This morning, at South Church, the children’s sermon featured a re-enactment of Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb. Prior to this, my girls had seen hundreds of plastic eggs outside, and after this they would come home to real eggs distributed by the Easter Bunny. I thought to myself, “How stupid this must look to anyone who’s not a believer”. First we tell our children that a giant bunny breaks into our house and decorates the lawn with eggs they colored, and now we tell them that a crying woman in an empty tomb is sane when she says she’s seen Jesus. It should be noted here that the woman in question would have been diagnosed as insane for some period of time before all of this and — to the scientific mind — would have apparently relapsed when the stress of losing her friend simply got to be too much. According to the Bible, Mary of Magdala had seven demons cast out of her when she first met Jesus, and was believed to be nuts (or at the least, mistaken) when she told the disciples what she’d seen after he was dead. In modern parlance, that would be insane at first and delusional from grief later. And this is what we tell our children to believe: bunnies and eggs, Jesus and empty tombs.
And it’s not like Good Friday makes a whole lot more sense. First off, what’s good about a man dying a horrible, merciless, and painful death? As I contemplate the irrationality of it all, my mind wanders back to a girl from my Lynnfield youth group years ago who explained that she didn’t believe in Christianity because if Jesus — who was perfect– went to hell, what chance did she have. That’s one mean God to believe in. I asked her why she thought that Jesus was sent to hell and she explained, logically and intelligently for a 16 or 17 year old girl, that the Apostle’s Creed said that Jesus “descended into hell”. This was not a girl who hadn’t heard the good news. This was a very smart girl who was confused by it. OK, she heard the news, but somehow missed the good news. Ain’t religious life great?
When I explained that Jesus (if he went to hell, and I don’t know, I wasn’t there), went to preach the love of God to those who were already dead before he rose, to save them too, you could see the light bulb go on, and faith was restored.
Good Friday has never made sense, on so many levels. The whole idea that God would sacrifice his “only begotten Son” to straighten out a world that doesn’t appear straightened out yet is just bizarre. The whole idea that God would kill himself if you believe in the Trinity is hard to understand. The whole idea that God requires sacrifice of a child — which we don’t do– is hard to swallow, at the least.
Moving on to the holiest day of our faith, Easter, we see the impossible as expected. When I was in seminary, Chuck Carlston, my New Testament teacher asked how many of us had seen a dead person come back to life after being dead for three days. When none of us raised our hand, he pointed that that’s what we claim to believe, with absolutely no proof. That either makes us delusional or correct in some way that’s not the scientific method. It was our first day in class, and we felt better about our future already.
So, there it is: Our holiest time of the year, starts with a Stupid idea and ends with an Irrational one. And, yet, in so many people’s lives it makes sense. How is that possible?
As Forrest Gump’s mother used to say, “Stupid is as stupid does”. Like a parent who gets up in the middle of the night to bail their child out of jail for the umpteenth time, it takes the supposedly “stupid” and an “irrational” heart to save a world that is both at times.
In the world of counseling, we say that a therapist has to “meet a client where they’re at”. You play with the cards you’re dealt. In Narrative Therapy, they talk about being “experience near” to the client. When junkie or addict or so messed up that you can’t believe it comes to the office, you have to take them as they are and move them slowly forward until belief in themselves takes hold and then it’s “off to the races” in growth. You can’t expect someone who’s intoxicated to have a knowledge of physics — at least one that they can enunciate.
During my week, I see people who — in one or two minutes of incest can ruin a life for years, followed by lovers who beat their girlfriends, followed by a woman who had it all — a fiance’ who loved her, healthy children, and a nice home. She threw it all away and — four months later — only has a deadly illness and a hangover to show for it. It is these kinds of people — the kind of people that can destroy life as we know it in a heartbeat — the apparently stupidest of stupid and most irrational of irrational — that require an apparently stupid God and an irrational Resurrection.
Now, my clients aren’t the worst that humanity has to offer. They’re wonderful people when they’re sane — and they have more sane days than not. Beyond my clients are the people that made them this way — strong, evil people who follow no logic but hatred, destroy because they can, and think nothing of it. I have another client who used to be one of them, and some other therapist will spend a lifetime digging his kids’ psyches out. And yet, for the last year or so, he has behaved better than most of the population, overcoming obstacles that your average person couldn’t. Who knew he had that kind of potential? Only an apparently irrational God.
And so, as far illogical as humans can get, God has to go that far in the other direction. It takes an incomprehensibly bizarre and complex God to heal and save an incomprehensibly bizarre and complex humanity — Irrationality to find the irrational and bring them back to the land of the living.
Does it make any sense? Not to those of us who aren’t that stupid, irrational, illogical, or crazy. Does it work for those who have been? Oddly enough, people have been betting their lives on it for more than 2,000 years. Those people who get their lives back together one day at a time, ask for forgiveness knowing full well they don’t deserve it, or have been chosen for ministry despite no education — those people get it. They live they live their lives by it, and — bizarreness of bizarreness — it seems to make them happy.
I’ve always been irritated by the bumper stickers that talk of “Random acts of kindness” and I don’t know why. I believe in a God who does the “not-at-all-random” acts of kindness that are required by a humanity which does not-at-all-random acts of mean-ness and more than it’s share of just dumb things.
So there it is, our continually irrational faith, spelled out in three days and celebrated. Who knew?