Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Day By Any Other Name

Black Friday. Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday. Giving Tuesday. What special cause or group or event or feeling are we observing tomorrow?
I didn't do any shopping on Thursday night or Friday, and I didn't make it out to patronize any small businesses on Saturday (though I try to when I can), but I did order some things online yesterday, so I guess I was part of the record-breaking Cyber Monday of 2014.
And don't get me wrong. I'm certainly not opposed to giving. It's a wonderful thing. But do we really need a special day, complete with hashtags and unSELFIES, to encourage/persuade/remind ourselves to do it?
Then there's Digital Learning Day, World Spay Day, Earth Day (not to be confused with Earth Hour, which is sometime in March), World Turtle Day, Global Tiger Day, World Elephant Day, World Rhino Day, and International Mountain Day, and one of my personal favorites, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, just to mention a few.
Sure, we had Hump Day for years before the GEICO Camel came along and made it a thing, and TGIF before it was a restaurant chain, but at least those made sense in the context of a Monday-Friday work week. Now there's "Throwback Thursday" and "Flashback Friday." And did you know there's even a website that helps you keep track of them all. It's tagline is, "Register now...and never miss a day." What a godsend. Otherwise, I would never have known that today is also "Fritters Day" and tomorrow is (1) Roof Over Your Head Day, (2) Make a Gift Day, and (3) Disability Day.
I wonder why some days get more traffic than others. September 22 is 8 different special days! And that doesn't even count having been Big Granny's (my wife's paternal grandmother) birthday.
Do we really gain anything by this kind of compartmentalization of our lives? This periodic programmatic placing of priority for just a moment before moving on to the next square on the calendar? Does it have any lasting effect? Does it change any hearts or minds? Does it make life better for us or for others?
Jesus said, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today." Maybe he was talking about figuring out who I can give some fritters to, so I can cross today off my calendar with one stone.....if you'll pardon my mixed metaphor.

Does Jesus give a rat's ass about how I spend my days? I certainly hope so. What about giving? I'm sure he does. Fritters? Maybe not so much.


Monday, January 6, 2014

The Anti-Yo-yo Theory of the Resurrection

In the hands of a skilled operator and when functioning properly, a yo-yo goes smoothly up and down. When thrown down, it unwinds until it reaches the end of its string, then returns to the thrower’s hand by rewinding its string around the spindle in the opposite direction. In the fancier models, a loop in the string and a smooth metal spindle allow the yo-yo to spin freely when reaches the end, an effect called “sleeping.” But, after sleeping for a while, the yo-yo springs back up to the thrower’s hand, because that’s what yo-yos are designed to do. If it didn't do this, something would be wrong.

Many Christians have the idea that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead after his crucifixion works like a yo-yo. When he dies on the cross, Jesus is like that yo-yo when it is thrown down. He “sleeps” in the tomb for a while, then pops right back up again, because that’s how it was designed to happen. In fact, if Jesus hadn't risen from the dead, something would have been wrong. These Christians believe that Jesus died knowing that, after a short delay, he would be resurrected...knowing that it was designed to happen that way, that guaranteed resurrection was part of the deal he made in surrendering his will to God’s will in Gethsemane. Sure, he will go down into the tomb, but after “sleeping” for a while, he will spring—yo-yo-like—back up to life.

But this understanding lessens the reality of Jesus’ death. If the Word really did become flesh so that God could dwell among us, if God entered into our world in a unique and miraculous way in Jesus, and became like us, then his death must also be like our death. All life must cease, and decay and dissolution must begin, with only the hope of new life. Resurrection cannot be automatic. It cannot be guaranteed.
Picture the yo-yo once more. But this time, imagine that the string breaks. When it is thrown down, rather than spinning at the end of the string and then rising again to the thrower’s hand, the yo-yo crashes to the floor, cracks in several places, then rolls under the sofa to be lost in the dust and darkness and never used again. That’s what death is like. When we die, we are dead. Everything that makes us who we are is gone, and we return to the elemental material from which we were made—the dust of the earth. So that must also be what Jesus’ death was like. When his lifeless body was taken down from the cross and hurriedly laid in a borrowed tomb, he was gone. He wasn't just “sleeping” for a few days, waiting to spring back up from the grave.

Dr. Farley Snell, former Chaplain at Southwestern University and one of the great influences on my life, had those of us who helped with chapel services make Lenten banners one year. He made one based on Acts 2:23-24. It read “This Jesus you crucified and killed., but God raised him up again.” We teased Farley about making a punctuation error in his design, but he explained it to us in this way: “My punctuation may be wrong, but my theology is right. The powers that arrested and crucified Jesus thought they put an end to him and his troubling teaching. They killed him and placed a period after it to signal that end. But God turned that period into a comma and kept going.”

Jesus was dead, but God was unwilling to let him stay dead. So, God raised him from the dead. The resurrection was an intentional re-creative act on God’s part that turned death back into life again. It wasn't something that happened automatically. That’s why this is called the “anti-yo-yo theory of the resurrection.” Apart from God’s special, intentional act, Jesus would have remained dead. But instead, Jesus is the first-fruits of those who will be raised from the dead. When we die, we will also be dead. Our string will break, our yo-yo will crash to the floor, crack and several places, and roll away into darkness and dust. But for each of us, God will perform an intentional re-creative act and turn our death back into life again, so that we can live with God forever.

I don't know about you, but this way of looking at it makes both the miracle of the Resurrection and our hope of eternal life much more meaningful. I think Jesus would definitely "give a rat's ass about" that!