What's Tony Thinking

Ted Lasso Helps Us Get Easter


I’ve recently noted the difference between our normal Easter expectations — JOY!, HE IS RISEN! ALLELUIA! — and the way the disciples responded to the resurrected Jesus — FEAR! CONFUSION! DISBELIEF! TERROR!

Richard Beck at “Experimental Theology” helps us to understand the disciples initial reaction. And so does Ted Lasso, the comedy hit on Apple TV now its third season.

Beck tells us that, in the way of the world, the disciples who had betrayed, denied and deserted Jesus expected he would, now risen, exact revenge on those who had betrayed him. Here’s Beck:

There is fear on Easter because according to the moral calculus of our world–“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”–the lives of the perpetrators and those who were complicit in the death of Jesus now hang in the balance. Vengeance is the order of the day. Having crucified, abandoned or betrayed Jesus there is fear of retribution. The blood of Jesus, having soaked deep into the soil of Jerusalem, is crying out . . .

Easter is not Good News for the guilty (i.e. in the retribution world view). It is not Good News to find out that your victim is alive. We know what’s coming. We’ve seen the Hollywood movies, where the victim comes back from the dead to seek revenge. So, if Jesus is alive, if the victim has come back, we had better hide in fear. Judgment day is coming.

That is how we expect the story to go. As did, it seems, those who first encountered or heard about the resurrection. And we can understand why they jumped to this conclusion. Every story we know works this way. The victim comes back, kills the bad guys, and the moral calculus of the Cosmos is balanced again. This is the Hollywood Ending. And we thrill to the violence of the victim. This is justified violence. So we cheer for it . . .

And yet, in a way we cannot comprehend, which is why we call it grace, this story ends up going in a very different, unprecedented direction. The blood of Jesus doesn’t cry out for vengeance. The blood of Jesus is different from the blood of Abel, the archetype of all victims . . .

In the words of Hebrews 12, the blood of Jesus “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

In Episode 4 of Season 3 of “Ted Lasso,” there is such a moment of reckoning when, as is true of the show generally and the character of Ted in particular, a surprising grace prevails.

At half-time of the big game with West Ham, Ted’s Richmond team is down 2 – 0. As the team and coaches head into the locker room at halftime, Ted is called away by team owner, Rebecca. He tells Coaches Beard and Roy to cover for him and address the team in his absence.

Beard and Roy decide to show the despondent Richmond team a purloined video that outs West Ham’s coach, a former Richmond coach Nathan Shelley, up to some vey bad-acting in the deserted Richmond locker room. Nathan, on the sly, sneaks in and tears the iconic “Believe” sign in two. The coaches, Ted included, had already seen the damning video. Ted had no interest in using it as a motivational device for his Richmond squad, but Beard and Roy have another idea.

So after seeing the video at halftime, courtesy of Roy and Beard, the Richmond team is on fire, ready to exact revenge. But they make a mess of it. Rather than playing well with renewed intensity, they simply play rough and angry and draw a bunch of yellow and red card ejections, losing 4 – 1.

Afterward, Ted comes upon Beard and Roy who wait — like school boys in big trouble — expecting Ted’s righteous and well-deserved wrath and condemnation for having screwed up, betraying him in the process. Ted looks at them with his usual sad but bemused smile. He honestly isn’t mad. He’s says, “It’s okay. It’s a long season. Plenty of games to come. Go home, get some rest.”

They are, as the Brit’s say, gobsmacked. Expecting judgment and retribution, at least verbally, Beard and Roy stagger away stunned — which is another of the responses of the disciples to the resurrection.

So we see, grace in action. Expecting the usual “moral calculus of the world,” “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” (Donald Trump has called that his “favorite” bible verse), they receive — instead — mercy.

So we too, implicated in the crucifixion, knowing our own failures and betrayals, as well as the times we have been judged and chewed out, get it. What we don’t get, but which we desperately need and get in Jesus, is grace. Grace which reverses and undoes “the moral calculus of the world,” and initiates a new creation. “C’mon, I have breakfast ready,” says the risen Jesus to the stunned disciples on the beach.

Of course, this assumes that we do understand ourselves as implicated in the crucifixion. Do we? Today, there’s a tendency in progressive churches to think of Jesus as a victim of someone else, “the Empire.” If we identify with the disciples it is to think of ourselves more as those who are on Jesus’ side but who are helpless to make a difference in the outcome. To get Easter, we need to know with Roy and Beard our own failure and betrayal, our own need for mercy. But maybe that too, knowing our need of grace, is also a work of grace.

A blessed and stunned Eastertide to you!



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