Our Prism class this morning was considering a poem by Lisel Mueller, entitled, “Alive Together” and I want to share a few snippets from that poem as I begin this morning:
“Speaking of marvels, I am alive
together with you, when I might have been
alive with anyone under the sun,…
our chances of being alive together
still we have made it,…
alive with our lively children
who—but for endless ifs—
might have missed out on being alive
together with marvels and follies….
(“Alive Together, by Lisel Mueller, from Twenty Poems to Nourish Your Soul, pp. 23-24)
Life is a marvel, isn’t it? That we are alive at all, that we are here together walking side by side, sometimes bumping into each other—but still it is a marvel.
This poem takes me back to one of the marvels that has shaped my life. It was Friday, October 22nd. The phone rang. David had died. Born on Tuesday, he was just three days old, but he had a heart condition for which there was no treatment. The next day, Saturday—the day that David was buried—was my eighth birthday. It was my first experience with death and I was confused. How could my brother, whom I had never seen, be dead before he really lived? Why didn’t the sun stop in its tracks? Why didn’t everybody turn from what they were doing, stop their laughter and notice the darkness? But we just went on eating and doing things almost as if nothing had happened. It didn’t make sense to me. But we did go on. My pain receded. I remembered, but I learned that happiness can’t be held back forever and I too laughed again.
It was twenty-two years later on Friday, again. In fact it was Friday, October 22nd again, and again the phone rang. This time it was life calling—a life we named Jason. The adoption agency said they had a son for us, a three-day-old son, could we pick him up that day? What a marvel to be alive together! What joyous disbelief! It took me a few hours to remember back twenty-two years, and when I did, I didn’t know what to think. Was this just a coincidence, some fluke? Maybe. Maybe not.
Maybe these and countless other events that visit us, suggest that there is more to death than mere death, and more to life, real life, than what we can explain or prove. It’s not just interesting that such moments occur, for they certainly do, but what is interesting is what we make out of them, or refuse to make out of them.
Jesus’ disciples have locked themselves in an upper room. The terrible events of these last days have left them frightened to death. They had bet their lives and livelihoods on a man, a special man. They’d left their jobs, families even, and once in awhile they’d even thought this Jesus might be the Messiah. Now it was finished. They’d watched him die, from a safe distance of course, and it was over. He was dead.
But there are these news reports that are confusing. First there was that “idle tale” of an empty tomb and some men in white, and just now they’ve been talking about the two disciples who claimed to have seen Jesus on the Emmaus Road. These disciples said they had spent much of the day with him without even knowing who it was. What kind of reliable information can that be? Maybe this was just a fluke, a coincidence, you know someone who looked like Jesus. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. Maybe. But maybe not.
Then all of a sudden, Jesus, himself is talking to them. “Peace,” he says, as he scared them half out of their wits. Most of them thought he was a ghost. Jesus catches them here, where so many of us get caught, with fear and doubts. The resurrection staring us right in the face and already we’re trying to explain it away because we’re scared. What does the resurrection mean? I’ll tell you what it means. It means change. It means chaos. Have you tried remodeling? Or how about moving? It means dust and mess and rearranging everything. And that’s nothing compared to the mess you make when you try to change a life, even one life, let alone an institution. No wonder we’re scared by the resurrection. And if we chase after these resurrection moments when we catch a glimpse of eternity, when resurrection stares us in the face, will we gain anything? If we bet our lives, like the disciples will anything good come of it? And the problem is there are no guarantees. Such moments may be far too fleeting, too ambiguous and fragile to stake our whole life on them. Most of us live by what we can hold, touch, and see and hear, not on that which can be dismissed as mere coincidence.
That may mean that the lives we create will be flat and predictable, but at least they will be unequivocal, even comforting, well, most of the time. Some years ago when I was in one of those comfortable, predictable places, I began to feel restless, confined, like a caged animal. One night I had a dream about riding a motorcycle. I thought it was ridiculous. I can’t imagine putting on a helmet, swinging my leg up over the seat of a Harley and spinning off to work. I told Don my dream and he came home with the copy of a story about a pastor and motorcycles that has haunted me ever since. That story is the reason I have a motorcycle sign on my bookshelf at home. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the story, a salesman hustled his new customer with the usual pitch about how fast these motorcycles went, how flashy they were, the envious attention the owner was bound to receive. Then he inquired about the customer’s vocation. When he heard he was talking to a parish priest he stammered around. Finally, he recovered enough to talk about good mileage, safety, maneuverability and hospital parking.
The author of the story made this observation: lawn mower salespersons aren’t surprised to find clergy looking at their merchandise, but motorcycle sales personnel are!
Wes Seegler, the author of the story, asks, “What does this say about us Christians, us Resurrection People? Is being a Christian more like mowing the lawn, or like riding a motorcycle? Is the Christian life safe and sane, or dangerous and exciting? Lawn mower or motorcycle? Which is it?” Well, I looked at my life and knew that I was holding back faith and excitement. I had traded in joy for a few quiet moments and a quick smile. I wanted safe bets, safe investments, and I was caught as surely as those disciples. Why are you frightened? And why do doubts arise in your heart? You see I need that motorcycle sign to remind me not to get too comfortable in my nice office, my upper room.
Touch and see. Hands and feet wounded. Suffering, death, resurrection right there where the disciples could see it, right there where you and I can see it if we’ll just look up from our scheduled and programmed life.
Two thousand years ago, the religious people in Jesus’ day had carved out a pretty comfortable, predictable religion too. God’s exciting Word stood right in front of them and they crucified him. But it didn’t end there. Three days and the Word was back, scaring them right out of their wits, until they saw and touched for themselves. They touched his pain and felt their own. Touch and see he says. Reach out and feel the suffering and the death and yes the resurrection. Joyous disbelief struck again.
And what does all this say about the Church today? Are we living the joy of the resurrection? Are we like motorcycles taking on risks, stationed out in front giving direction to a hurting world? Are we facing the life and death issues of our time with insight and courage? Are today’s youth looking to the Church for moral and spiritual leadership? Or are we in our comfortably appointed meeting rooms pondering our fears and our doubts about mission and membership and finances?
God’s in a hurry. God gives us those glimpses of the resurrection and while we stand in joyous disbelief, God’s son says, “Do you have anything to eat around here?” You see life goes on. Death, resurrection, they still happen, but don’t just stand there shaking in your boots. Move. Feed Christ. Feed Christ in homeless shelters, in prisons, on sidewalks and in refugee camps. Pull out the fish and the bread and the wine, whatever you’ve got before another child dies of malnutrition, before another teen substitutes drugs for emptiness, before another lost individual turns to violence to vent his frustration, before another elderly person dies, embittered through years of loneliness.
Because you see, we are the eyewitnesses. No one’s going to put together enough circumstantial evidence to convince this cynical world that God exists. It’s got to be you and me and the whole family of God who take our little glimpses of God and the resurrection, our joyous disbelief and go out from Jerusalem and Granville, and Columbus, wherever we hang our hats, to tell the story, to live with our convictions instead of our anxieties, to live with the excitement of the resurrection. We can’t wait for all our doubts to be calmed and all our fears to be worked out. We’ve received God’s word and the way ahead of each of us is full of possibilities.
Our challenge as Christians, our challenge as the church is to keep our eyes open for those resurrection moments, and to shake off any temptation to travel the same ground over and over again with the predictability of a lawn mower. Dream of motorcycles. Cut new roads, and take this old baby out, give her some gas and just see what she can do.
“Wes Seelinger’s Story,” Seeliger, One Inch from the Fence, pp. 10-13)