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Sequels are tough territory to contemplate. Most usually, a sequel to a story is created not by warrant of the story itself, but only by the clamoring of fans and the drooling of accountants who see a surefire windfall in the future. “Caddyshack,” “Grease,” “The Blair Witch Project” and a whole slew of other stories never needed the number 2 following the title because the story was perfect in and of itself! Even among stories that demand more of the tale to be told, for every “Godfather II” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” there are a thousand inferior sequels to the first. And even when the audience is blessed with something like “Empire,” eventually the obligatory further sequels degrade to the point of Ewoks and Jar-Jar down the road.
But then there are those rare moments when the sequel is not only appropriate, is actually asked for, nay demanded, but its necessity is baked right into the process. You could point to any number of epic tales that traverse from volume to volume to tell the whole tale like the stories of Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins, but I dare say we have never felt pressure like we feel during this coming week before.
It is ironically the same desire, and the same demanded outcome, but from two different storylines: ironically both very high on a good bit of the public’s minds this week. I’ll talk about the second one first, as it flows most easily from what I’ve set up so far.
You see, at the end of this week, the 22nd Marvel movie comes out. But it’s not just another in what seems like an endless series. It’s the capper. It is the culmination of what has been being built one MacGuffin at a time into a mystery of real meaning. It is the final fate for characters who have lived and breathed on screen for the better part of a decade.
Last year at this time, “Avengers: Infinity War” ended with one half of the population of the universe simply disappearing into ashes and dust. And this coming Thursday, everyone will be able to witness in “Avengers: Endgame” what the fans have been clamoring after for a whole year — one word: Resurrection!
Trust me, it’s not some kind of wish or heartfelt fantasy that viewers are simply hoping for. It is the absolute certainty that “Infinity War” was not the end of the story and that the story itself demands a sequel. And that sequel has as a main component, resurrection. Oh, sure, some will want the bad guy to see justice; most will be curious as to how it might occur (time travel, quantum fields, the time stone, the soul stone — or some combination of all); but everyone wants to see their hero resurrected. And of course some resurrections are assured because of movie sequels that Marvel already has in the works: like “Spider-Man,” “Black Panther” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Which then also begs the question as to whether this “Endgame” is actually the end of a 22-movie story or the new beginning of another era — of yet a new story beyond what we’ve seen before!
Of course, the first story of this week that demands a sequel is not fresh off the presses like that one. In fact, it’s one that is 2,000 years old. And it has been played out 2,000 times hence.
I talked about this drama (or comedy, depending on your perspective) in last week’s column. We started living it out this past Thursday called Maundy, and yesterday’s Friday called Good. And the story sits in the place today (Saturday) where we are stuck between the time when our hero Jesus has been betrayed, tried and crucified, and laid dead in a tomb.
He’s just dead and gone. And we are breathless, waiting.
We are sure that Jesus is God. And we know what has to happen. This cannot be the end of the story. It is not some kind of heartfelt fantasy. We are not just really hopeful something good might happen. We expect something more. Something that will be beyond the ashes and dust that the world might anticipate from a dead body. We anticipate, nay demand, one word: Resurrection.
And on Easter morning, Jesus does not disappoint! He is the first hero to actually conquer death. And because of his resurrection, we too are promised our own, and one for those whom we have held so tenderly in our arms as their last breath left them — when all we had left were seemingly ashes and dust and memories.
But a life such as this that we experience demands a sequel. A love such as you feel that lasts beyond that final breath cries out for something beyond. That story in your heart, mind and soul — the one ingrained in your faith that moves you each day — that story must continue on with that same word: Resurrection!
Tomorrow, churches all over the world will celebrate this greatest of sequels with sunrise services and Easter festivals (my services are at 7 and 11 in the morning) with the simplest of pronouncements to start the day: “He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!”
It is a call and response from ancient times that not only retells Jesus’ victory over our greatest fear, but which reminds us that our hope and Jesus’ promise to us is also wrapped up in that same victory, when we find that this life is not just one and done, but followed by our own sequel of life eternal in the Kingdom!
And on the opening day of that sequel, we might just find that the answer to our question, like the meaning of our lives, is more complicated than we might imagine. Is that sequel the endgame to what came before? Is it a new beginning for a storyline we cannot even conceive? Or is it somehow both and neither at the same time?
For as I sometimes point out on Ash Wednesday when we speak the true words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”— there is a truth that puts it all in perspective. For all the atoms and molecules that make up everything in the universe, even us, were at one time stars. So remember that you are stardust, and when stardust returns, can heaven be far away?
Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 27 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” appears weekly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.