Resurrection: The Ultimate Spoiler Alert
"Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!" Have you ever been to an Easter service when, as the pastor said these words, the whole congregation put their hands over their ears and cried out "Spoiler Alert! Don't tell us how it ends! We haven't seen it yet!"
I've had several close call "spoiler alert" experiences lately. In some I have almost been the offender. In others I've been the victim. In my preaching class a couple of days ago I almost gave away the ending of the Life of Pi. A student yelped, put her hands over her ears and said "Spoiler Alert! Don't tell me how it ends! I haven't seen it yet!" Last night over dinner a friend almost gave away a key plot twist in Season Three of Downton Abbey. I've been carefully sequestering myself, away from all media exposure until I catch up. I've only watched the first episode so far. I put my hands over my ears and said, "Spoiler Alert! Don't tell me how it ends! I haven't seen it yet!"
Then there was the time when I acted as my own "Spoiler!" I got hooked on a highly suspenseful TV series this spring. It had been on for one season already, so I watched the first season and had only one episode left to conclude the second. I had a horrible feeling that the male protagonist was going to die at the end of the second season. My fear was so great that I did something that, as a mystery fan, completely goes against my principles and my respect for the key dynamic of detective fiction: suspense. I did something I have never done before. It was the equivalent of reading the last page. I went online and found out whether he lives or dies. Only by knowing that the main character doesn't die (though he does have to go into hiding!), could my blood pressure withstand watching the finale episode.
The plot twist the women encounter on Easter morning in Luke shouldn't be a surprise ending. Jesus himself has already served as the Spoiler, as the two men in dazzling clothes point out in Luke 24:6. "Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Jesus offered repeated spoiler alerts in the gospels, but it didn't matter because those listening exercised selective hearing. As soon as he said, ". . . be killed," they zoned out and never heard the "and in three days rise." It's not a spoiler alert if you already know it. But it's possible for trauma to erase all memory of hope.
These women are the same people who wandered with Jesus in Galilee (8:1-3), witnessed his crucifixion (23:49), and barely two days before, followed Joseph of Arimathea to see his tomb and how his body had been placed (23:55). The evidence of their own eyes "spoiled" Jesus' prior predictions of rising on the third day. But now they are invited to remember those prior promises in the face of this present moment in which they both find something (the stone rolled away) and fail to find something (his body). (Kingsbury, 132)
Theologian Brendan Byrne points out that "The angels are inviting the women to put together what they have experienced, the suffering, death and now the empty tomb—with the predictions Jesus had made." (Byrne, 186) We are told that they did make the connection. "Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest" (Lk. 24:9).
Jesus' Resurrection from the dead is the ultimate "Spoiler" for the women who come to the tomb on Easter morning. It overturns the objective of the women's early dawn journey to the tomb. It pokes fun at the provisions they brought with them for the day: spices to anoint his body. It forces them to face the fact that they are on a futile mission—they are looking for the living among the dead.
The women allow the good news to spoil the bad. The disciples refuse to allow this. They consider the good news to be an "idle tale" and do not believe them. Peter runs to the tomb to check out their story, sees the linen clothes lying by themselves but returns home amazed. Says Byrne, "Faith in the resurrection requires a lot more than the discovery of an empty tomb." (186)
Like the women this Easter morning you and I are invited by the angels to put the negative, death dealing, disappointing features of our lives together with Jesus' prior predictions of resurrection. We are challenged by their question: "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" We could flip the question around and it would be just as apt. "Why do you seek death where you have been promised life?"
Easter's news that Christ is Risen! is the greatest spoiler alert of all time. It means that we can move into a future in which we know there will be tragic, traumatic, tedious, and disappointing circumstances. But we know that in all of them, the Risen Christ is present and will prevail, in our individual lives, in the church, and in the world. God, through raising Jesus from the dead, is telling us how it ends.
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed! Knowing that, in the end, life wins, takes the steam out of our suspense and strengthens us to face whatever life may hold.
Brendan Byrne, The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke's Gospel (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2000)
Jack Dean Kingsbury, Conflict in Luke: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples (Minneapolis: MN, Fortress Press, 1991)
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.