The remarkable physical comebacks of golfer Tiger Woods and footballer Christian Eriksen testify to the power of the resurrection story to engage people’s imagination and bring hope in dark places, says Rev Peter Crumpler
As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Easter, resurrection has been making headlines in unexpected places.
Newspaper pages, websites and apps have been buzzing with the idea of the ‘big comeback’ with sporting figures like golfer Tiger Woods and soccer’s Christian Eriksen returning to top performances after facing major physical setbacks.
Woods came back from a horrific car crash last February to compete in this weekend’s US Masters, with commentators describing his “fairy tale” return to a major tournament.
Danish footballer Christian Eriksen returned to playing for his nation and Premier League side, Brentford, just nine months after he suffered a near-fatal cardiac arrest during the opening game of the Euro 2020 championships last June. Shocked football fans around the world watched as he received urgent medical attention. Many prayed. Eriksen – now fitted with a defibrillator to restart his heart if it stops working again – later told interviewers he was “gone from this world for five minutes.”
These resurrection narratives point towards a vision of hope amidst the darkness
Scanning the sports websites for reports of his comeback, one word stands out: resurrection. One journalist described his return as “the resurrection which has stunned the world of football.” Fans talked about “the player who came back from the dead.”
Neither Woods or Eriksen have publically intimated a personal faith of their own. And Woods' fall from grace a decade ago, as his marriage collapsed amid allegations of multiple affairs, has still not been forgotten, or forgiven, by many. Nonetheless, their stories of resurrection play to a powerful cultural narrative. Andre Radmall, a Church of England minister and psychotherapist, explains that: “both the Tiger Woods and Christian Eriksen stories have had a major impact on many people. Their resurrection, ‘phoenix from the ashes’ narratives are baked into our cultural landscape.”
Radmall, an experienced leadership coach and counsellor, asserts: “These stories are like ripples in a pond. They bring hope and possibility to the most hopeless of situations. The cosmic epicentre of these ripples is the death and resurrection of Christ, but they can be experienced everywhere.
“Woods and Eriksen are living proof that the imaginative leap of resurrection, as a leap across the boundary of normal limitations, can actually happen.”
Personal resurrection is something many people are eagerly seeking after, even if they can’t articulate it
As Christians, we know that these sportsmen’s physical triumphs are but pale shadows of the true resurrection story. Christ’s victory on the cross went far beyond his being raised to life from death, to being raised to a glorious new life, with Christ now seated at God’s right hand.
But what Radmall describes as “an imaginative leap” is perhaps the key to understanding the way global audiences have responded to Woods’ and Eriksen’s startling comebacks.
Hope in the darkness
With horrific images and stories emerging from Ukraine, the cost of living soaring globally and the impact of Covid still being felt, these resurrection narratives point towards a vision of hope amid the darkness.
It’s a hope that’s central to the gospel message that Christians proclaim – a new beginning, hitting the reset button with freedom from guilt and shame as we put our faith in Christ. This personal resurrection may be something that many people are eagerly seeking after, even if they can’t articulate their yearning.
The power of the resurrection account, in all its depth and richness, inspired artists for centuries. Yet, as faithful believers, we sometimes underestimate its impact. It may, perhaps, be hidden in plain sight.
In many traditional church services, the congregation joins in the Apostles’ Creed, declaring that Jesus “was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Sometimes, this is said as more of a ritual than a powerful declaration.
Taken for granted
Disappointingly, a 2017 BBC survey showed that a quarter of British people who described themselves as Christians did not believe in Jesus’s resurrection. Yet as Paul makes clear in his powerful letter to the Corinthians: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:17).
Resurrection plays a key part in Jesus’s ministry. In the Gospels, Jesus brings three people back to life: Lazarus (John 11:17-44), the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17) and Jairus’s daughter (Luke 8:40-56). In Acts 9, in a story that tends to get less attention, Peter brings Tabitha back from the dead.
We live in a society and a culture that places high value on resurrection in its broadest sense. The remarkable stories of Woods and Eriksen testify to its power to engage people’s imagination and bring hope in dark places.
As Christians, we need to be ready to respond to our culture’s hunger for good news stories of new life and hope – many of them to be found in our churches. These are lessons for us to learn as we celebrate the resurrection of Christ this Easter, and each time we share in the family meal of bread and wine.