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Luke 24:1-12 | An Excerpt from When Jesus Came to Harvard By Harvey Cox
When it comes to a moral dilemma, any moral dilemma, we always face three steps. The first is the most important: we must recognize it as a moral issue, not just an investment decision or a clinical issue, or a political choice. The second step is to find an answer to the question: What should I do? Then comes the third, and undoubtedly the hardest step: to summon the courage to do it. A well-cultivated imagination can inform all these steps. It helps us recognize the moral issues wrapped in all the choices. It helps clarify what the right choice is, and it motivates us to take the action that choice calls for. But how do we acquire and nurture such an imagination?
This is where stories and the imagination come in… For all their importance, neither ethical principles nor moral theories actually motivate anyone. What motivates people are stories, narratives, accounts of situations in which choices must be made and stands taken… Narratives speak to the inner spirit. They link the moral reasoning we do in our heads to the courage and the empathy that must come from the heart. In short, they help us to become the people we want to be. — Harvey Cox
In the last few years a new harbinger of spring has appeared on the shoulders of our lovely New Hampshire roadways.
These days, in addition to the crocus’ and daffodils…
In addition to the lengthening days, the sodden earth and the new buds on the trees…
In addition to the small woodland creatures scurrying about the rockwalls,
And the Robins hopping through our yards in search of the first worm…
There is a new sight…
I refer, of course, to…
The Helicopter Egg Drop sign.
If, as Aristotle said, “the secret to humor surprise,” I am about to deliver a real clanger.
Most of you have probably driven by the church at least a couple times this week, which means that you’ve already seen the punchline to my little joke…
Which is, that for me, I cannot read the words “Egg Drop” without hearing, in my mind, the word “Soup.”
It’s just inevitable.
For me, it’s like seeing a bunch of signs everywhere that say “Airplane Grilled cheese…”
“Elevator Pineapple Upside Down…”
And when you put the word “soup” at the end of “Helicopter Egg Drop” the resulting image is just too delicious!
I picture, not a million eggs, but one immense egg about the size, say, of a UHaul truck – imagine James’ Giant Peach – hauled in a net under a struggling helicopter. The egg is released from a great height into an Olympic-swimming-pool-sized bowl resulting in a tsunami of steaming broth…
A multitude of children would then converge from the four directions, each holding one of those weird ceramic soup spoons you get at Chinese restaurants – to gleefully sup from the monumental steaming appetizer.
And then, yes, the throng of children would relax, as they awaited the appearance by fighter jet or freight train, of a King Kong sized vat of Shrim Lo Mein, or a Godzilla scale serving of General Tso’s chicken…
These fancies are so compelling to me, that I have imagined myself wandering the byways of New Hampshire in the depths of the night, with a fat magic marker in hand…
Such are the dubious fantasies of a frustrated punster…
But let me be clear…. I would, of course, never do such a thing…
And I will deny you three times before the cock crows if you take up the idea.
Let it not be said – especially after my recent letter published in the Ledger Transcript – that I condone or promote vandalism in any form.
So I have contented myself with using the one sign, in all of creation, over which I have legitimate claim– the United Church’s sign – to convey my peculiar Easter message…
But what… you may ask, is your Easter message, Reverend Mark…?
It’s a good question.
I do intend to get to one.
But if we started things off, this morning, on a peculiar tangent, allow me to remind you, if you please, that I did not start this whole helicopter thing.
I am the first to admit that the fact that we are gathered together in a church, this morning, discussing helicopters on Easter morning, is an odd state of affairs.
To be sure, this state of affairs does not arise from any interpretation of holy scripture. Rather, this helicopter business impresses itself upon us as an opportunity to consider what Easter has come to mean in America in the year 2019.
I don’t need to remind you that helicopters did not exist in Judea in the first century AD.
And while there certainly were chickens and eggs, neither the bird, nor its egg had anything, whatsoever, to do with the events of Easter.
I’m going to sound a little bit like a killjoy, when I suggest the obvious to you — that the Easter egg and the Easter Bunny, and now, by extension, the helicopter too, are all ways that our society manages to deftly sidestep the real details of the Easter story – a story that does not easily conform to the pressing needs of free enterprise.
Easter occupies a troubling place in the story of Jesus Christ – it is a story that does not lend itself to marketing – there are no unicorns, butterflies and rainbows anywhere in sight.
So it is, perhaps, not surprising, that the producers of chocolate who need to fill the “seasonal” aisle down at the Rite Aid, and the supermarket circulars that need a cute mascot, should create an Easter bunny.
And, of course, if you want to attract thousands of kids to come an event, it better not be one that fixates on the dark tale of Holy Week.
If you want to attract a whole bunch of young people, who have weaned on Angry Birds and Fortnite, you don’t want something that makes them think.
You need something that makes them go WOW!
You need a spectacle.
And what says dramatic, big, and exciting, more than a helicopter?
There can be no doubt that a helicopter is a spectacle!
Now I don’t necessarily have a problem with spectacle.
Spectacle has its value. It is fun and exciting, and just like anything else, it can be used for good as well as bad purposes.
The problem with associating spectacle with religion, is that spectacle does not like to share.
It uses up all the air in the room
It exists for its own sake.
The whole purpose of spectacle is to impress you so much that everything else seems meaningless in comparison.
If you go see fireworks, you’re probably not going to look at the moon – the fireworks demand all of your attention.
A spectacle is a kind of demand.
And this, dear friends, is where things get interesting!
Because when you think about it, the way Jesus Christ died was a kind of spectacle.
The cross demands our attention.
We can’t look at anything else.
If, as we affirm in our religious tradition – the man who died on the cross was also, in some mysterious way, divine, then the spectacle becomes even more demanding.
God on the cross!
It is an almost impossibly demanding notion, let alone a reality.
And that God should be executed in this brutal way,
And that he should do it knowingly, in some way, as an expression of his love and compassion for us…
This is almost unbearably demanding.
The fact that this image has captivated a religious tradition for more than 2 millennia, is a testimony to just how much this spectacle demands of us.
And yet…. And yet…
Lest you think that our religion leaves us stranded with this spectacle – this painful, all-consuming demand…
Easter is here to show us that, no… he rose.
We are not left with the spectacle.
In the end, we are left, not with spectacle, but narrative.
A story that is not dead, but alive – a story that admits, not only the eternity of Christ, but the participation of you and I…
Christ has Risen!
He has risen indeed!
Christ has Risen!
He has risen indeed!
Christ has risen, and is rising, whenever a hungry person is fed
A thirsty person, given water.
Christ has risen, and is rising, whenever a naked person is given clothes
Whenever a prisoner is visited
Christ has risen, and is rising, whenever a stranger is welcomed.
With his resurrection, we are no longer held in the suspension on spectacle – now we are sent out to become part of the story.
We become part of his story of hope,
His story of grace, Of faith
And the greatest of these is Love.