Ever want to be in your own adventure? You’re in one...
Television characters come in for a fair amount of grief in the form of car bombs, kidnappings, cancer scares or brushes with zombies. But however much you adore your televised heroes, it’s unlikely that their tribulations will interfere with your popcorn-munching. Dramatic tension feels “safe” to us in the context of a televised serial, because we already know that beloved characters have “plot shields” protecting them from the worst. The writers of the show know that they can’t kill the central characters, or they themselves will be out of work. Occasionally more peripheral characters do come to grief, but unless it’s a season finale, there’s generally not much cause for concern.
Wouldn’t it be nice if life were really like that? Surprise! In a way, it is.
Reading through the Gospels, we find two very prominent themes in everything Jesus says about the future. First, very bad things are going to happen. And second, everything will turn out fine. Both of these messages come through with particular intensity in Christ’s words to the Apostles at the Last Supper. His many dark warnings indicate that terrors are soon to come; nevertheless, he repeats again and again that they should not be afraid, because “I have conquered the world” and “I shall send you a comforter” and “it is my Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom”. Reassurance radiates through all of Jesus’ concluding words to his followers, whom he even honors by naming them friends.
Easter is in many ways quite a confusing holiday, because it’s very hard to wrap our minds around the thing over which we are feasting. The details from the Gospels are startlingly few, considering that the events of that great morning are only the most important thing that ever happened in the history of the world. The Gospels cover the Resurrection in just a few pages before wrapping up their narrative completely, leaving us very nearly as dumbfounded as the Apostles must have been. Why did the Resurrected Christ not linger longer after conquering death? Why do we have so little information even about those final few weeks of his ministry?
Presumably the answer to these questions says something about the difficulty of communicating eternal things to still-sinful, still-fallen mortals. Even the Apostles, through Christ’s earthly ministry, had a very limited understanding of what was in store for them. Likewise for us, it may not be possible to acquaint us more directly with our Risen Lord through the medium of an accessible text. We are assured that we have a Living God, but coming to know him may be more of an individualized process.
If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us should probably admit, not only that we are limited in our understanding of God, but even that we are limited in our understanding of ourselves. What would my perfected, redeemed self be like? Even this, for most of us, is something of a mystery.
God’s not going to let us start by reading the back page. We have to pick our way through life one day and one hard lesson at a time. Knowing how difficult mortal life can be, however, he reassures us with something akin to a television “plot shield.” That’s not to say that our salvation is guaranteed, because it remains within our power to reject it; nevertheless, God hasn’t set us up to fail. His house has many mansions; it is his good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. Fear not.
As Christians living in a fallen world, we should always strive to avoid complacency. Our personal battle is not yet won, and the stakes are exceedingly high. Nevertheless, surrounded as we are by death and decay, it is vital that we take the time to lift up our eyes in hope. It is especially fitting that we should do so on this greatest of feasts, when God so lovingly ensured that we should not be abandoned to the harsh consequences of our own sins.
Christ is risen! Death itself has been vanquished! And even through life may appear to go on as before, we can live with the knowledge that a fairy tale ending has been written to the story of life on earth. It remains for us to embrace it.
Rachel Lu teaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas and writes for Crisis Magazine and The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter at @rclu.