Easter! Too Good to be True?

[Beth’s final (for a time) sermon for the Wine Before Breakfast community on Easter Tuesday, wherein she brought a year in the biblical story to a powerful close on the Road to Emmaus.]

Christ is Risen! (He is risen indeed!)

God is alive.
Magic is afoot.

Does the Easter story ever feel too “magical” to you?
Kind of fairy-tale-ish?
Jesus is appearing and disappearing all over the place.
Not to mention the “happily ever after” style of it –
seems suited for a children’s story.

I mean, adults also crave stories and write stories that end happily,
but usually they’re the kinds of stories
we use to escape from our real lives.
The kinds of parallel universes we indulge ourselves in.
Comic book series.  Epic legends.  Fantasy novels.

You know, the kinds of stories where you’ll have a character
who seems perfectly average
until they’re suddenly unmasked as the hero, the saviour.

Aragorn is really the High King.
Clark Kent is really Superman.
The random guy on the road to Emmaus
is really Jesus risen from the dead.

The kinds of stories that always hit this extremely bleak point,
when you think that all is lost,
when all luck has run out, all escape routes are blocked,
all help cut off,
when complete failure is imminent…
and then suddenly, there’s a glimpse of deliverance,
a great longed-for joy that bursts through the darkness,
the impossible fulfillment of everything you couldn’t bear to keep hoping for.

JRR Tolkien, who writes what he calls “fairy stories,”
coined a term for this sudden turn for the good: “eucatastrophe.”

It’s catastrophic goodness.
Goodness crashing into the story.

But as adults, we know better.
In the real world, “happily ever after” is scarce.
In the real world, our Egyptian siblings in Christ are murdered in their church pews.
In the real world, Trump bombs countries while eating chocolate cake.
In the real world, it’s too dangerous to hope for things to resolve well.

We’ve grown almost embarrassed by “happily ever after.”
It’s like Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny –
at some point everyone faces facts, grows up,
and acknowledges that mom and dad were the ones who hid the eggs.
Happy endings are childish.
They are escapist and unbelievable.
Simply too good to be true.

And yet, this passage we read today
is all about Jesus telling these very kinds of “happily ever after” stories.

He comes up to these disciples on the road who tell him a very sad,
very adult story, 
“You haven’t heard of Jesus?
We had hoped he was the One, but he was killed.
Now some of our female friends are saying he’s alive,
but you know women – sometimes they get these ideas in their heads.
No, it’s too risky to hope for that.  It’s better to face reality.”

(I may have extrapolated a bit.)

But Jesus says, “You fools.  Go back to the story.”
And as they walked, he led them through the scriptural narrative again,
much like we’ve been doing at WBB since September,
all the way back from Genesis.

I’d give anything to hear how Jesus summarized the story.
Maybe he foresaw the future brilliance of Tom Wright and Brian Walsh
and divided it up into a series of acts or chapters.

Chapter 1 was creation.
The Holy Spirit brooding over the desolate, chaotic waters
God breathing unstoppable life into being,
creating us as co-creators in God’s image.

Chapter 2 was when it all fell apart.
We all chose death over life.
We lost the plot.
We broke relationship.
We needed rescuing.

Chapter 3 was the Israel chapter,
when God made a covenant with a particular people,
a promise to make them a blessing for all nations.
a covenant they broke over and over again.
But as the Israelites and their “kings with bling” were taken into exile,
their prophets spoke hope, they hinted at Chapter 4…
…which was about a new kind of servant king.
Jesus.  His birth was eucatastrophic.

He showed us how to live a life of self-emptying love.
And he conquered our greatest enemy: death itself.
Another eucatastrophe.

I don’t know if Jesus hinted at Chapter 5 on the road to Emmaus,
but this is the chapter he launched us into
with his resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The chapter of the church. The chapter we’ve lived in for 2000 years.

And we’ve been given a glimpse of Chapter 6,
the greatest eucatastrophe yet: the return of Christ,
All things, all creation reconciled and made new.

As Jesus walked with these disciples and told them this epic story.
they felt their hearts grow warm within them.
The story lit a fire inside them.  They glowed.

Did their hearts burn because for a few minutes,
they got the chance to ditch reality
and escape into the fairy tale land of happily-ever-after,
the land of too-good-to-be-true?

Or could we have this entirely backwards?
Could it be that the story of scripture warmed them from the inside out
not because it was too good to be true,
but because it contained the very essence of truth and goodness?

What if the story that scripture tells isn’t a fairy tale…
what if instead, all fairy tales are resonating with

and hinting at this singular real story that shapes our history?

What if we’re created to long for these stories, to recognize them as familiar?

What if there’s a “happily ever after” written into the core of reality,
written into the fabric of our being,
and we’re wired to seek out fictional echoes and reminders of it?

What if the very reason we write stories like this
is because we’re inside a story like this?

What if every thrill we get when the eucatastrophe comes,
every rush when the hero rises up and makes the world right again,

is a tiny sliver of the real joy we subconsciously know awaits us?

If so, if this fairy tale is real, then we do need to escape.
We need to be escapist.
We need to escape from the prison
of our disenchanted, embittered, cynical adult world.

This so-called “realistic” world is ironically quite unreal.
It’s a world blind to the very real magic of a God who is up to something,
a world that can’t recognize the risen Christ
when he’s walking down the street next to them.

This year at WBB has been our invitation to learn to see again,
to find the plot again,
to contribute our lines and our actions to chapter 5 of this epic story.
All of us characters improvising,
weaving together our stories into something legendary.

You all have played an important role in my story.
In one month, my wife Danice and I will move back to Vancouver.
Because God wove my life together with yours here for a few years,
because you let me write these sermons and sing these songs
and break this bread with you…

I’ve found the courage, confidence and imagination I needed
to do something that scares the crap out of me… planting a new church.

God-willing, this church, tentatively called Open Table Church,
will begin gathering this fall in Vancouver.
And I’d be proud if it carried even a slight resemblance to this community.

I’m fully anticipating it to be hard and painful and disappointing.
Hard, painful, disappointing things come with the territory of Chapter 5.
In this story, we are all called further and further down.
All the best stories have rock-bottom places.  Valleys of death.
Christ will lead us there.  All that is Christ-like in us will be crucified.

There will be times in chapter 5 when you and I will be too crushed to keep the faith,
like bruised reeds, threatening to break if our hopes are dashed yet again.
It will be tempting to think that suffering is all there is.
It will be tempting to think the story ends here.
All evidence will point to a universe that ends in death, destruction, despair.

Deny that evidence. 

Know that Chapter 6 is still coming.
Believe resurrection life will break through at the bleakest moment.
Right when our world is emptiest and furthest down,
catastrophic goodness will crash into the story,
as we’re suddenly, joyfully transformed and swept up into a new creation.
Christ will lead us there.  All that is Christ-like in us will be resurrected.

It will be a world like Aslan’s world in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series,
where instead of further down,
we’ll go further up and further in,
and everything will only get bigger and more fascinating.
The inside will be bigger than the outside.

Because Chapter 6 isn’t really a happily-ever-after ending, but a beginning.
The beginning of something yet to be revealed.  A new epic tale.
Endings become new beginnings in all the best stories.

Stories are for children.
We are called to be like children.

If growing up means abandoning these stories,
this magic of a God who is very much alive,
then let’s never grow up.

Let’s break the bread and pour the wine,
in Toronto and in Vancouver and everywhere Jesus shows up to startle us at the table,
and let’s press on, fires burning in our hearts,
living our painful, magical, magnificent lives
inside this very deeply true story.

Christ is risen.  (He is risen indeed.)

Beth Carlson-Malena

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