Star Trek fans can be divided by their favorite captain. A lot of fans have strong opinions why Picard is the best captain to helm the enterprise, or why the underrated Janeway is really the best captain. Honestly, I have a hard time choosing a favorite a captain. However, if I had to choose one, I would give the edge to Captain Kirk for the original series for one specific reason. He did not believe in an unwinnable scenario. One of the famous tidbits from Star Trek lore is that Captain Kirk is the only person whoever beat the Kobayashi Maru. This was a test that featured an “unwinnable scenario”. It was meant to teach captains to face defeat. However, Kirk believed that everything was winnable and he found a way to win. He cheated and reprogrammed the scenario to make it easier. Facing certain defeat and finding a way out of an unwinnable scenario became a prominent theme in many iterations of Star Trek after the Kobayashi Maru was first introduced in the Wrath of Khan movie.
In the liturgical life of the church Holy week goes through last week of Jesus life. It starts with the triumphant entry on Palm Sunday, continues with the tension of the last Supper on Maundy Thursday, and reaches tragedy on Good Friday. During Holy Week the faithful remember the time when Jesus faced his own version of Kobayashi Maru. Starting with his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus faced his own unwinnable scenario, and by all accounts after six hours of hanging on a cross on Friday it looked like he lost. Despite the events of Good Friday, Jesus was fully confident that this was going down as a “W”, and as the scripture reminds he even told his disciples this when they were still in Galilee. Jesus must not have believed in no-win scenarios either, because like Captain Kirk he cheated. Jesus broke the rules. He destroyed the system of sin and death. He made all things new, and found a way around the unwinnable scenario. On Easter we celebrate that not only Jesus come back for the win but he made it possible for us to find victory in our own unwinnable scenario.
On that morning of the first Easter, disciples had felt they had lost. In one week they had went from feeling like they were on the verge of winning when Jesus made the triumphal entry to now being fully defeated. When Jesus was arrested they had fought but Jesus said to put away the swords. Perhaps, when Pilate offered to release Jesus or Barabbas they thought that surely this would be the turning point that freed Jesus. Perhaps, John, who followed Jesus to Golgotha, thought that maybe Jesus truly would pull a buzzer beater miracle out of his pocket and save himself from the cross. None of that happened though. From the disciples prospective Jesus had lost. They had lost. They were in an unwinnable scenario, and there was no way out. Looking over the reactions of the disciples to the crucifixion in the bible, there are some words and phrases that just pop out: “wondering”, “there was confusion”, “they were afraid”, and “did not believe.” Even when the disciples were confronted with the reality that Jesus had risen, they could not let go of the reality of losing. I really like how honestly the gospel of Luke puts it. When the women who first saw the empty tomb come and tell the others Luke records that, “they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”
Even though the disciples could not believe it at first, Jesus beat the unwinnable scenario by changing the rules. He died, but he did not stay that way. As the famous Easter hymn starts “Up From the Grave he Arose.” However, Jesus was not risen as some sort of undead. He was not reincarnated; he was resurrected. He was fully alive, as he was before he died. He had a staring contest with death, and death blinked first. The rule of reality is that dead is dead, but Jesus changed the rules. He created a new option. In the letter to the Corinthians Paul put it this way, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where o death is your victory? Where O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin in the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jesus won the victory. He beat the unwinnable scenario by refusing to stay dead. The reason why we celebrate Easter is because Jesus did this for us. Jesus did not go for the win, for his own benefit but he did it for us. Jesus took on the impossible. He faced an unwinnable scenario so that we too might experience victory.
We all face our own Kobayashi Maru, our own unwinnable scenario. We were each created by a loving God. We were intentionally created in the image of God to be in relationship with God. Yet, we collectively and individually have rebelled against God. We have sought to put ourselves first in everything, we have allowed pride, selfishness, and greed to be controlling influences in our lives. We have, for lack of a better word, sinned. We have done wrong. We have transgressed, we are all guilty of many inequities. The bible summarizes our state in Romans, “All have fallen short of the glory of God.” Our sins fractured and broke our relationship with God, and like all wrongdoings our sins justly deserved consequences. Romans also summarizes this by stating “the wages of sin is death.”
God tried to fix this relationship. He chose a people, and gave them the law, a list of rules to follow to keep people from sinning and doing wrong. He also instituted a system of sacrifice, so that the sacrifices would be a substitute and they would take the punishment that was deserved for sin. However, this system did not work. The chosen people ignored the law and they neglected the sacrifices. Even when they did not do this, the system still did not work. The chosen people might have followed the letter of the law but they missed the heart of the law. They technically followed rules but they still followed their own selfish desires instead of following God. They took the sacrifice system and turned it into a way for the rich to make money at the expense of the poor.
We, humanity, were in an unwinnable situation. We were created to be in relationship with God, but we were cut off from God because of our own sinful decisions. Worse we seemed to be incapable of overcoming our pride, our selfishness, and our greed. On our own our best intentions fell short. We could not overcome our sin and we could not reconcile ourselves to God. God fixed this relationship once and for all. He sent his son, part of his very self, to be our Savior. Jesus showed us a better way to live. Jesus fulfilled the old law by following its heart of loving God and loving other. Then, even though Jesus was the only person who had not sinned, even though he was the only person innocent, and the only person who did deserve to suffer consequences for misdeeds he was punished. Jesus died for the sins of the world. He was our sacrifice, he took the punishment we deserve and in doing so he gave us a way to win the unwinnable scenario. When we confess our sins and believe that our sins were crucified with Christ, then they are gone. Wiped clean. Forever forgiven. We are reconciled with our Creator once more, in relationship with the God who created us and never stopped loving us. This is grace. This is the gospel. This is why we celebrate Easter.