God is not an insurance agent. H. G. Wells
During Rick Pitino’s tenure as the coach of the Boston Celtics from 1997-2001, he was often asked about when, if ever, the mediocre Celtics would reach the rarified air of excellence reached by Bill Russell’s Celtics of the 60s and Larry Bird’s Celtics of the 80s. After yet another loss in 2000 and yet more questions about when things would get better, Pitino lost it in the postgame press conference.
Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parrish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, ladies and gentlemen, they’re going to be gray and old.
In other words, it’s time to let go of unrealistic expectations, folks. Time to embrace reality and to quit wishing for remembered victories that happened a long time ago.
Although Pitino’s comments have become legendary among sports enthusiasts as a classic example of evading responsibility, his point is well taken. And oddly enough, it is relevant to Easter. Really. Every year on Easter, Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and all we believe that entails. The triumph of life over death. The rupture between the divine and the human breached. It’s the culmination of what many have described as the greatest story ever told. It is an event worth celebrating and, for some Christians, is essentially the end of the story (until the apocalypse and last judgment, that is).
But as always happens, everyone will wake up tomorrow morning and have the “Now what?” question starting them in the face. If we believe that the seminal story of the Christian faith from incarnation through resurrection is true, then how are we supposed to live our lives in the daily grind that faces us as the Easter celebration fades into the background?
Over the centuries, those who shaped the liturgical calendar that frames the attitudes and perspectives of believers through several seasons each year built this question into what comes in the weeks after Easter. After allowing for fifty days of Easter highs, in a few weeks we will enter several months of “Ordinary Time” with no major religious holidays on the horizon. Ordinary time feels like faith, to me at least: How to sustain the energy when the big “wins” like Christmas and Easter fade into the background?
For many Christians, a regular infusion of spectacular or at least noticeable divine activity and interest is needed. So we start looking evidence of such infusions, especially when things aren’t going particularly well. If God is who we claim God is, if Jesus isn’t just a myth, then we should expect occasional evidence of the divine in action.
I was reminded of just how badly this sort of expectation can go when we read H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds for my Apocalypse colloquium a few weeks ago. Things are definitely not going well. The Martians have landed, are burning up the English countryside along with everyone in it, and the nameless narrator finds himself hiding from the invaders in a basement for several days with the local Anglican curate. And the curate is having a difficult time squaring what he thinks he knows about God with what is happening on the other side of wall.
What does it mean? What do these things mean? . . . Why are these things permitted? What sins have we done? . . . Fire, earth quake! As if it were Sodom and Gomorrah! All our work undone, all the work . . . Everything gone, everything destroyed. The church! We rebuilt it only three years ago. Gone! Swept out of existence! Why? . . . This must be the beginning of the end! The end! The great and terrible day of the Lord! When men shall call upon the mountains and the rocks to fall upon them and hide them—hide them from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne!
After several days of listening to the curate slowly unravel as his faith crumbles, the narrator—who has shown little to no interest in anything remotely religious or “spiritual” to this point in the novel—has heard enough.
Be a man! You are scared out of your wits! What good is religion if it collapses under calamity? Think of what earthquakes and floods, wars and volcanoes, have done before to men! Did you think God would exempt you? He is not an insurance agent.
God is not an insurance agent. Neither is Jesus. The triumph of Easter, and the spiritual high that might follow in its wake for a while, will sooner or later be tested by real life. And if, like the sports reporters in Boston, we are looking for a quick fix because of what has happened in the past, we will be disappointed. Depending on the nature of what real life is throwing at us, we might find ourselves struggling, as the curate is struggling, to remember why we claim to be persons of faith in the first place. Because to paraphrase Rick Pitino, Jesus is not coming through that door any time soon.
Two years ago, Jeanne and I spent Easter weekend with family in Pennsylvania, with people we love whom we do not see often enough. This part of my family, and Jeanne and I by extension, continues to struggle with one of those “Now what?” situations, a complex and complicated matter that has lasted a long time and that has completely baffled the experts who should have the knowledge to fix the problem or to at least effectively respond to it. All persons involved are persons of Christian faith; although the ways in which we understand and express the details of our faith are different, we all share a common foundation of belief in the reality of divine love toward us and our response to it. But Easter Jesus didn’t walk through that door.
Or . . . maybe the divine has already walked through the door, just in a less overt but more subtle and beautiful way. At the heart of the Christian story, from incarnation through resurrection, from Christmas through Easter, is the claim that the divine expresses its love in the most intimate way possible—by becoming one of us. By embedding the divine in the human so intimately that the divine is always present wherever we are—in us. We are the way that God gets into the world. Each time you walk through that door, each time I walk through that door, Jesus is walking through that door. Perhaps that’s the best way to sustain the glory of Easter, by remembering that it is a never-ending story. Jesus doesn’t have to walk through that door, because Jesus is already here.