Saint Matthew Lutheran Church—Ernestville, Missouri

There is the word catastrophe—which no one needs to have defined for them.

And there is the word eucatastrophe, and perhaps we need some help with that.

JRR Tolkien coined the term in 1944, meaning it as a sort of reversal of catastrophe, to describe the sudden, blessed turn in a story which pierces you with joy and brings you to tears.

He was referring to what he thought of as the highest function of fantasy storytelling when, from out of terror, there comes forth strength and life.

But we have to be taught to see this.

When a terrible, awful thing happens, what do you do?

We’re tempted, certainly, to look away from the terrible thing and to concentrate on the peace that we believe will come later.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression—that is the right thing to do.

The suffering or death of a Christian is not the end.

God is merciful.

You’ll either make it—or see Christ face to face.

It’s the waiting that’s the hardest part.

But it is meet, right, and salutary to look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Of course.

And, mature faith can also recognize eucatastrophe.

What good comes out of the death of a Christian?

Well, we just said, the death of a Christian is not the end. God has promised eternal life to all who believe in Jesus, so we rejoice in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Of course.

But I mean—what good can come out of the death of a friend—right now?

This is a difficult lesson, but—once learned—you become, in a way, immovable. Steadfast. Long-suffering.

Hopeful. And not put to shame.

In Luke chapter thirteen, Jesus uses two catastrophes to teach this point.

First, “There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners that all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (Luke 13:1-3).

What good can come out of the death of a Christian?

Certainly you know someone who closed his eyes, and ears, and heart to God only to be woken up violently by the sudden death or disaster of a close friend.

We don’t pray for people to die.

We don’t ask for bad things to happen to people.

But if, in the midst of catastrophe, the fear of God finds you—you can rejoice in God’s patience with you.

The second example in Luke chapter thirteen makes the same point: “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5).

That section of Luke 13 is no one’s confirmation verse, I’m sure. No one has a bumper sticker with “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Those are catastrophic words—we don’t choose them.

But these are catastrophic times.

The End Times. The Last Days.

And Jesus is coming soon. So perhaps we should.

We might be tempted to look past these days and all the terrible, awful things experience teaches.

We may want to look to the peace that is to come.

That’s right thing to do, but that’s not all there is to do.

We may not want to look at the crucifixion, for example. Or hear the full account of the crucifixion read during church.

Maybe it takes too long.

Or maybe it seems like all bad news.

It may seem silly to use this as a litmus test the way I do, but no one’s confirmation verse comes from the account of the crucifixion, and no one has a bumper sticker that quotes today’s Gospel lesson.

We don’t choose these words or dwell in catastrophe.

My whole point is—perhaps we should dwell for a moment in what we can call eucatastrophe.

“When [Jesus] was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer” (Matthew 27:12).

What good can come out of false accusations and lies?

Here, even Jesus’ silence fulfills the word of God.

Thus says the Lord through the prophet Isaiah: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

God is not a liar. The Word of God is fulfilled.

And if He’s not a liar here, he’s not a liar anywhere. Believe Him when He says He loves you, even when the terrible and awful days are among us.

And “when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning [over Barabbas], he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’ And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified” (Matthew 27:24-26).

What good can come out of such evil?

Consider the reversals at hand.

See this as the eucatastrophe that it is.

It is impossible for us to hear that Pilate uses water to declare himself free of the blood of Christ and not also consider how God uses water to declare us free because of the blood of Christ.

Pilate’s baptism is a political one, but God saves sinners.

And then—what do the Jews say?

“His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25).

Their words are a mocking betrayal of the God who became flesh and purchased us with His own blood.

But what is, for them, sarcasm is, for us, the good and godly refrain of the one true faith:

“His blood be on us and on our children.”

“Abel’s blood for vengeance / Pleaded to the skies; / But the blood of Jesus / For our pardon cries” (LSB 433:4).

“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:51-53).

The curtain tore in two, God rending His own garment at the death of His Son.

What good can come out of such sacrifice?

The wrath of God is appeased.

The debt is paid.

You have standing with God, now and forever, because of the sacrifice made on your behalf.

The scales are tipped forever in your favor, because God did not withhold His Son, His only Son, from you.

And the dead are raised because death no longer has dominion.

“When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:54).

For all time let the example and confession of the centurion remain with us.

The curtain tore in two, and the earth shook.

The rocks were split, and the tombs opened.

Terror and catastrophe were all around, but he abandoned not his post—or the Lord Jesus.

Rather, he saw and confessed the eucatastrophe of it all:

“Truly this was the Son of God!”

May each one of us do the same every day this week and whenever our turn comes.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Palm Sunday, 2021
Matthew 27:11-54
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

“The Donkey” by G.K. Chesterton is a wonderful little poem and yet another example for the Christian of how “the Lord sees not as man sees” (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts (cf. Isaiah 55:8).

But “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (John 12:15).

Donkeys are wonkey, so I’ve read, and ugly.

There is, in American slang, the phrase “donkey ugly” which describes something that is so ugly it could only have been produced by an already ugly donkey.

No one wants to look, sound, act, think, or be like a donkey. 

No loving husband says that his wife reminds him of a donkey.

No loving wife says that her husband’s voice is as soothing and as sweet as the Hee-Haw of a donkey.

They’re ugly.

And yet—one far fierce hour and sweet…

There was a shout about his ears.

And palms before his feet.

The Lord of glory chose to ride upon that which is most ugly as He made His way into Jerusalem.

Briefly, let’s wonder at the seeming contradictions of God: The Eternal God is born in time. Holy, He endures shame, conviction, cross, and death. Lord of all, He serves all. Glorious, He rides upon that which is ugly.

These things don’t make sense to us.

None of what is going on makes sense to us. “This is serious—save lives and stay home.” Or, “This is serious, but if I can go to Costco, I can go to church.”

Fear not, daughter of Zion—all is as it should be.

You don’t understand it all, because you’re not God.

You would never choose a donkey.

You would never choose to endure shame or cross or death. You would never submit.

So God gives you a cross to bear.

You can ignore it and make matters worse.

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). But you can let your worries crush you if you give up hope.

Why are there crosses? Sicknesses? Trials? And tests?

Why are there days like these?

We would never choose this.

Fear not, daughter of Zion—that is as it should be.

You’re not God. He chose a donkey.

The burden of the sin of the world is carried by our Savior. The donkey literally bears the burden of Christ.

The burden of our sin is carried by Jesus to cross and death and grave. There, sin stays dead, but Jesus lives. The Christian bears the burden of Christ—that is, we bear the burden of His name and His Word. The burden of the world’s scorn and the ire of the evil one.

Fear not. This is as it must be.

Never give up. Here is your hope!

There is a shout about your ears and palms before your feet: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (John 12:13).

Through cross and death, He rides to resurrection victory.

And we follow.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Palm Sunday, 2020
Matthew 21:1-9
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt