Friday, May 31, 2019

Eucatastrophe and Handling Loss

[Originally published in the Monroe News on Friday, May 31, 2019]

In the last 2 months my dear families at Grace Lutheran have endured several sudden losses. These losses may well have affected many in the Monroe community. They came as surprises to all of us. We have been passing out a lot of hugs and prayers and well wishes to one another for many weeks now holding each other up in the arms of the Lord Jesus.
When things like this pile up one after another in a congregation or a community, or even a family, they can be very overwhelming. They can even be overwhelming for a pastor who is called to minister and bring the presence and the words of God to each situation. How do we lift each other up when we endure one loss after another? How does a pastor hold it all together when he too misses the individuals as much as the rest of the community?

In times like this I am reminded of the word “eucatastrophe”. Quite literally it translates to “good catastrophe”. It is a word used by author J.R.R. Tolkien in a letter written in 1944. I’m pretty sure he made the word up. He uses it to describe the way some stories have a sudden joyous turn in them. Just when it seems like all is lost, that all hope has turned away, the “good catastrophe” is a sudden and unexpected grace.

Tolkien believed the word eucatastrophe was useful for describing the story of our lives. He suggested happy endings and sudden unexpected plot turns were not just for the myths and fairy stories, but that they are a part of our lives too. That our lives have the possibility of a joyous turn, a happy ending, even in the midst of sorrow and loss. I love being able to share these things at bedsides and in hospital rooms when it is hard to know what else to say.

Tolkien once wrote that the eucatastrophe of Man’s history is the “birth of Christ”. Imagine that! The great joyous turn in our great story was God entering this world in human flesh. But he said there’s one more. The eucatastrophe of Christ’s story on earth was the resurrection. He writes about this and says “There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true”. And indeed it is!

I’ve been through many a moment over the last few weeks where I just didn’t know what to say. How do you begin to explain to someone why their loved one is suddenly no longer with us? It makes me think of a line from the Lord of the Rings movies that appears to borrow from Tolkien’s own thoughts of sorrow and joy. It is from character Samwise Gamgee who said “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy?”

We may too be tempted to look at events around us and think, “how could the end be happy?” But that’s the beauty of eucatastrophe, that’s the beauty of the resurrection, the ending is happy, no matter how unlikely we may think it to be. Quite simply, Jesus has risen, and in Him is the promise that so too will our loved ones, so too shall we. A joyous turn of events indeed!

To God be the glory.

Mark Witte is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church. Contact him at

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