On March 8th FC Barcelona snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. They trailed PSG 4-0, having lost the first leg in Paris. In the return leg, Barcelona led 3-1 with 2 minutes left to play. At this stage they faced elimination because the aggregate score was 5-3 in PSG’s favour. In the 88th minute Barcelona scored to make it 4-1 on the night, but it seemed certain to be too little too late.
As all eyes turned to the referee he signalled there would be an additional 5 minutes of stoppage time. Barcelona scored in the 91 minute. Unbelievably they scored again in the 95th minute. A shell shocked PSG had surrendered a four goal lead and were knocked out of the competition.
Did something similar happen at Easter? Jesus died on the cross on Friday. All seemed lost. Three days later, he rose from the dead. The powers of evil and death had done their worst. It seemed they had won.
They were wrong. On Sunday morning God raised Jesus from the dead. He snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
While there are some parallels with the Barcelona–PSG football match the significance of Easter goes much, much deeper. JRR Tolkein, who wrote The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit created a new word to try and capture this.
He called it a eucatastrophe. As a professor of English language and literature he had an extensive knowledge of English. Yet he couldn’t find a word that adequately expressed the turn around between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. So he made up one.
In one of his letters Tolkien says that a eucatastrophe is ‘the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears’ and that ‘the Resurrection was the greatest eucatastrophe possible.’
We’re familiar with the word catastrophe. It means something that has gone not just wrong, but terribly wrong. A genuine catastrophe isn’t something we shrug off. It has a devastating effect on us. It wrecks lives and destroys futures. From the perspective of Good Friday, the crucifixion of Jesus is a catastrophe. As he dies on the cross hope dies with him. All he stood for vanishes. The way of love and forgiveness, the promise of peace and reconciliation goes up in smoke.
In Greek the little word eu means good. So for example a eulogy literally means ‘good words’.
Tolkien put the two together and came up with a good catastrophe. A eucatastrophe is an event, which really is terrible and awful. And then in the midst of all that is terrible and awful, everything is turned on its head. Suddenly and unexpectedly, everything is changed. What seemed as if it would be the worst thing that every happened is turned into something good and life-giving.
A eucatastrophe is so amazing and unexpected words fail us. As Tolkien said we are pierced with a joy that brings tears.
Easter Sunday is not just a happy ending. It is not escapist fantasy. It is a sign that in the midst of life that can often be hard and sore, God is with us. And not just with us. But at work too. God is in the business of saving humanity and restoring the cosmos. We can live with hope because Jesus is risen from the dead. Having risen, he is with us each day, wherever we are, whatever life is like.
‘God raised Jesus from the dead … because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.’ Acts 2:24
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