Sunday, April 5, 2015 Easter Sunday – Not Playing Games

We play a lot of games in our household. We have a lot of help, we’re not just sitting around playing games we have friends who come over, a colleague of mine in Novato is also an avid game player and Debbie’s whole family, the Lutheran side of it at least, has a long tradition of game nights.

We receive at least one game every major gift-giving holiday. They are sometimes word games, sometimes strategy games, sometimes they are just action/reaction games the ones where you have to think and move fast.

The gaming didn’t just happen, as I said, Debbie’s family played a lot of games and back in the day I was known to play a little Dungeons and Dragons, back before I knew any real girls, that is, but there was also scrabble with grandma and hearts in college, and pinochle in college and poker in college and backgammon almost every day I can remember, backgammon and cribbage.

I like the social aspect of it, I like the fact that it is a ready-made community, a context into which we can insert ourselves and a group of people and come a common mind, a consensus that we will play with grace and community spirit and with the exception of Debbie’s grandmother, that we will abide by the rules.

But even in less formal settings, I have been a game player. When I was younger we played a number of guessing games, really little challenges to find out how much we knew about each other. We’d play “hand me that piano” which was how we’d ask for things, the challenge was to find out from the scene what it was that the person needed.

That game got a little tiresome when we all smoked and the only thing anybody was ever asking for was a lighter or a cigarette, but for a while there, we would try and mix it up, try and ask for a coaster or a Pepsi.

It wasn’t so much a guessing game as it was a way to extend conversations, not getting things done too fast, not rushing through our days.

Since I was in the theater in High School and built a lot of sets the folks I used to hang out with had a different game, called “What is missing from this tableau?” yes, we were exactly that pretentious but it served the same purpose. We weren’t in a hurry in those days, we liked spending time together.

Guessing isn’t as much of a game anymore, we’re in a bit too much of a hurry, we have things to do and guessing is not efficient. We call it investing when we guess with our money, we call it wagering when we guess the outcome of a sporting event or a horse race but guessing itself seems to have fallen into disrepute, we want to know what is in the box before we buy it and the only place these days where guessing is celebrated is on those shows about the guys who buy storage lots sight unseen.

We also save some space for guessing when it comes to gift giving, and even then, the Carnahans have a game associated with it. This is more of a bad attempt to deny that we are guessing at all but while holding what is obviously a shirt box from Macy’s you shout out “It’s a pony!” or “It’s a record!” so maybe not a game after all.

We hold a wrapped box or package of some sort and it is inarguably human that we try and determine what is in it, what Santa has brought us this year, what Grandma and grandpa have sent from New York, what is in the shiny wrapping paper.

It is the mystery of it, the uncertainty coupled with the relatively low investment we have in the outcome, after all, if it is a sweater we only have to wear it when Aunt Ida is in town and she lives in Altoona and Mom and Dad will buy us regular clothes.

It is the smallest, easiest, safest way for us to peer into the future and try and see how things will turn out, what will the results be.

In most of the other futures we have before us we have a lot more invested. Women go through labor for criminy’s sake in order to bring new life into the world so is it any wonder that they have an investment in how that future unfolds, what the result will be?

We have been told from our very first, or actually we hope they wait until the second day of kindergarten to tell kids that this (whatever this is) will go on their permanent record and will have an effect on their futures; we plot and plan our educations these days not in order to become more educated which was the high-minded plan of generations past, but in order to secure a particular job, a particular career with a particular income and a particular amount of standing in the community in mind, before your first day of freshman English.

We look toward the future and try and make it as safe as possible, as predictable as possible.

When we first moved here we moved into that sad little apartment in a Hugh Codding duplex behind Montgomery High School which was, when we negotiated for it, owned by the Real Estate agent who answered the phone number on the ad. We thought her rational and sane and thought that the year would pass uneventfully.

How little we knew of the California Real Estate market and how rapidly things moved out here. Somewhere during the drive from Minnesota to Santa Rosa the building was sold to some new investors who shall remain nameless because I cannot speak their names without grinding my teeth.

I think that the Real Estate agent who rented us the place must have been the very last person to make money flipping a property in the state for the next five years because the news from the day we moved in was unrelentingly bad and the people who owned the property, far from the smooth and predictable year we were anticipating, provided us with a thrill-ride of disinterested property management and downright criminal neglect.

We and they had thought of a predictable and stable life, us getting out feet firmly on the ground in California, them thinking as so many did that the real estate market only went in one direction in California and that they would probably sell in a year and pocket a tidy profit.

We all picked up the package and shook it and tried to predict what was inside, hoping that it was blessing but finding it to be a curse. We were cursed with people who only thought of rental property as an investment and not a responsibility and they were cursed with renters who wouldn’t shut up and threatened to sue if they didn’t get the heat fixed, and no, your brother is not a sufficiently skilled repairman to adequately handle the job.

You peer through the looking glass in an attempt to see what is on the other side but our vision is flawed, our myopia stems not from a filing of our eyes, but from a failing of our humility.

An old Christian joke goes, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell God what your plans are.” Because God knows better than we do , not what the minutia of our day will be like, but more that we are not the ones who get to steer the boat, we are not in charge.

Which I think is for the best, especially on Easter. After all, look what we have done to it. We have made it a day of conspicuous consumption, of chocolate and creamy filling, about bunnies whose chocolate walls seem to get thinner and thinner every year so we get less chocolate in the same size bunny.

Why? in order to make the future more predictable, for the candy companies, that’s why. The future is bright about this time of year because they can calculate exactly how much they will make off of each bunny and each bag of frighteningly green plastic Easter basket grass. No guesswork needed, this has all been worked out, the dream of all humankind, perfect predictability.

This isn’t Christmas with its mysterious a brightly colored presents and twinkling lights. Every kid knows what is around the corner come Easter time.

But what do you think the mood was like around that table in the room where the disciples were hiding? No chocolate bunnies on the horizon for them, no playful searches for eggs in the grass.

It is a stretch; I know to, think of the tomb as a present, as the object of expectancy, of nervous watching and waiting but there it is. They laid his body down and rolled the stone over the entrance as they had done a hundred times before, for father and mother, uncles and even friends of the family. The funeral rituals were as common to them as they are strange to us in our much more antiseptic world.

And nobody walked out except Lazarus and Jesus was the only one who knew that secret and this time it was Jesus in the tomb so who was there to bid him come out as he had bid his dear friend just a few months earlier?

But didn’t He promise them? Didn’t He perform miracles before? Wasn’t there a chance that the tomb would burst open and the triumphant Jesus would stride out aglow with the majesty of God for the whole world to see?

Yeah, and the soccer ball shaped package is a pony, or a record album.

“I will tear this temple down and in three days build it up again.” Those are His words to them, to the Pharisees and the assembly of the people.

So they sit there, huddled against the chance that this prophecy might come true. I like how in Mark, it is the women who are brave enough to go and see, to pull furtively at the edges of the wrapping on the greatest gift of them all, like a child who scrapes at the scotch tape with their fingernail so that the package will “accidentally” fall open. (just me?)

There is work to do and so the women get up and go while the male disciples fret and worry and wonder and pray, “Hand me that piano, Lord God” and trust that God knows exactly what they need, that God’s will for them is greater blessing than they can even imagine even after spending a year tromping around Judea with the Son of God their imagination is not great enough to encompass what lies within the tomb.

It’s a record; it’s a pony.

It is too terrifying for them; that’s what it is. Lazarus aside, nobody walks out of the tomb they have been laid in, wrapped in linen and dressed with spices for the inevitable decay and dissolution, nobody.

It is like the sheets Caitlyn got for Christmas a couple of years ago. “<sigh> great, sheets!” she told us, unable to disguise her lack of enthusiasm that it wasn’t in fact a pony, or a record, or a soccer ball.

As she came to understand, having for the first time in her life slept on sheets with a thread count over say 400, (these were excellent sheets) she grew to appreciate how good they felt, how much she loved them, how terrifying it was when she left her pillow and more importantly her pillowcase in San Francisco at the hotel we stayed at. So it is with what is unwrapped for us this morning.

I like Mark’s rendition of this scene the very best because it is the most honest about how we tend to react. They told no one, for they were afraid. They didn’t understMarkand what it meant, they were just not sure what to expect and what they got frightened them.

Generations of faith later we often still do not know what to do with the gift from God found, or not found as the case happens to be, in the tomb.

Again I turn to Mark’s Gospel. The ending is unwritten because we have not written it yet. We have not turned from fear to wonder to faith to action so that all the world might know what we know this morning, that all the world might hear the story and feel the wonder, and the fear, and the excitement and the fear.

It is hard to just live the next few days, the days after discovering the empty tomb and realizing that we must now live in a new world but it is also exciting. In the name of God what will we do next? In the name of God, what call will we answer?

The answers are as unlimited as the questions surrounding the tomb, the stone rolled away, the cloths lying on the ground. The gift we receive this morning is unwrapped every time we realize that on the cross Christ set us free to live, and from the tomb, Christ gave set us free to tell the story.

Christ is risen, indeed. Where shall we take that message today? Jesus mentioned Galilee, but we have the whole world in front of us.


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