April 1, 2018: Easter: Child’s Play by Rev. Beth Hayward (John 20: 1-20)

Preacher’s kids grow up with a slightly different experience of life’s milestones than their peers.[1] Instead of weddings being much anticipated rare events; they’re the things that call parents away on sunny Saturday afternoons that might otherwise be spent on epic bike rides or playing catch in the park. And death, well that’s as ordinary as a trip to the dentist. Preachers’ kids know that hospital visits to the dying can trump choir concerts, softball games and family dinners. Preachers’ kids know that bodies need to be dealt with one way or another, it’s just part of everyday life.

So it was no surprise to my preacher husband and I, several years back, to find our girls deeply engaged in play with their Playmobil church. We thought at first that they were enacting a Sunday morning service, or maybe a wedding but when we asked about the velvet eyeglass case around which the crowd of figurines were gathered the girls eagerly opened it up to reveal a lifeless plastic body inside. It was a funeral. You could almost call it a resurrection – death was bringing those kids life.

It was around the same time that my beloved uncle died. At the wake, cold body in the casket the girls ages three and five flitted about the funeral home. They moved with ease between play with Barbies and teddy bears and stepping up to the casket, peering in, asking with genuine seriousness if it was okay to look and even touch. It was remarkable to me at the time to observe the ease with which the children held both the solemnity of the occasion and the playfulness we expect of little ones. There was play and there was death and as far as they were concerned both lived very comfortably in the same room.

It reminds me of that story about the big sister who wanted time alone with the new baby in the house and as the parents listened in they overheard big sister asking baby earnestly: Tell me what heaven is like, I’m starting to forget.[2]

Mary at the tomb that morning, she’d forgotten, and who can blame her. She’d forgotten everything except death and loss and heartache. She was a puddle of tears; not only was her saviour dead, not his body had been stolen, could a heart possibly bear any more break? She’d forgotten how just days before she had been with Jesus thumbing their noses at death. Raising Lazarus from the tomb, take that death; feeding 5000 with a meager offering of bread and fish, take that scarcity; witnessing Jesus talking to a Samaritan women in broad daylight, take that patriarchy; healing the man who’d been waiting for 38 years for someone to come along and lift him into the pool of healing waters, take that self interest. Thumbing their noses at every last death dealing assumption of their day. When Jesus was with them it was easy to remember the wonder of a child’s mind, easy to remember that the learned prejudices and injustices and anything other than love are lies to be met face on.

It wasn’t until Jesus spoke her name at the tomb that morning that she remembered, and when she did she went running! She went running to tell the others to remember their childhood, to remember the wonder, to remember the possibilities, to use their imaginations once again!

A colleague confessed this week that it’s so much harder to do Easter than Good Friday. Tragedies are easier to stage than dramas. Easter is hard to pull off without leaning toward kitschy and overstated. It can look like child’s play, naive and unbelievable.

Resurrection is far more difficult for us grown ups than death, harder to believe, to comprehend to embrace. I wonder if it’s precisely because we think it needs to be so special? We want to superimpose the choir of heavenly hosts from Christmas to assure ourselves that it really was something significant. I mean death cuts so close that there’s no mistaking its transformative power but resurrection – it seems so distant, so fleeting, we can’t quite catch it, it’s easier to dismiss it.

I wonder too it we think that resurrection needs to spark our imagination, when if fact it mostly needs to hold some authority? Our imaginations are there, have been from the beginning, they just need a little unearthing, just a whisper from a risen one can easily call us like Mary back to imagination. The bigger question is one of authority and whether we allow Easter to really take hold of our hearts? Is our ability to hold both the pain and joy of life simply to feed our imagination or is to lay claim to us in a way that keeps us running to tell the others.

I don’t normally quote Popes, in fact this week I’ll avoid quoting beloved Pope Frances and his unwillingness to step up to his church’s role in past atrocities performed in its name. But I was surprised to find a word of wisdom in the writings of another Pope: Benedict. He reminds us that resurrection is not resuscitation, not merely coming back to life. In fact he says if Jesus’ Resurrection was simply the miracle of a resuscitated corpse, it would ultimately be of no concern to us.[3]

He says that resurrection “represents a new dimension of reality breaking through into human experience. It’s not a violation of the old; it is the manifestation of something new.”[4]  With a scientific worldview that recognizes evolution is never over, it’s within the realm of possibility that resurrection happened, something new under the sun, some new if rare moment in evolution. The Resurrection accounts, says Benedict, speak of something new, something unprecedented — a new dimension of reality revealed. What already exists isn’t called into question but there’s a further dimension, beyond what was previously known. “Does that contradict science?” he asks rhetorically, “Can there really only ever be what there has always been?[5]

The question isn’t really whether you can imagine that resurrection happens. The question is whether such a claim has any authority in your life. It’s been suggested that the difference between believers and non believers is a question of imagination – that believers simply have more imagination to imagine resurrection. Psychologist Matt Rosanno says that it comes down to a question of authority.

“At what point does one allow imaginative possibilities to have authority over how one lives? To the believer, Resurrection has an authority that science fiction does not. Resurrection is not thought-provoking entertainment. It requires far more than just imagining greater possibilities for the universe. It requires a change of life, here and now”[6]

Resurrection has lost much authority in our lives. We prefer to be functional atheists than believers. People who say we believe but behave like the saving of the world is all on our shoulders or completely out of our hands. The question for us today, whether you come here every Sunday or just for Christmas and Easter, the question is the same, does this story hold authority in your life? Does following Christ mean anything?  Does it have an impact on how you employ your imagination for the good?

Remember, before Easter morning Jesus was living resurrection with each and every decision be made, with every act of healing and love. When the wine ran out at the wedding in Cana Jesus made more wine, when the rules of the synagogue became hoops to jump through rather than guidelines to bring life he overturned the tables, when his beloved ones were about to sell out he gave them bread and wine to feed their bodies and souls for the challenge ahead that they might trust and remember that they would never be alone. Every time he touched those deemed unclean, fed those hungry, challenged those abusing authority, looked in the eyes of those ignored and forgotten, every time was an act of resurrection. But we think Good Friday is easier, when the truth is that resurrection will always come.

Psychologist Rosanno says “There’s no record of people committing themselves to the point of martyrdom to other imaginative possibilities as they have to Resurrection. The earliest example of such commitment [is found] in the dramatic post-crucifixion turn-around of the Apostles. Such an astounding change of heart, followed by an unwavering commitment capable of altering human history demands a categorically unique explanation: Resurrection.”[7]

Does resurrection hold enough authority in your life to impact your daily decisions, enough authority to lead you to risk hostile stares and bewildered looks? Resurrection as historical event, resurrection as spectator sport will never be persuasive enough to really change anyone’s life. It’s the stuff of dying churches and disillusioned believers and seekers alike.

The fact that you are here today is quite frankly astounding. That you came out to worship, that the story of resurrection inspired your imagination enough to get out of bed on a sunny morning to come into this gothic style church instead of to the beach or anywhere else, is astounding. It shows, in no small way that your imagination for a world where Love wins is well and truly intact. It shows that somewhere, somehow you have not lost touch with the heart of your inner child who still knows that even from death can come life. Resurrection has captured your imagination. But does it have any authority for you?

The late Henry Nouwen warned: “We allow our past, which becomes longer and longer each year, to say to us: ‘you know it all; you have seen it all, be realistic; the future will be just another repeat of the past. Try to survive it as best you can.”  We buy into what Nouwen termed the great lie: that there is nothing new under the sun. The problem with this is that when newness comes our way we no longer have the ability to see it. Easter is that moment when, to our terrifying surprise, we see the possibilities beyond what we can imagine, and that vision claims us and demands that we live like we mean it.

The fact is: resurrection doesn’t take away the agony of broken hearts or lost dreams or crumbling relationships. But when Resurrection has some authority in our lives it is what empowers us to let go of what was and to walk face on toward what is, so that we might be part of creating what needs to be.

I don’t expect to see many of you again until Christmas. Because I know that the church has done a terrible job of inspiring imaginations enough for its message to have any authority. But if you do dare to come back, if you’re curious about what a life oriented to resurrection might actually look like, if you are a little bit curious about what it means for Christ to have authority in your life, I want to assure you that this community is up to the challenge. This congregation of some 200 people who gather week in and week out, they don’t settle for easy answers. They, like you, want to be able to question and play and weep and celebrate as they seek to follow this risen one.

At Christmas we come to church for the comfort of a familiar story. At Easter we come for our imaginations to be ignited to a point where something good and bold and brave can take root in our hearts and have authority over our lives, our daily decisions.

And on all the days in between this community gathers in all its perfect imperfections and practices what it means to be resurrection people. We practice remembering what it is to have the brave imagination of a child and we take that collective wisdom and dare each other to go out there and live like we mean it. And you, no matter your story, no matter the churches who have told you there’s no place for you, no matter your shame or grief or fear, have something to add to the conversation. Hallelujah, hallelujah, Amen.

[1] http://day1.org/986-set_free The kernal of inspiration for this sermon came from this sermon posted on line. Thank you Rev. Cornell

[2] Variations of this story can be found easily with an internet search.

[3] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/matt-j-rossano/does-resurrection-contrad_b_848577.html

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] ibid