A few years ago the Telegraph newspaper ran a story about ‘The greatest love stories ever told’. “If there’s one thing we all enjoy, it’s a decent love story,” the article began, and I would imagine that most of us would agree with that sentiment.
The choice of love stories is not too surprising. Drawing from time-honoured works of literature the list include Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Wuthering Heights and Pride and prejudice. The top love story was William Shakespeare’s Romoe and Juliet, which might seem rather predictable but nonetheless is a story that has stood the test of time.
What is perhaps surprising is how many of those stories – all of them in some ways – are tragic stories as well as love stories. The tale of Romeo and Juliet is a classic example: star-crossed lovers, doomed from the beginning, yet continuing in their ill-fated romance. Again and again in literature and fiction love and tragedy seem to go hand in hand.
It might seem that way with Easter as well. Christians declare Easter to be a story of God’s love for us. Yet it includes Good Friday which appears to be the ultimate tragedy: Jesus, who lived a life of such love and goodness, nailed to a cross and killed as a common criminal. If there ever was a story of love and tragedy, surely this is it?
Easter is certainly a story of love, but it is not the story of tragedy that it might first appear to be. Jesus himself explained the meaning of Good Friday in this way:
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Easter is the story of Jesus laying down his life for his friends – that is, you and me. The idea of self-sacrifice lies at the heart of true love and the best love stories, and it lies at the heart of Easter too. Jesus’ death on the cross is not a tragedy but a sacrifice; not a mistake but the very act of love by a God who calls us his friends.
Easter is a story of love and not tragedy because it does not end at Good Friday. Romeo and Juliet might be a classic story but it is a tragic one because it ends (spoiler alert!) with the demise of our star-crossed lovers. Love is defeated by death in Shakespeare’s story.
But the story of Easter tells a powerfully different truth: that death has been defeated by love. Jesus did not stay in the grave but rose to new life on Easter Sunday. The love story does not end in tragedy but continues in resurrection life. Easter is wonderfully good news because it tells of a love story that never ends, a love story that you and I are invited to be part of and participate in. Will you enter into that greatest love story this Easter?