God’s Great Big “AND” Lk 24: 1-12
One of my most important life lessons came from comedian Tina Fey’s autobiography, Bossypants. In this book she describes a fundamental rule of improvisational theater: no matter what bizarre “bit” a cast mate introduces into a skit, you can never contradict it; you can only add to it. You can never say, NO, BUT; you can only say YES, AND. If your skit partner comes on stage limping—even if this action is completely out of left field—you cannot discount or ignore it. You can only adjust your version of the story to now include limping. Though the previous storyline may have been about making ravioli together, and your scene partner may be expecting you to say something about dropping a bowl on his foot, you may now comment, “I see you are limping. YES, AND it must be because the aliens took away your crutches.” This interpretation may not have been what your scene partner intended, but now it’s built into the story. YES AND is the key rule of improv, and it has proven to be an incredibly valuable tool in my own dealing with life’s curve balls.
For example, a hypothetical pastor might say to God, “I am anticipating a call to a congregation in Madison, WI or Houston, Texas.” BUT when the phone rings, it is the assistant to the Bishop in the Northwest Washington Synod saying, “I’d like you to consider a weird little congregation in Seattle.” The pastor could say, “NO BUT that’s not what I had in mind.” Or that pastor, guided by the Holy Spirit and the support of colleagues and family, might say, “This is not what I expected; I trust that God is in this moment, in these people, AND YES, let it be to me according to your will.” Hypothetically, that might be how the scene plays out.
YES AND is certainly the principle operating in today’s Gospel reading from Luke. Let me read it again, asking you to pay attention to all the times it looks like a BIG BUT is going to get in God’s way, only to be turned on its head by God’s even bigger AND. (Reread).
Did you hear it? Did you hear how the women arrived at Jesus’ tomb to tend to his dead body, BUT they find it empty? AND then they encounter two men in dazzling clothes, AND are terrified, BUT the shiny men seem perplexed by the women’s grief. They ask the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, BUT has risen.” They remind the women that Jesus had predicted he would be killed, AND that he promised he would rise again. The women do remember this promise, AND they go running to tell the other disciples what’s happened. BUT—as happens all too often— the women’s testimony was dismissed as an idle tale, AND the men did not believe them. BUT Peter got up and ran to the tomb to check anyway AND was amazed by what he encountered.
God’s big ANDS are even greater than our big BUTS! This is the forever story of God’s relationship with people! Just think back to how Luke’s story about Jesus began. An angel promised an old priest that he and his elderly wife would have a child. “NO, BUT I’m too old to have kids!” he protested. The angel pressed the mute button on his mouth, AND his wife joyfully acknowledged the YES of both her own pregnancy miracle AND the wondrous baby Jesus in her relative’s womb. YES, AND Elizabeth and Zechariah gave birth to John the Baptist nine months later. An angel also tells Mary she is going to bear the child of God. She insists, “NO BUT I’m just a virgin teenager!” YES AND, soon Gabriel and a whole swarm of other angels terrify a bunch of shepherds by singing about that holy baby’s birth. That’s where it all began.
No doubt it was hard for the shepherds explain what they saw on Christmas Eve, just as it must have been difficult for the women on Easter morning to tell the disciples their story about the empty tomb. Remember that in first century Palestine, neither shepherds nor women were considered credible enough to give evidence in a courtroom. Though they had witnessed profound things, their society repeatedly told them, “NO BUT, you are too insignificant for your testimonies to count.” God bulldozes right over that big BUT with an even bigger “YES AND.” “YES, these are women and manual laborers, AND these are precisely the messengers through whom I choose to share the most pivotal stories of all time!”
What is the message God so desperately wants the world to hear? On Christmas Eve the word is, “YES, there is terrible trouble in the world, AND don’t be afraid! I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people! Unto you this day is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord!” The word went out among sad, poor, disenfranchised people that God sees them AND understands them AND loves them AND wants to heal them AND bring them hope. Those who had come to believe that they didn’t matter suddenly found not only an ally, but a Savior, who would risk everything for their sake.
After this message became widely spread, after the community around Jesus saw and heard God’s generosity active among them, registered the idea that ALL of creation is precious in God’s eyes, AND that nothing could keep God from being with them and for them, they got scared. “NO BUT,” the people protested, “This isn’t fair. I’ve worked hard to be special, to have more,”—or, alternately—“I’ve not worked hard enough, been good enough.” Either way, if grace is the final word, none of it matters. If everyone is equally important, that means there are no longer winners and losers. Because the everyone was frightened by unconditional grace and universal acceptance, they tried to stomp it out, to enforce shame and fear as the big levelers. But when it seemed violence and cruelty had landed the biggest BUT of all on the world, a group of sorrowing women show up to mourn at the grave of Love, only to encounter angels asking, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? LOVE is not here; LOVE is risen, AND is alive and well!”
AND then women DO remember. They had’t expected anything but darkness—symbolically or literally. They had no expectations that anything good could come of the cross. They accepted the end of all hope, but chose to be where Jesus was, even if it meant nothing at all. AND then the angels pressed them to recall promises Jesus made to them, assurances that he would always be with them. They ran to tell the others, “Christ is risen!” But the disciples also expect Jesus to be among the dead, not the living. They imagined that they, too, would soon be executed for being part of Jesus’ radical visionary project. In the previous week, their little group had fallen apart. Some fell asleep while Jesus was so upset he was sweating blood. One betrayed him to his enemies. One denied ever knowing him. None of them accompanied him to his interrogations by Pilate or the High Priest, nor tried to defend or protect him. All their hopes about a new kingdom were crushed. Their leader died a bloody, humiliating death; their whole movement was dis-membered.
So they initially dismiss the women’s proclamations of new life, (“NO BUT, what you are saying is impossible!”). In the coming days, however, they are persuaded, as more and more of them experience Jesus’ YES AND. Two disciples encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus, AND he reveals himself in the breaking of the bread. Others see him in an upper room, AND on a lakeshore cooking breakfast. Slowly the great BIG But of Death is shown to be the loser, and God’s BIGGER YES AND of Life the victor!
That is what the angels are singing to us on this Easter morning in the year of our Lord 2019! Christ came among mortals as a human being because God couldn’t bear to be away from us. Christ lived and died in perfect solidarity with us, willing to lose everything in order to communicate the profound truths that peace is not weakness, that violence is never the answer, and that no one and nothing is too small for God’s unending compassion. On this Easter morning, as on that first one long ago, the power of shame and death to crush us are cracked wide open. We need not look for the living among the dead. New beginnings, however unexpected or unlikely, are not only possible, but real!
What Jesus promised he also demonstrated: that death is real AND that love is stronger than fear; that pain is inevitable AND that mercy is stronger than despair, that disappointment and heartbreaks will lay us low, AND that hope will cause us to rise up again.
AND since we tend to forget how big God’s resurrection AND is, Jesus comes to us, again AND again, offering us tangible reminders of forgiveness and renewal through his body and life-giving blood. AND Jesus repeatedly joins us though the messages of unlikely witnesses, if only we will hear. Today the angels are calling us to courage and to faith, empowering the timid with an amazing story. Against all odds, everyone in this weird little group is qualified to witness to what we have seen and heard. If you feel yourself wanting to say, “NO BUT, not me!” remember God’s big AND includes everyone! Don’t look for Jesus’ body among the dead. The body of Christ is living. And it is right here. In fact, it is us! Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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