“We reach the brink of the Fire, and the whole plan fails.”
So wrote Tolkien on the end of all things. The movements of the entire Council of Elrond, the aid given by Elves and Men, the sacrifices made by king and wizard and hobbit alike, were predicted on a very simple assumption: that should the Ring-bearer reach Mount Doom, then the Ring could be cast into the fiery crevice. And yet, in the end, Frodo fails: he tragically falls to the last temptation of the Ring, and in the heart of Sauron’s stronghold he claims it for his own. At that moment, all is lost: just as on this Good Friday when God is broken upon the Cross, it seems like everything we had longed for and worked towards has come to naught.
And yet, despite such a failure, the Ring finds its way into the fissure of destruction. Not by strength or wisdom, but instead by the choice of Gollum and the chance of a misplaced foot is all of Middle earth saved. Providence writes straight with crooked lines: when all seems entirely lost does occur indeed the finest hour of all. The pride and division of evil ensures its own downfall: the very strength of the Ring itself – temptation and control – is the final folly that delivers it over the edge.
Is Frodo the hero of this story? Does Frodo succeed in his quest? In the view of the world, Frodo has failed to complete the task as he foresaw it: at the end of all things, he had not the strength to resist. We should not be surprised – time and time again throughout the Quest have we uncovered hints and glimpses of the growing corruption of Frodo’s spirit. On many occasions it was only the bonds of friendship and love of Sam that kept them on the path. And yet, Frodo has brought the Ring so far and through such trials, resisted its allure in so many contexts, and shown the mercy that was ultimately necessary to cast down Sauron’s reign. In the end, the decision of Frodo – and at the last moment Sam – to spare Sméagol time and time again was the most important choice of all.
And so, when nothing is left, what are we left with? What endures the end of all things? Choice. Chance. Sacrifice. Friendship. Love. Mercy. On this Good Friday, as we solemnly behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Savior of the world, we remember such things. For in the greatest of losses – the most devastating of moments – when all seems in vain, even then can the Quest be achieved in the most remarkable of ways. On this day, as we take down the body of the Lord from the Cross, we might for a moment gaze upon his face, and what shall we see but a countenance of peace and of love for us. And then we shall be glad to be here with Him, even at the end of all things.