cross and Resurrection are no fairy tale. He speaks deep truth when he says that “the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible.” Its truth “pierces” us with “a joy that brings tears.”

The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God” (12:2).

“Christian joy,” Tolkien writes, “produces tears because it is so qualitatively like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled.”

 

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


The Shortest Distance in the World

The shortest distance in the world is the space between hero and heel.

On that first Palm Sunday the cheering crowd lay palm branches in Christ’s path as he entered Jerusalem. By that Friday we call “Good,” how many of those same voices were crying, “Crucify him!”?

Jesus was not surprised. The prophet had said long ago that God’s servant would be “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3). And we’re told that Jesus “knew what was in man” (John 2:24), that he knew humans “inside out” and “didn’t need any help seeing right through them” (The Message).

But it had to hurt. On Sunday, a crowd is praising; on Friday, a crowd is cursing.

On Sunday, they’re praising the one they hope will inaugurate an earthly kingdom and shed the blood of the hated Roman conquerors. On Friday, they’re screaming for the blood of the one whose spiritual kingdom seemed short of swords and firepower.

But Jesus was not surprised. Soon he will look out over the city (foreseeing her doom) and weep, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who bring you God’s news . . .” (Matthew 23:37).

Now Entering Jerusalem: Hometown of [Supply Prophet’s Name] read the signs put up by the Chamber of Commerce. No fine print mentions the names of the upstanding citizens who’d years ago put the prophets to death. “The shortest distance . . .” Short and selective memories, too.

But what if Jesus had just agreed to be the kind of king they wanted? Judas probably could have saved his blood money. James and John could have taken seats as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, though the Romans might not have let that “kingdom” last long.

Yes, but if Jesus had simply listened to Satan, agreeing to bow before the Prince of Darkness in exchange for worldly power, Rome would’ve gone down! I wonder how many despots today, not to mention their predecessors already moldering in history’s dust bin, would grab just such a deal? (Or name any size tyrant, any size venue.) What if Christ had chosen to call legions of angels to take him off the cross and destroy the world (he knew that he could), well, talk about power!

What if, like the crowd in Jerusalem, we prefer Jesus to be the kind of king who’ll give us everything we want—easy lives, health, wealth, success, political clout, etc.? And what if he doesn’t?

The crowd wants a revolution. Judas wants one, too. Right now! Peter pulls out a sword to fight. And Jesus, with power completely beyond the understanding of power players and blowhards, shakers and movers, fighters and king-makers, is so strong that he lays down his rights even as he lays down his life, and he dies to do the will of his Father and save weak and selfish rights-mongerers like . . . us.

We’re curse-hoarse from yelling “Crucify him!” as he quietly refuses to be the kind of king we want. Nailed to the cross, held not by spikes but by quiet love-filled might that puts the world’s “mighty” utterly to shame, he shows himself to be exactly the kind of King we need.

“Therefore, God has exalted him to the highest place . . . that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . .” (Philippians 2:9-10).

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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