The more you read Scripture, the more you realize that God’s ways are not our ways. The work of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - is altogether unexpected. And as you read on, you begin to expect the unexpected from God. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s word is full of God’s unexpected ways and works in creation, in history, in the day to day lives of his people, then and now. God has a habit of turning our expectations of who he is and what he does completely on their heads.
Who would have expected that God’s promise to send his only begotten Son would have come through the family tree of old man Abraham and his barren wife, Sarah? Abraham and Sarah sure didn’t expect that. Neither would we. And yet, that’s what God did. He did his unexpected work of opening Sarah’s womb, giving them a son and heir, Isaac, and blessing all people on earth through Abraham’s greatest son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who would have expected a rock in the wilderness to become a sacred drinking fountain and a foreshadowing of Christ himself? Moses and Israel sure didn’t expect that. And yet, that’s what God did. He did the unexpected work of making the wastelands a pool of water and quenching the thirst of his people in the desert, pointing forward to the living waters of Jesus’ word, the water from his side on the cross, and the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism.
Holy Scripture is one story after another of our Lord working his unexpected grace, mercy, and love for you.
Who would have expected a rabbi who had died an excruciating death on a Roman cross on a Friday afternoon to be walking, talking, living, and breathing again three days later? Even though the prophets foretold it, and Jesus told his disciples several times, they sure didn’t expect that. And yet, that’s exactly what God did. Our Lord did his unexpected work of dying in our place on the cross, was buried in our tomb, and rose again from the dead.
Holy Scripture is one story after another of our Lord working his unexpected grace, mercy, and love for you. This is the story of our Lord Jesus’ resurrection. There's a great word for all of this unexpected work God does in Scripture. The word is, eucatastrophe.
J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, coined this word to explain the heart of fairy-stories. The eucatastrophe, Tolkien writes, is “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argue is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce).” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, p. 100.)
The word ‘eucatastrophe’ combines two Greek words: ‘eu’ meaning ‘good’ (as in eulogy or euphoria), and ‘katastrophe’ for destruction. According to Tolkien, the eucatastrophe in a story is a good catastrophe; it is the surprise twist or turn you never see coming. This isn’t just something we see in good fictional stories. This is also the heart of the true story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to save you.
In his famous essay, “On Fairy Stories,” Tolkien observes that Christianity is the story of one eucatastrophe after another. The story of salvation is the true story of God doing his unexpected work of salvation for us:
The Gospels contain a fairy story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. (J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories,” in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, p. 83.)
Easter is the great eucatastrophe, the great unexpected day of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. Easter is the joyous sudden, unexpected turn of events that we never saw coming, and yet it truly happened. It’s no wonder the women at the empty tomb and the disciples were overwhelmed with fear, awe, wonder, and joy at the unexpected good news of the angels: “You seek Jesus the crucified one. He is not here; he is risen, just as he said!”
In one of the most memorable moments in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he captures this joyous, unexpected, eucatastrophe of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead with the death and resurrection of the great lion, Aslan. In an unexpected turn of events, Aslan the great lion offers his own life to save Edmund and the land of Narnia from the White Witch’s curse and treachery. In an act of cruelty that parallels Good Friday, Aslan is shaved, bound, mocked, and laid on a stone table where he is killed with a stone knife by the White Witch. Two of the other main characters, Lucy and Susan Pevensie, stand nearby and witness his death. They expected him to be dead and gone forever. But Aslan is not a tame lion. He does the unexpected. He rises from the dead. And he tells Lucy and Susan,
…though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that if a willing victim, who had committed no treachery, was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward. (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, p. 163).
Lewis writes the true and unexpected eucatastrophe of Jesus’ death and resurrection into his imaginative world of Narnia. Lewis’ own life is also a great example of God’s unexpected work, of his eucatastrophe. For many years, Lewis was a self-proclaimed atheist. Over time, with the help of good friends and their conversations, and above all, the grace of God, Lewis was brought back to the Christian faith. His conversion back to the faith he was baptized into was an unexpected turn of the story of his life, his own personal eucatastrophe, a sudden and joyous turn from unbelief to faith, from death to life in Christ.
One of the key conversations that led to his conversion was with his friends, and fellow members of the Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson. Their night-time stroll along Addison’s walk in Oxford wove a tapestry of literature, Christianity, and faith. In Lewis’ own recollection, it was Hugo Dyson and J.R.R. Tolkien who were the instruments God used to bring him back to the faith. Dyson and Tolkien, wrote Lewis, had taught him that Christianity was like so many of the stories that Lewis enjoyed reading with one important exception; it was true. Unexpected? Sure, but the difference for Lewis was that the story of Jesus dying and rising, unlike so many of his favorite mythic tales, really happened. It was a good story, but it was also true, historical, and trustworthy. Jesus’ death and resurrection was the eucatastrophe that brought Lewis to his own unexpected conversion to the Christian faith. C.S. Lewis’ writing and life are a beautiful reminder that the best stories point to the one true story of God’s work of salvation in Jesus crucified and risen, the greatest unexpected story of all.
Even though God’s grace and love towards us is unexpected, unearned, unmerited, unconditional he gives it freely for the sake of Jesus who died and rose for you and for all.
Jesus was dead on Good Friday. Crucified. Died. buried. And yet, he rose from the dead three days later. Christ walked out of his tomb. Christ is risen. Christ did the unexpected work of defeating death by dying, and destroying the power of death and the devil by rising victoriously from the grave. Do we deserve this? No. But that’s the good news about God’s saving work for you in Christ Jesus. Even though God’s grace and love towards us is unexpected, unearned, unmerited, unconditional he gives it freely for the sake of Jesus who died and rose for you and for all.
Unexpected? You bet. That’s why Jesus’ resurrection brings us such joy. Because Jesus did the unexpected work of dying and rising for us, we now expect his goodness and mercy to follow us all the days of our lives. Because of Jesus’ unexpected and glorious resurrection from the dead, we live in the certain hope and expectation of our own resurrection from the dead when he comes again in glory. Because of Jesus’ unexpected grace and mercy, we now expect to find his unexpected steadfast love towards us where he promises, in simple, ordinary, yet holy gifts of his word, water, body and blood.
Whenever you read and hear God’s word expect the unexpected grace, mercy, and love of God in Christ crucified and risen to be on every page and in every story.
Yes, Jesus’ resurrection is unexpected, and yet glorious and joyful and for you. Alleluia! Christ is Risen!