Friday, April 17, 2009

The Best Stimulus Package Ever

“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” Mark 1:8

Our nation is having a huge debate over what stimulates the economy. All agree we need to do some things to give it a jolt, but there is little agreement over what. Do we invest in programs that create jobs, or cut taxes to create spending? Do we need regulation, or deregulation? Is government involvement the solution, or the problem?

I don’t know much about economics, but I do know about the greatest stimulus package … ever. It involved a cross and a resurrection. The details of this package were outlined recently in churches during Holy Week.

We need to reclaim the stimulus of Easter more than ever, for we find ourselves stuck in deadly patterns. But this is not new. The Bible is full of deadness created by sin. In God’s time, we were sent a stimulus package to shake us up and loosen the patterns of death.

Jesus said to religious leaders that they had become "whitewashed tombstones," a metaphor for people who wanted to be so alive but were dead at the core. Our economy has faltered and we are in a "life and death" moment. Do we continue patterns of death such as partisan posturing? Or do we let imagination bring us to life?

If we live in denial about our deadness, we can’t be raised. Yet Easter is about a jolt, a stimulus, a real shock treatment.

I was in the checkout line when my son noticed some pastel jellybeans, renamed “bunnybeans.” What in the world is a bunnybean? They were the size of rabbit pellets, so the images that came to my mind were not pleasant. We make Easter so sweet, but our real hope is in recovering its audacious, racy claim.

In Mark, Easter is anything but nice. The women are so profoundly shaken they couldn't follow the angel's instructions to go and tell. They were stunned, alarmed, and bewildered. How can we make it about "bunnybeans" when they were confounded, perplexed, disturbed, disordered, and confused?

The cross and resurrection have messed with our assumptions about life and death and what it means to win or lose. It kicked in a whole new “economy” in which self-giving love is the greatest power in the universe.

I looked up the term “stimulus” in the dictionary. Most definitions were not surprising. One that entertained me was "something that incites especially a violent response." That sounds like some recent news commentators, but it also sounds like the women at the tomb.

If you've ever lost somebody you love, you know that we find meaning and comfort in rituals. We may not bring oil and spices anymore, but we do bring flowers. Imagine coming back to the grave a few days later only to find a big hole in the ground. The coffin lid is flung open, and the suit or dress you picked is neatly folded. Would your first response be “How nice, let's make a chocolate bunny?” I don't think so. It would be more along the lines of screaming “who the heck has desecrated my momma’s grave?”

We need a little shaking up. We choose patterns of death, not intentionally but subtly, as we live in a functional atheism. We believe with our heads, but in our hearts it's all up to us, we've got to fix everything or please everybody, and we'd better make sure everyone measures up.

I hope you let the cross and resurrection really bother you, get under skin, and perturb you. I hope it continues to irritate you when you'd rather go back to sleep. That's how new life comes in the morning.

To hear the complete sermon this article is based on, go to my sermon archive.