+ In the Love of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It was all so promising when Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph and was acclaimed as Messiah and King.
And it all came crashing down when Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, the disciples deserted him, and the soldiers crucified him.
And in the wake of that catastrophe, the two Marys go to see the tomb.
And suddenly all heaven breaks loose! Shaking earth! Shaking guards! Descending angel and the angel's ever quickening words:
"Don't be afraid; I know you're looking for Jesus who was crucified. He's not here; he's been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Now go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He's been raised from the dead and he's going ahead of you to Galilee; you'll see him there.'"
When an angel tells you to go quickly, you go quickly! So the two Marys take off with an understandable mixture of fear and great joy to tell his disciples.
And then suddenly there is Jesus himself! Jesus may be on his way to Galilee, but not before he surprises these two faithful women. "Rejoice!" he tells them.
(Yes, I know the Gospel reading says that Jesus said, "Greetings!" but it's a lousy translation. The original Greek word literally means "Rejoice!" and it makes a lot more sense for Jesus to say "Rejoice!" after what Jesus and the two Marys have been through together!)
And suddenly catastrophe has turned to. . . what?
Do we even have a word for the opposite of catastrophe?
Well, thanks to J. R. R. Tolkien, who wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, there is a word to describe the opposite of catastrophe, and that word is eucatastrophe.
Tolkien took the word "catastrophe" and put the prefix eu- in front of it. The prefix eu- means good, like eulogy means "good word"; and eustress means "good stress," as opposed to distress, which is "bad stress"; or like Eucharist, which means "Good (or Great) Thanksgiving."
"I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears."
Notice Tolkien's definition of eucatastrophe: "the sudden happy turn in a story."
Tolkien, of course, was a great literary figure, and he uses the word "catastrophe" in a technical literary sense.
The Greek word strophe () means "to turn," and so the technical literary meaning of catastrophe is "a dramatic event or turning point that initiates the resolution of the plot in a tragedy."
Tolkien was also a devout Roman Catholic, so keeping in mind Tolkien's definition of eucatastrophe as "the sudden happy turn in a story," listen to what he says about Christmas and Easter:
"The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of human history, and the Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation."
In other words, the Incarnation is the sudden happy turn in the story of humanity, and the Resurrection is the sudden happy turn in the story of Jesus' human life.
And then Tolkien writes this:
"Eucatastrophe does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure." To the contrary, "Christian joy produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because Christian joy comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are reconciled."
Here it is again:
"Christian joy produces tears because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are reconciled."
Each one of us has known, at some point in our lives, the dyscatastrophe of sorrow or of failure, and some of us have known the dyscatastrophe of both sorrow and failure; and this morning, even as we celebrate the eucatastrophe of Jesus' resurrection, some of us are feeling that painful dyscatastrophe of sorrow or failure right now.
But no matter where we are today, or where we may be tomorrow, the eucatastrophe of Jesus' Resurrection is God's promise to each of us that one day we will all know that deep Christian joy which comes from all those places where all our joys and all our sorrows have been reconciled.
Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
* I have intermixed and slightly altered several quotations for the sake the congregation's aural comprehension from the following sources: Letter 89 and On Fairy-Stories from http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Eucatastrophe; and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Fairy-Stories