Text: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
How many of you ever played the childhood game called “Red Rover?” Do you remember how it goes? (Can you believe, there’s actually an illustrated “wiki-how” with instructions for this game on the Internet!) For those who may not have played it, or not in a very long time, here’s a refresher:
First, you divide your group into two equal teams, and select a leader for each team. Then the teams join hands to form two straight lines, facing each other. The team that goes first, coached by their leader, calls out to one member of the other team: “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Kathy on over!” And Kathy runs with all her might, trying to break through the line. If Kathy doesn’t break through, she joins the opposing team; if she does break through, she “steals” a player from the opponents — one of the pair whose arms she “broke,” and the two of them run back to her original team’s line. Play continues with the teams taking turns calling “Red Rover,” until one team is down to one person.
The “wiki-how” I found online includes game strategies — about when to pick the stronger player, how to distribute your stronger and weaker players along the line, and how far apart, or how close, to place the two teams in order to lessen the chance of injuries!
I remember that, when I was a kid, I found this game a bit intimidating, myself. That was not only because of the usual tension around getting picked for a team (or not), and playground leadership dynamics; it was the sight of the biggest, strongest kid running straight at me, and the thought of what might happen to my wrist when that weight crashed into me. It seems I can recall a time or two when a pair of kids would give way to fear and simply let go of their hands, allowing the big, strong kid to just run between them rather than plowing through. At times, that lessened the entertainment value (for the more violent participants); but at other times, that strategy heightened the amusement value.
As I meditated on this Psalm for Easter Sunday, I was drawn to the phrase, “the gate of the Lord through which the righteous shall enter ….” (v. 20). I would imagine many might see this as a picture of heaven, getting through the “pearly gates.” Perhaps some might picture, as well, a gatekeeper who doesn’t let everyone in. But that’s not what I see. For one thing (and it’s an important thing), I don’t think of eternal life as something that I don’t get to experience until I die, if I am “good enough,” or if I have “faith enough,” or if I say the magic words, “I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior,” or if I give my assent to the “right” set of beliefs. So if you’re coming to church on Easter looking for a pass to get into heaven, I’m afraid you’re not going to find it here. I think the there’s something much better on offer.
Meditating on this Psalm as an Easter text, what I see, as the gate, is the stone rolled away from the tomb. I see that same stone as “the one that was rejected” and which “has become the cornerstone” (v. 20). The death and resurrection of Jesus means to me that eternal life begins as soon as I step through that “gate,” as soon as I follow Jesus, away from the fear of death and dying and violence, away from anxiety for my well-being and for my future, and when I start living the abundant life that Jesus came to give us, starting right now, in the middle of the mess that this life is. This is righteousness: striving to live as a follower of Jesus, in a right, totally trusting relationship with the Creator of life and all that is. Which means living generously. Which means caring for the marginalized and the vulnerable, and working for a just and fair and free sharing of all the earth’s resources. Which means caring for the earth, being a good steward of all that God has made because it is sacred. Which means paying attention to the present moment and not being overcome by anxiety for tomorrow. Which means honoring the past because there are lessons in it. Which means dancing and laughing and making music and art and giving hugs and enjoying all that life has to offer in community. Which means cultivating a continual appreciation for, and curiosity about, the world and the people around me, and cultivating an awareness of grace, and of God’s life-giving presence in my soul.
I have to confess that I am not always in that place. There are times when I descend into the tomb, when I get trapped in the dark, restricted passageways of my aching, unillumined mind, where there seems to be no room for hope, no space for movement.
I was suffering with a migraine in bed a few weeks ago, in the hours before dawn, and found myself thinking and journaling about the connection between such times of physical pain, and times of emotional or mental imprisonment. I thought of the occasional dose of ibuprofen which relieves my physical pain for a time, and compared that to the things that are pleasure-seeking but temporary. And then I thought of how Easter comes, unbidden, flooding my Consciousness with light. And it is no temporary relief. Here there is a room for peace and hope and love and grace to flow freely through my heart and my life and my actions.
Now, Christianity (or any organized religion, for that matter) cannot give you answers for why bad things happen in the world. Instead, we are the curators of beautiful stories, some of which try to explain, but which mostly cannot account for, the presence of evil. They simply acknowledge it. For the most part, Church does not give you answers. What Church can give you is companions and practices that somehow make it possible to cope with the presence of evil. It gives you companions and practices which somehow make it possible to cope with illness and aging, and bad politics, and injustice, and irritating people, and hard work, and the struggle to make ends meet, and the children who are so hard to raise, and technology, and climate change, and fires, and all the things that stress us in life. These things are not happening to us because somehow they usher in the second coming, or the end of the world. Even if they did, that would be little comfort to me. Even if that was the “reason,” that would be little comfort.
We don’t need a “reason;” we need a relationship. We need a relationship with the Love at the heart of the universe, knowing that that Love holds on to us, will not let go even in death, will not let go even the presence of evil, will not let go even in the presence of our own evil. This is what gives comfort to me. This is what makes it possible for me to keep going.
Jesus Christ faced evil and death, and made an opening in the circle for us, a passage to a way to a life that is rich and deep and bold (and that not a description of coffee, or wine, or chocolate — although lots of people might try those things as a substitute!). We don’t have to plow our way through, like the Red Rover game. We are called to come on over, and step right on through, and join the team.
As the Psalmist wrote, “the stone that the builders rejected has become chief cornerstone” — and because of this, those who once felt rejected, those who were treated as outsiders, can realize that they are part of the circle, part of the house and household of God. They were part of it all along, but now, in the light of Resurrection, we all know it, and we are all invited to celebrate and live into that reality.