Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
“Appearances can be deceiving.” We’ve all heard that saying before, and you’ve heard me preach about it. For example, it appears as if the sun moves across the sky; but the reality is that the earth rotates on its axis. It’s the earth, not the sun, that moves to bring about night and day.
Or it appears as if the stars are simply there when we look up into the night sky. But the reality is that some of those stars may no longer even exist. It can take hundreds or even thousands of years for starlight to reach us. Some starlight is from stars that have died long ago. Even sunlight is already eight minutes old by the time it reaches us.
The Eucharist appears to be no more than bread. But the reality is that the Eucharist is the body, bloody, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, the God whom we worship.
That saying, “appearances can be deceiving,” is also the operating principle behind certain memorable films. Think of movies like, The Sixth Sense, The Others, or Shutter Island. They’ve been released for many years, but I nevertheless apologize if I’m spoiling them for those who yet have to see them.
In both The Sixth Sense and The Others, the protagonists of the film are actually ghosts. When that secret is revealed to the audience, both films immediately make sense. That one tidbit of information immediately resolves any mysteries leading up to that revelation.
In the film, Shutter Island, the protagonist of the film is a detective visiting an insane asylum on an isolated island trying to solve a mystery. That’s the premise of the story. He tries to piece together various bits of information. It’s also a mystery to the viewer. But he eventually arrives and dead end, and there’s no resolution in sight… until it’s revealed to the audience that the protagonist himself is insane and is one of the island's patients. And then everything falls in place for the viewer.
In short, each of those stories goes down a certain narrative path until arriving at a dead end. But then a surprising truth is revealed to the audience, and that plot twist redefines the film and gives new insight into every event and encounter. Where one narrative had ended in a dead end, the true narrative leads to resolution and closure.
This dynamic is especially true with regard to our faith. We can be deceived by appearances. From our gospel passage, it appears as if a condemned criminal is being executed. It appears as if he’s unable to live up to the accusation leveled against him: that of being, “The King of the Jews.” It appears as if he is unable to save himself; and so, he dies on the cross, his corpse is pierced with a lance, and his body buried before sunset.
And the dead end to this story is an empty tomb. But there is a twist to the story: namely, the Resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the only path that goes beyond an empty tomb, and it’s the only lens through which anything in our faith makes sense. Think of many of the prophecies that surrounded the Christ. I’ll simply mention one from Zechariah:
I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Ha’dadrim’mon in the plain of Megid’do. The land shall mourn, each family by itself… On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness… (12:10-12a; 13:1).
This was written in the sixth century before the birth of our Savior. It's a prophecy of the Passion of our Lord. It also prophecies the blood and water that comes forth from his pierced side: water, to signify the fountain of baptism; blood, to signify the blood of the eternal covenant and the Eucharist. There are many such prophecies. But even other scenes in our Bible cannot make sense apart from Christ’s resurrection.
Think of the slain shepherd, Abel, who sacrificed to God an innocent lamb. Think of Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his only beloved son, Isaac. Think of Melchizedek, the High Priest of God, who offered bread and wine after the battle of the nine kings after receiving the tithe of Abram. Think of Moses who instituted the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb. The list goes on.
These—and more—could not be fully understood within their own historical context; they could only be truly understood through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Only the resurrection of Jesus allows us to see in this scene, a man crowned with thorns and enthroned on a wooden cross, Christ our King.
The same is true in our own lives, as well. We all experience much pain, failure, brokenness, and sorrow in our own lives at times, and we eventually arrive at a dead end. But because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, we can revisit our past experiences and understand them with enlightened hope.
There was no greater drama in the history of creation than the rejection of God by mankind, and no greater tragedy than the death of God on the wood of the Cross; but the Resurrection transformed that drama and tragedy into the greatest love story that will ever be told, and has turned the Cross into the gateway to eternal life. The resurrection has turned even death itself into a place of hope.
And so, we have confidence that there is no tragedy, darkness, or sadness so deep in our lives that is beyond God’s power of redemption. Christ our King has all authority in heaven and on earth. He has destroyed death and his resurrection is everything.
Your story and mine does not lead to a dead end. Christ’s resurrection has ensured that our story is forever. May God bless you.
From the center panel of the Isenheim Altarpiece, by Nikolaus of Haguenau and Matthias Grünewald, c. 1512 - 1516, Unterlinden Museum. [Public Domain]