Words, catch phrases, and other strings of words, in the right context, can tell entire stories. In the United States, say the words “Oh say can you see….” and a whole story of this country’s struggle for freedom from European powers comes to mind. Such are the power of words and stories. If the title of this post made sense to you, then you are clearly a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – and especially of the movies Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Not to worry, I won’t attempt to explain the MCU, all its characters, and the many threads and storylines. But if you are interested in an overview, start here and then “click” your way to more than you ever wanted to know…but don’t blame me for going down that rabbit hole (an expression brought to us by Lewis Carroll who introduced the term in 1865 in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland).
Here’s the long story told short: the quintessential villain in the two movies is Thanos. He is an alien warlord who seeks to collect the six Infinity Stones and use them to bring “balance” to the universe by eliminating half of all living beings in order to stabilize its overpopulation (the plot of Avengers: Infinity War in a nutshell). He believes that there is a Darwinian inevitability that will cause unimaginable suffering because worlds will not take the necessary steps to control populations. So, Thanos collects the stones giving him unlimited power and with a snap of the fingers (literally), he eliminates half of all people in the universe. His one-liner is “I am inevitable.”
Another long story told short: the plot of Avengers: Endgame is to somehow restore all that was lost. This is achieved by The Avengers and every other hero in the MCU. At the end of the movie, Ironman controls the infinity stones. He knows that his use of the stones will cost his life. He utters his famous one-liner: “I am Ironman,” snaps his finger and all is restored.
In one of the scenes from Endgame a debate takes places about whether time should be reset or not; to go back to the way things were or remain on the course of history post-Thanos. The post-snap world is less polluted, nature balances itself, the atmosphere stabilizes, whales are seen in the lower Hudson River and more. Amid the grief of unspeakable loss of life and love, creation is renewed. Clearly, the debate ended in favor of reversing time.
But I wonder. Did anyone learn anything from their experience? After the “reset” and the joyous reunion of lost love celebrated, there remains the same issues and problems it had prior to the catastrophe. So, did war, famine, pollution, poverty, inequalities, racism, failed government all make a return? What difference did any of this make in the long run?
…and where am I going with this thought. One of our possible “Thanos” has a different name: coronavirus. Because of stay-at-homes orders the air is cleaner, rivers world-wide showed vast improvement in water quality, and there have been reports of a jellyfish or two in the Venetian canals. In the 12 months of our response to the pandemic, many have died, and some would argue nature is balancing itself. We’ve no Avengers to restore life and love, but the nagging questions remains: did we learn anything from the experience? Did we learn as individuals, families, communities or larger collections of humanity? Did the Church learn anything?
There will be no “snap” that restores but will we go back to the way things were? I muse about Church in the post-covid world when we will gather unfettered by concerns about infection. Will the year just past change our celebration and reception of Eucharist – that “source and summit” of Christian life?
I am writing this on the doorstep of Holy Week 2021. “Thanos” has always been with us in the unbridled pride and arrogance that we can create a better world, that we can collect enough power to make things that way we want. Into this universe comes our Avenger. The One who is like us in all things but sin. The One who asks us to not go back to the way things have always been, but to move forward to the kingdom of God, not to restore Eden, but to build the New Jerusalem.
Our Avenger invites us to follow him into the Heart of Holy Week when, through his death and resurrection, through His Endgame, He will restore us to the possibility of eternal life. As St. Paul writes in Romans, don’t we know that we who are baptized into his death, just as He is raised, so too we are raised to the newness of life. What difference will this holy Endgame make in your life? In the life of the Church – and so much more. This Holy Week, what will we learn?
There is only one thing truly inevitable.