By: Kristeen Bruun
In these days of “shelter at home,” I’ve been re-reading (for the tenth or so time) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I thought now would be a good time to take up a book that has the over-arching theme of battling evil. The story includes a long, arduous, and multi-adventured journey, so even though I’m staying at home, I’m also on the road, appreciating the many different characters and cultures whom Tolkien calls forth to engage in the fight.
A secondary theme is that great contributions to the life of the community may be made by seemingly small or even overlooked actions. Great battles sweep through the book, but in the end, the world is saved by two very small people, the hobbits Frodo and Samwise. Who doesn’t identify with this when we not only live in a sometimes overwhelming world but are even more restricted than usual in our actions?
Re-reading a book also gives you more possibilities for exploring the writer’s craft. For the first time I noticed that, at the exact midpoint of the book, Gandalf the wizard returns from what was thought to be his sacrificial death, and announces, “We meet again. At the turn of the tide. The great storm is coming, but the tide has turned.”
But there are still 500 pages to read, many more confrontations with various forms of evil to witness, and a variety of prices to be paid.
You can see how the book also fits well into Lent and Easter.
Here in the “real” world, we are celebrating the Easter season in ways none of us ever expected. “The strife is o’er, the battle won,” we sing, but that hymn always made me smile a bit, even before this year. Yes, Jesus is risen, risen indeed, and with my whole soul, I embrace that reality and rejoice. But there are still 500 pages to go, both inside and outside the book. Possibly another hymn expresses our reality more accurately, “Jesus is risen and we shall (in the future) arise. Give God the glory! Alleluia!”
As I have continued reading my way through the mythic journey during this Easter season, I remember why I didn’t like the second half of the book as well as the first half. Even though the tide has turned, and the author has assured us of ultimate victory, here in these concluding pages, some bitter prices must be paid for the victory. The characters find their lives changed forever in unexpected ways. The bittersweet ending moves me to tears. Gandalf the White, always the voice of wisdom, warned us: “The evil of Sauron cannot be wholly cured, nor made as if it had not been.”
Like the inhabitants of Middle Earth, we live in the midst of a fallen world (as if anyone had to note that at this time!). We celebrated Maundy Thursday without communion, Good Friday without gathering to venerate the cross, and Easter Sunday without our church family brunch.
Yet if we cannot celebrate Easter now under these circumstances, when will we ever be able to celebrate it? I’ve also been reading quite a bit of Dietrich Bonhoeffer these days. If he can celebrate Easter in a Nazi prison, what do I have to complain about?
Here in Texas, the governor is starting to lift certain restrictions. Our congregation will begin to move back together in a limited way in a couple of weeks. But we are beginning to realize that it will take much longer to be able to say that we have put this behind us. In this new reality, we realize that we have an important role to play in our community, where so many are struggling as a result of the pandemic.
Things will be different for a long time, maybe forever, although we can hope eventually to achieve a new normal.
The tide has turned.