“Irony.” The dictionary defines it as the “incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.” Life and literature abound with it. Consider several examples:
*“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winder of despair.” So Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities with its bloody background of the French Revolution. But, ironically, threaded through the depiction of violence and hatred is the story of one man’s sacrificial love for his friends, a love so strong he gave his life for them.
*A Hanoverian countess, known for her disbelief in God and her mockery of the resurrection, issued explicit instructions that after her death, she was to be put in a tomb and the corners were to be fastened to the granite by massive iron clamps. When she died, the instructions were carried out and the inscription she had chosen etched into the granite: “This burial place, purchased to all eternity, must never be opened.”
The countess had been sure that her inviolate tomb would never be opened. However, she didn’t reckon with the root of a small birch tree which made its way beneath the slabs. The tree slowly but surely forced its way through the casket, snapped the iron clamps and pushed open the granite lid. The stone cover with its taunting inscription finally rested against the tree trunk, its words an ironic falsehood.
*An old Hebrew legend tells the story of a man’s journey through a desolate area. He rode his mule and carried his rooster which served as an alarm clock to wake him each dawn for his morning devotions. Near dusk the first night of his journey, he approached a small village and decided to spend the night. But the inhospitable villagers turned him away. The only shelter he could find was in a cave nearby. He made his bed and lit his lamp, but a gust of wind swept into the cave and blew out the light. While he slept, a wolf killed his rooster and a lion devoured his mule.
The next morning he surveyed his losses and began to wonder why he was the object of such misfortune. He walked to the village to try to buy food but, to his amazement, he found no one alive. During the night, bandits had plundered the town and massacred the inhabitants.
The man said to himself: “Now I understand my troubles. If the townspeople had received me, I would have joined them in death. If my rooster and mule had not been killed, their noise and the light from my lamp would have revealed my hiding place. God has been good to me.”
*The day was called “Good Friday”– an irony in itself. The Greeks called it “Great Friday.” But Jesus’ disciples didn’t believe it was good or great as they saw their leader arrested and taken away to be crucified.
Good Friday—against a background of violence and hatred, it was the ultimate sacrificial love story. To look at it then, it was the worst of times. It was the season of Darkness; death had seemingly triumphed. It was the winter of despair; all that was bad had conspired to conquer all that was good. Jesus was dead and the tomb was sealed and guarded to make it inviolate.
Easter—with the dawn came understanding. Suddenly, it was the best of times. It was the season of Light; the sealed, guarded tomb had not been able to hold the Life within. It was the spring of hope.
A great irony. Out of death came life. God has been good to us.