When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 1 Corinthians 15:54
I am a geek at heart. Exhibit A is my life-long love for the works of Tolkien. I recently finished listening to the entire audiobook version of The Lord of the Rings and am now reading The Silmarillion again. They call me back again and again, an my appreciation only deepens each time I pick up the adventures.
Tolkien himself coined the phrase eucatastrophe to describe the moment when the tide turns and victory is gained amidst in the moment when defeat seems a sure thing. Eucatastrophe would be a theme that he used again and again:
- Most famously, the arrival of the eagles both at the Battle of Five Armies in The Hobbit, and at the Battle of the Black Gate in The Return of the King.
- Gollum’s final treachery that is the salvation of Frodo
- When Gandalf arrives with Erkenbrand at the battle of Helm’s Deep
- When the Ents and Huorns rise up unexpectedly against Isengard
- The arrival of Aragorn upon the Corsairs of Umbar
Tolkien loved the dramatic moment when the light of hope springs unexpectedly in the deepest darkness. In his personal letters (which I have also read; behold Exhibit B of my geekiness), Tolkien explains that the model of eucatastrophe, and its greatest example, is the incarnation of Jesus Christ and His resurrection.
In today’s chapter, Paul argues for the resurrection of the dead against those in the city of Corinth who were teaching that there is no life after death. Paul, who had a life-changing encounter with the resurrected Jesus (read Acts 9), now explains that if there is no life after death then the whole of Christian belief is null and void. If there is no life after death, then his life-changing encounter was nothing more than a hallucination; His work to share the message of Jesus to the world a huge waste of time and energy.
It is Paul’s description of resurrection in today’s chapter that brings Tolkien’s eucatastrophe to mind:
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
This morning I sit with my cup of coffee at the lake and watch the warm sun coming up over the back of the cove, where bald eagles often roost. Staring back at the treeline I, from time-to-time, get to shout “The eagles are coming!” This is, for me, a thin place; An earthly location where the impermeable veil between the mortal and immortal becomes sheer. Eucatastrophes of various shapes and sizes are experienced here. In this place my faith in resurrection takes shape and mass.