By Brian Orme
In some stories, hope is wrapped up in the obvious and tangible elements of the plot, but other times, hope is revealed through a surprise ending or a twist—giving new life to the story in foreshadowed glory. The Easter story is a vivid example that things aren’t always as they seem. In a way, Easter is a celebration of the greatest story twist in history, one that is so subversive it changes everything for all time.
Sometimes the Easter story gets glossed over, and we forget the surprise and shock of the resurrection. It’s easy to read through the Gospels without that “aha!” moment it really delivers. We have the privilege of reading the resurrection into the teachings of Jesus—we know how the story ends—but for the disciples, the moments before the resurrection were steeped in fear, darkness and confusion. For them, the resurrection provided an incredible twist—in Sixth Sense fashion—that made the story come alive in a new way; past experiences began to make clarion sense. It changed everything. Eugene Peterson explains it like this in his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: “The Christian life begins as a community that is gathered at the place of impossibility, the tomb.”
The scandalous plan of God, revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus, reveals to us that what we see is not all there is. Easter tells us that a man convicted is not really guilty, that a cruel instrument of torture and death is really a symbol of remarkable hope and grace; it also tells us that an empty tomb is what we should have expected all along. On the surface, the story of Easter reveals a plot by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day to take down a rebel, once and for all. As Jesus is handed over to the authorities, the picture that is painted is that Caesar is king, his kingdom rules and the Roman means of punishment—the cross—would have the last say. Even homeless peasants with an unusually impressive following and a supernatural track record would be trumped by the empire for rebelling.
But all of this is merely a divine setting for the most miraculous moment in history. As Jesus took each step closer to the hill, with the cross on His back, the people would have seen the rule of Rome and the conviction of a would-be criminal as ultimate reality. Who could deny it? But there was much more to the story. The path to the cross was a willing conviction accepted by God in the most subversive act on earth—a conspiracy to take on the sin of the world and launch a counter-kingdom that would overthrow every worldly empire. Not by violence, not by brute force, but by love and sacrifice through Christ. Colossians tells us that with each step, Jesus was making a public spectacle out of the pseudo powers and authorities, that with the cross He was triumphing, and what looked like defeat was actually ultimate victory.
Easter reminds us that even though injustice may run rampant at present—even though it appears that darkness is pervasive and final—we know God is working, that His love is greater and that resurrection is real. As morning came on the third day a sun-cast freshness burst on the scene to reveal a subversive hope that thrusts us into a new story, one that rests on the work of Christ—a grassroots grace that upends every injustice. Through the brilliant light of the resurrection we can walk in newness of life. In a time when the Caesars of our day still claim to rule and injustice seems commonplace, the revolutionary hope of new life springs up in our hearts as we embrace the promise of Christ and experience the call of an extreme God to believe.
This new way, this subversive hope, is a call to live counter to the mainstream tendencies of darkness and selfishness, and to embrace the resurrection life. In this we not only celebrate the story of Easter, but we join it as ones who have received an unspeakable gift. As Miroslov Volf says in his book Free of Charge:
“When Christ died on the tree of shame outside the gates of Jerusalem, God bore our sin, and we were both condemned as sinners and separated from our sin, and in our lives, God lives somewhere unfathomably deep within us—behind our faculties of knowing and willing—and swallows up our sin and transforms our lives.”
This transformation through Christ is our twist in the story—our aha! moment. Through Christ we continue to live out the resurrection life in our own generation, carrying on the subversive plot that God initiated in Christ. So this Easter, relive the surprise ending; relive the story with a fresh passion for the genuine hope that we embrace: the reality of a risen Lord. The reality of new life. Let this hope continue to paint our future in every possible way.
Brian is a pastor, writer, armchair theologian and frequent RELEVANT contributor. He lives in Ohio with his wife and three boys, and yes, he loves surprise endings. You can visit him at www.brianorme.com.