(# 5 of 6 Lenten reflections)
Like most people, I love stories. When I was a teenager, I went through literary phases: detective stories, science fiction, fantasy. When I became a dad, I made up bedtime stories for my kids, and read aloud to them — everything from Winnie-the-Pooh (imitating the voices from the Disney cartoons) to The Lord of the Rings (trying, often unsuccessfully, to keep track of all the voices I created for those characters). I still enjoy reading stories aloud, but now to my wife. We read eleven novels last summer, culminating with The Princess Bride — which gave me the opportunity to do my very best Billy Crystal imitation.
Some have suggested that our penchant for story comes from the fact that our lives have an intrinsically narrative structure: we live in the present with memories of the past that led us to this place, and live toward a desired future. We enjoy romantic stories that promise happy endings: boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy finds girl again, and they live happily ever after. And we enjoy heroic stories in which the protagonist fights through danger to emerge victorious, and in so doing, becomes a Better Person.
But let’s face it: life doesn’t always imitate art. The bridal industry, for example, wants to sell us storybook weddings that promise the happily-ever-after — but happy marriages take work and sacrifice. And the last chapter of our earthly story often ends in pain, suffering, and a sense of incompleteness: is that all there is?
That’s why hope is crucial to the Christian life.
Actions have consequences. We do have some say so over our futures, though often not as much as we would like. We want to write our own stories, but find that the people who populate our lives sometimes won’t cooperate, because they want to write the story their way.
So much for creative control.
Jesus’ disciples had their own story to tell about their powerful and enigmatic Master and their anticipated place in his coming kingdom. But the cross brought that storyline to a crashing halt: all seemed lost, and they locked themselves away in fear.
Perhaps, then, we can understand why Paul insists that without the resurrection, there is no gospel; without the promise of future glory, of God’s restoration of peace to his entire creation, the story dies, and so do we.
At Lent, as with other practices of the Christian calendar, we enter anew into a story whose climax is resurrection. Through the preparatory sacrifices of Lent, we attempt to shed false stories and their empty promises, and commit ourselves again to the gracious and loving Father who alone has the power to make everything right, to bring about the ending for which our souls long:
And they all lived happily ever after.