Resurrection: flash-forward (Part One)

In our Easter-week series, we look at a rather unusual and often overlooked Good Friday event.

One of my favourite TV shows is NCIS. If you haven’t seen it before, that stands for ‘Naval Criminal Investigation… Somethingorother.’ Clearly that’s not important for enjoying the show. But the reason I mention it this Easter week is one of it’s characteristic film-making techniques. As you come out of every ad break, the first thing you see is a one-second scene in black-and-white. It’s a very brief, flash-forward to the final scene before the next ad break. It gives you a little taste of where the next eight minutes or so of action is heading. So that when you get to that scene, your brain goes – oh, so that’s what that little snapshot was all about. (The producers call it the “foof,” named after the sound that accompanies it, made by the producer hitting a microphone with his hand.)

Now this technique on NCIS is pretty subtle. It took me half a season to realise that’s what was happening. But if you pay attention, you’ll see that our entire media culture is filled with flash-forwards. And often far more obvious ones.

Who hasn’t been up a little too late at night, just about to work up the energy to turn the TV off and go to bed, and you hear: ‘Don’t go away! Coming up after the break on world’s wildest celebrity cellulite caught on camera…’ And they show a few seconds of grainy security camera footage of something vaguely interesting. So you sit through some more ads before discovering that they only had a few seconds of vaguely interesting footage, which they’ll now play five times, in slow motion, with voiceovers by an incredulous American. If only they hadn’t shown me the flash-forward, I’d be asleep by now!

In the last few years in particular, there’s been an epidemic. All the ‘sneak peeks’ and cross promotions. A taste of what’s to come on your favourite shows, that keeps you watching, despite all the ads, the random repeat episodes, and the timeslot changes without warning. A flash-forward of the great stuff to come, so that you have something to hold onto in the present.

Except TV didn’t invent the flash-forward. The technique is at least as old as the Bible. In fact, in Matthew’s account of the death of Jesus, we’re given a little flash-forward. Not an obvious, ‘coming up after the break on world’s wildest resurrections…’ It’s a more subtle, NCIS-style “foof”. A glimpse of how the next part in the story is going to play out. It’s only a few verses long:

27:50-54 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs[, and] after Jesus’ resurrection [and] they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

Now remember, this happens at the death of Jesus. On Good Friday. The miraculous resurrection of Easter Sunday is still a couple of days away. And yet at the moment of Jesus’ death, we get some spectacular events. The temple curtain is torn. An earthquake happens, it breaks open tombs and dead people come back to life! Sure, they only head on into Jerusalem on Sunday, but they are resurrected on Good Friday! And it’s all spectacular enough that some of those looking on are frightened out of their wits, and realise that Jesus was no mere mortal. That he is indeed the Son of God.

What’s going on here? Isn’t this a bit premature? Jesus has only died – he hasn’t been resurrected yet. There’s still a burial to come. A whole day of silence, as the Sabbath is observed. And then he rises from the dead. Isn’t the story a bit out of order?

Well, yes it is. But that’s precisely the point. What we’re getting here is a little flash-forward. A hint of what’s to come. A sneak peek at a few scenes from Easter Sunday. Some hope that this isn’t where the story ends.

In fact, these sneak peeks are enormously significant. They give us three signs that point to the future. Three great truths of what Jesus’ resurrection has in store for us, which is what we’re going to look at throughout this Easter week.

To think about

What do you think these events tell us about the new era that Jesus was about to usher in over the Easter weekend?

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