Sunday, April 04, 2010

"Not Any More" (Isaiah 65:17-25)

One set of movies that will get my family parked in front of the television is the old Pink Panther series with Peter Sellers.

Sellers plays Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau of the French Sûreté, or national police. He is a bumbling idiot, and the slapstick stunts of the movies made us kids laugh while our parents chuckled over the more adult-level humor of some of the situations and dialogue. In a climactic scene in one of the movies, Clouseau has gathered all of the suspects in the "mer-der," as he calls it, in a room in the house while he spins his theory of the crime, just like in an Agatha Christie book.

At some point, he manages to get his hand stuck in the gauntlet of a suit of armor. He can't get it off, so he continues to lay out how the "mer-der" was committed with it still on his hand. As he builds to his accusation, he forgets it's there, and in making his point, he slaps his hand down on a piano. But it's the hand in the heavy metal gauntlet, which means he destroys the piano. All of the others are stunned.

"My God, man," the house's owner says. "That's a priceless Steinway!"

Clouseau looks at the ruined piano briefly, then turns to the owner. "Not any merre," he says.

That phrase comes to my mind when I consider this passage from Isaiah in light of the events of Easter. We call this one of the "peaceable kingdom" passages of Isaiah, which describe what life will be like when God restores creation to the state for which he intended it. Lions will lie down with lambs, carnivores will turn vegetarian, bacon will be good for you, and so on. I may have made that last one up.

Isaiah's speaking to a people exiled from their homeland, who have seen a lot of war, violence and destruction in their lives. The vision he has of the coming day of the Lord brings about a land without violence and the dislocation of the exile. People will enjoy the results of their own work, and they will live long, happy lives. Just as he had earlier warned of the consequences of ignoring God's direction, he now speaks of the reality of God's steadfast love for his chosen people and for all creation. The people's ignorance brought about their destruction, but God's love will bring about their restoration.

How does this connect to Easter? What does it say for us, who call ourselves "Easter people?" After all, we celebrate a risen Lord and we say that the event which changed everything has already happened! But realistically, we can look at the world and we know that there's plenty of wrong still going on. People still get sick, and they may suffer for some time before being cured or passing away. People still take advantage of each other, and many times they get away with it. People are sad, even to the place where they consider living any longer a worthless act. Misery remains in this world, Easter people or no.

And even Jesus, when he came into this world, managed to change only a very small number of things. Yes, he healed people, and yes he taught them how to live in ways that would help them and benefit the weakest among them. Yes, he offered a new way of looking at people that focused on love of God and of others instead of love of only self. Among the people who followed him, there probably were some changed lives for the better.

But it was such a short time and he reached so few people in his little corner of the Roman Empire. Pilate had no idea who he was and it's a sure bet Cæsar never heard of him. Plus, whatever he managed, there was one thing he couldn't conquer: Death. No matter how much else he might have accomplished, he could be and was stilled by the force at the disposal of those who opposed him.

And we, Easter people, face the same reality. Even if we follow to the letter every teaching of Jesus and even if we were to somehow convince all people to do the same, we would still have to deal with the reality of death. Of the end of life and of the separation it brings.

We can push death back some. Modern medicine gives us the possibility of a length of days reached by only a tiny few in earlier times. We could give up french fries and live longer -- of course, who'd want to, but we could do it. But we can't eliminate it. Death comes to us all.

If you want to put faces on the forces of oppression, and sickness, and misery and sadness and hate and anger and all of the things Jesus came here to oppose, you might imagine them gathered round on that Saturday, mocking the people who gave their lives over to following the Galilean preacher.

"Yeah, you guys did real good. Healed people and taught them to love one another and help each other out. Pushed us way back, away from your lives so that you might even forget we were around. For awhile, anyway.

"Because we were just hanging back, playing with you. We had the big gun waiting, old death himself. Couldn't push him away, could you? Kick oppression to the curb, show sorrow the door, give anger and hate their walking papers, sure. But you still dance with Mr. D. And that takes care of all your good work. Death's on our side, and death has the final say."

And then Easter morning dawns and says, "Not any more."

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