The Cosmic Cathedral

Understanding God in the Word and the World

Easter as Eucatastrophe


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With that Gandalf stood before him, robed in white, his beard now gleaming like pure snow… “Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?” he said.

…At last he gasped: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?” A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known….

“How do I feel?” He cried. “Well, I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel” – he waved his arms in the air – “I feel like spring after winter, sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!”

The Return of The King, J.R.R. Tolkien

I imagine good Master Samwise’s response upon seeing Gandalf again was something like that of those two disciples, headed out of Jerusalem for Emmaus following Jesus’ crucifixion on the Sunday after Passover, when the identity of their mysterious walking companion was at last revealed. Just as Sam had found himself at the end of a long story which had at the last seemed hopeless, so too these disciples had found themselves at the end of a long story which had tragically been cut short.

Summarizing their despair the two travelers say “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). These disciples had followed Jesus with an amazing hope. Certainly they had seen the fanfare to which he had entered Jerusalem, with psalmic shouts of “Blessed his he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Just a short week before it seemed as if the long awaited moment of Israel’s redemption was almost here. It was so close they could almost taste it. Yet the end of that week had dashed all those hopes. Everything good in the world, all that hope, turned sour as they witnessed Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution.

Samwise had witnessed the death of his mentor and friend, Gandalf, on they way to Mount Doom in Mordor. He had thought his Master Frodo and himself dead at the end of the quest. It had looked as if the last hope of their journey was lost. Yet against all odds, Sam finds himself awaking in Lthilien in the keeping of the King, with Gandalf at the foot of his bed. Against all odds, these despairing disciples find themselves in the company of a mysterious traveler who had a different story to tell them than the one of hopelessness and dreams dashed which they had taken away from Jerusalem.

Framing the events of the last days within the context of Israel’s grand narrative, their Scriptures, this stranger describes the events of Jesus’ death and burial not as the tragic end of a messianic claim gone wrong, but as the necessary precursors of suffering and death which must come before the Messiah’s exaltation. The story of death and tragedy was being turned on its head as a story of exaltation and glory. Like Samwise said upon seeing Gandalf, we can imagine these disciples exclaiming, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

The resurrection has entered the tale, turning the story on its head and transforming the miserable tragedy into a comedy of joy and exuberance. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Return of the King, writes about this form of story in his essay “On Fairy-Stories.” The best fairy-tale, he says, “does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the word, poignant as grief.”[1] It is this element of story that Sam’s awakening to Gandalf and the two traveling disciples realization of the identity of their companion on the road exhibit.

The word Tolkien gives to describe this moment, this turn in the story when despair turns to hope and loss turns to victory, is Eucatastrophe,[2] the good catastrophe. It is the turn where the story goes from one of lost hope to the restoration of all hope and joy in an unlooked for and unexpected, even improbable, turn of events. Just as the catastophe is the coming together of a multitude of negative forces in particular moment in the most disastrous way possible, so the Eucatastrophe is the unlooked for coming together of the good in such a way as to transform the story completely, from one of tragedy to one of comedy. The turn is so complete, so powerful it, as Tolkien says, “reflects a glory backwards,”[3] its effect rushing back to transform with hope even the bleakest points along to way.

The resurrection is the supreme Eucatastrophe of history. It is the foremost moment of Joy overturning the bleakest story to one of rejoicing. With Easter comes Eucatastrophe. Jesus was dead, the messianic claim bankrupt. All hope was lost. They “had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” and yet that dream was left in tatters at the crucifixtion. The resurrection transformed the whole story. It reflected its glory backward, touching upon every point of suffering that had left its mark upon the story. It was the turn around. The catastrophe was reverted. Eucatastrophe had overtaken sadness with Joy. With Samwise we find ourselves exclaiming in answer to the question:

“Well, I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel” – he waved his arms in the air – “I feel like spring after winter, sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!”

The Return of The King, J.R.R. Tolkien

[1] “On Fairy-Stories,” The Tolkien Reader. New York, Ballantine Books, 1966. 86

[2] Ibid. 85

[3] Ibid. 86

Author: Kendall Beachey

A writer living in Midtown Kansas City. Connecting literature, film, television and pop culture. Welcome to the Kettle.

2 thoughts on “Easter as Eucatastrophe

  1. Very good thoughts–thanks

  2. Reblogged this on To the Nations and commented:
    “The resurrection is the supreme Eucatastrophe of history.”

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