Sunday, April 11, 2004

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

I want to invite us to recall the time in our lives when we were small children and the games we played. Remember those hot summer days, when late in the afternoon, as the shadows started lengthening and it started cooling off, how we would get together with the neighborhood kids. Sometimes we'd play games. In our innocent youth, it seemed much easier to accepted things as they were. We were children. Humility and acceptance were normal. And so we played.

Listen to the words we used in some of our games: “London Bridges falling down, falling down”…”Ring Around the Rosies, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down!” As children, we didn't avoid the dark side of life. Falling, imprisonment, ashes, all parts of life. I want to talk about a particular game as a paradigm of my understanding of Easter. It's a game that's always been popular. It's the favorite of many Youth Groups. At my last parish, almost every youth group meeting ended with at least one round of this game; the game of Hide and Seek.

There's something intriguing about this game. In many ways, that's what we've been doing during Lent. We have hidden Christ, and we have been trying new ways of seeking God, ways that have often seemed frustrating and foreign to many of us. We have tasted what our spiritual life might be like if Christ had not come into the world. Easter then becomes the cry at the end of the game, the cry of "Olie, Olie, oxen free," or at least, that's how I always heard it. Of course, it means, Allie Allie, all come free. That, for me, is the meaning of Easter: All come free.

You remember the game; someone volunteers to be it, and then everyone goes to hide. The darker and more out of the way our hiding place, the better.

What is it that we hide from in our lives? We hide from our fears, the fear of dying, the fear of pain and suffering, the fear of rejection, the fear that our deepest longings will never be realized. So we venture into a deep dark place within ourselves, and we hide. This place is kind of scary, sometimes, but we feel safe in the dark.

And who is it that we are hiding from? We are hiding from "IT." IT is really the person in control. IT decides when the game begins and when it ends. IT is the one who decides who wins and who looses. IT is the one who can enter a room and turn on the lights, bringing illumination to those things hidden in the darkness. IT is the one with authority, the one with the freedom to act. In the game of Hide and Seek, IT is God.

And we don't always want God to find us. We hide because sometimes we are afraid of God, that we are not worthy, that God might reveal all the ugly bits of our lives. We hide because we don't want to see the things that we suspect God will bring out into the light. We crawl back into our deep dark place, deeper into the tomb, and refuse to come out on Easter morning into the light of day.

We hide, from ourselves, and from God. We hide from love, because love brings with it upheaval and change. That is why we are so resistant to love. In everyday life, we make do with anything that might come close to love. When my everyday life becomes more of the same, when today becomes very much like tomorrow, sometimes I want to cry out in my loneliness, curl up in someone’s arms, close my eyes, and fall asleep. Now I know that's not a longing for mature love. It's a longing for security and safety. I need to be held, to feel safe. I realize that I can no longer crawl into my mother's lap, so I seek other ways to fill this void; religion, romance, money, and power. But those things aren't quite “it.” Love becomes a way of oblivion.

Sometimes, God doesn't live up to our expectations, and so we hide from God. Our image of God, our understanding of God, shifts throughout our lives. And this is frustrating to us. Whenever we think we’ve got a handle on God, we realize that God is even more than that!

This morning I want to invite you to consider another image of God; the God who loves us and longs for us to come home. We can have a relationship with the living God, who does not promise us the end of suffering and pain, but will hold us close when it hurts so much.

Let’s return for a moment to our game. We hide, as IT comes closer and closer to our hiding place. And what happens if we're the first to be found? What happens if we lose the game? We get to be IT! We get to take on the role of God. What a shame! When I was a kid, every once in awhile there would be this strange playmate who always wanted to be IT. He'd never hide very well, and loved being the person in control. It kind of ruined the game. He loved to cry out, “Allie, Allie all come free!” And we would all come out of our hiding places, and return to the base for another game. And what was the base called? We called it home.

Linda Weltner, the award-winning columnist for the Boston Globe, tells a story of watching children play this game;

Night after night, through the long summers and into the autumn, the neighborhood children play hide and seek, streaming out into the gray twilight as soon as the dishes are cleared from the dinner table. Gathering in the street, they quickly divide into hiders and searchers, they fan out behind the garages and backyards that encircle the steps that represent home base. In the dark, my husband and I would often see the small figures sneaking past our wall, their bodies tense and ready for the long sprint to the steps. In years past, one or the other of our daughters would return from the game so far past her bedtime it was never mentioned. ‘How'd you do?' we'd call out to a child radiant with the glory of late hours and a star-studded sky. ‘I got home safe,' she'd whisper proudly before slipping up to bed.
Easter is God's call to us, a call to come home, to a place that is safe and secure, to a place where God will let us fall asleep in loving arms.

If we are too afraid to sprint for home, if we choose instead to remain hidden in our dark hiding place, God will seek us out. When we are found by God, and are held close by God, we become aware of the very essence of God within us. We become IT, and then can begin to seek out others, bringing light in the darkness, willing to suffer with those who are hurting, and proclaim the joy of being set free from the darkness, from the tomb of our own pain, set free to know what true love is all about, set free to love without reservation, set free to be IT, to be the presence of the resurrected Christ in the world today.

I know that Christ is risen, because I have seen him in so many of you. I have heard your call to me, your call to all those hiding in the darkness; “Allie, Allie, all come free!”

On this day, we make that same proclamation to the world. But the words are slightly different. As we leave this place, let us step into the light of the resurrection, the light burning bright with the love of God, proclaiming “Alleluia, Alleluia, Christ is risen!”


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