If you remember way back to Christmas Eve, one of the recipients of our Christmas Eve offering was an organization called Rebound: Alternatives for Youth. Their Executive Director and a couple of great board members came to worship to share about their work. They are a place where teenagers who have been suspended from school can go to keep up with schoolwork and chart a course for a better future. Research indicates that students who are suspended short-term are at risk for engaging in criminal activity, lagging behind academically, and dropping out of school. High-quality interventions are critical for at-risk students during out-of-school time, so they can use the time wisely and well to help build strong habits.
After worship, we sat in the Parlor over a cup of coffee. One thing I had missed when they spoke was that they only operated four days a week. So what kinds of things do you want to do with this money, I asked, assuming you all would be as generous as I know you to be. What is your dream? “We can’t afford to staff all five days,” one said. That’s what we want – to be open every day, so every kid can receive the support he or she needs. All five days.
Fast forward to last Friday. I was walking in downstairs to drop my youngest son off at our preschool. I must confess I had forgotten about Rebound – Christmas Eve was A LONG time ago. I was pretty wiped out, in the race the spring can be. I had forgotten that they had continued working on that dream – our offering was great, but not quite enough for them to add a day. But it helped them leverage a little more money, another church pitched in. As I walked in I ran into one of their board members, also a parent downstairs. I said “good morning,” pleasantly enough. Then she held up a hand. Five days, she said. We’ve started it. Five days.1
Good dreams, you see, never really die. Even when it seems like they have. The first Easter morning begins as it always begins, in the dark. All of the dreams had been dashed, all hope they had of Jesus being someone truly different was gone. Mary and Mary, as the first day of the week was dawning, go to the tomb. Mark and Luke have the women go with spices to anoint the body (Mark 16:1, Luke 24:1), but in Matthew they don’t take anything but their grief. His death meant the end of the astonishing journey upon which they followed him, of the miracles, the healings, the late nights around the fire. None of the disciples could imagine that in the midst of the brutality of Holy Week that anything good could ever come. In the midst of the beatings, the exhaustion, Jesus’ blood and their fear, none of them could imagine anything other than death.
Yet God already had. The silence by the tomb is broken by a tremor, a shudder, the shaking begins. An angel descends from heaven, rolls back the stone in front of the tomb and sits on it! His appearance like lightening, clothes as snow. For fear of the angel – Matthew adds a tinge of irony – the ones guarding the crucified one become like dead men themselves. “Do not be afraid,” the angel says. I know that you are looking for Jesus. He is not here. Come, look, I’ll prove it. Now, go, the angel says, and let others know that you saw where he lay, that the tomb was empty. Then go and find him, not here – no, that’s where folks expect him to be, but out there, in the world, imagining possibilities for you, dreaming dreams, of something different, something better than what we are – in a world too filled with conflict and anger and hurt, clouded with deep racism, too much violence in our neighborhoods, the horror of chemical weapons used on children in Syria. Go to Galilee, the angel says, head out into the world. Christ is imagining something different, something better, for you.
But that flies in the face of what we know. One of the most important things in our life that we LOSE at some point growing up is our imagination. When we are young any old hat becomes a cowboy hat or the hat of a fireman, we rush around the house putting out imaginary fires. We play with dolls or Legos and we create worlds. The basketball hoop in the driveway becomes the host arena for the NBA Finals. Us adults are too busy, too much rushing around. But when we take the time to put the phone away we get to witness firsthand the power of this imagination, as robots fight or police arrest criminals, as sports teams of all stripes play against each other, as the oddest piece of kitchen equipment becomes a tool for the redemption of humanity. But as we get older we lose it. We still dream, sometimes, but we come up against the cold cruelty of our world. We see dreams dashed, hopes left on the table unfulfilled, lives of promise ended too soon or corrupted by tragedy.
Back on President’s Day weekend, Carrie and I went with dear friends to New York City to celebrate a couple of our 40th birthdays. We don’t normally do fun things, but we took a chance, and enjoyed the city in all its glory. We looked around for a Broadway show, and found something we could afford in its second night of previews. “Come From Away,” is an extraordinary musical set in Gander, a town of 10,000 in Newfoundland. On the morning of September 11, 2001, as tragedy stuck, the FAA ordered all air traffic grounded. Thirty-eight planes on their way toward the US with 7,000 passengers were routed to Gander. People from all over the world sat on the tarmac for hours until security cleared the planes, then were totally dependent on the hospitality of strangers… for food and medication, a place to sleep, a shower in a community center or neighbor’s home. Based on hundreds of hours of interviews with passengers and islanders, it is as moving a thing as I have seen in a long time. The cast of 12 moves seamlessly from passengers on one airplane to citizens of the island trying to figure it out.
In a beautiful section in the center of the musical, it’s been a couple days. The scope of the tragedy is setting in, people getting weary. One passenger’s son is a New York City firefighter, and she can’t get ahold of him. Hannah is overwhelmed, and a resident takes her to a local Catholic Church; they kneel at the altar and light candles. Then another character, a gay man, walks to the front of the stage. “I haven’t been to church in years, but a song I learned there when I was a kid – for some reason that song was in my head.” He begins to sing the words of a prayer of St. Francis – the prayer is printed in your bulletin/a version of it is found in our hymnal: Make me a channel of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, your pardon, Lord; where there is doubt, faith…
As he sings, toward the back of the stage an older resident walks up to a rabbi, stuck there on a plane from Israel. He confesses that his parents sent him away from Europe before the war – they made him promise he would never ever tell anyone he was a Jew. And in this moment, 60 years later, he seeks out the rabbi. After the planes crashed, he said, so many stories gone in a moment, I had to tell someone. They begin a Hebrew children’s song, which is woven in with St Francis’ prayer. At the same time, a Muslim man who had been embarrassingly strip-searched by security at the airport is set to begin evening prayers. A woman from the elementary school comes to him and tells him that she has noticed how awkward it was for him to pray in front of everyone, and she has cleared a corner in the school library, so he might have his own space to pray. The three great Abrahamic faith’s songs are interwoven beautifully, with the other two fading away as the first man sings through the second stanza, then back to the first…where there is despair in life let me bring hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, ever joy…2
What if – among other things – what the resurrection demonstrates to us is God’s profound and limitless imagination? The disciples could not imagine, with the brutality they had seen, that Jesus was anything but dead and their movement was anything but over. But God had different plans. What if what we see, on good days and on our most difficult ones, isn’t all there is? What if, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is making all things new, and is dreaming dreams for us, over and over again, in our lives, in our work, in our families, in a world filled with grief and brokenness and division and poverty and a profound unwillingness to move toward each other? What if God in Jesus Christ – not in spite of our differences but through them – is already imagining a different future, filled with joy and peace infused with justice, and life abundant in this world and the kingdom to come? What if we might be freed, in Christ’s love, to follow him – to dream, to imagine, to hope?
Friends it is good news this day and all days, for all the world, that…
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.
1. Please take the time to read up on this super organization. I am especially grateful to Amy Rublein for her hard work and passionate advocacy at Rebound.
2. The website for the musical is comefromaway.com. The traditional words of St. Francis’ prayer can be found many places, and there is a version in the Presbyterian Hymnal, Hymn No. 753.