I love the miracle stories. I always listened for them as a kid. You always knew when one was coming because the grown ups would lower their voices. Did you hear about...? And then there would be a juicy story about a cousin who tried to get pregnant for a dozen years and finally gave up. Adopted a beautiful baby girl. And the very same day the adoption came through, she got pregnant. She's pregnant! Can you believe it? Isn't that the strangest thing? Or the guy at the office who died on the operating table but was revived. In that brief moment of being technically deceased, he had floated over his own body and watched the whole proceedings, and could tell the doctor what he had said, word for word. How could he possibly...? Well, he probably just heard it, you know, while he was under anesthesia... But still.... how could he have... he was dead!
I grew up hearing a story about how my grandma, my baba, was so terrified when a car almost ran over Uncle Mike that she ran into the road and pushed the moving car away from him with her tiny body. Maybe it was adrenalin but I mean... how could she have... are you sure? Charlie was right there. Saw the whole thing. And he doesn't lie.
I loved those stories. I loved the big eyes the adults got when they told them. I loved the little shiver of fear and awe I got when I heard them. It's like it says in the Bible when the angels appear to the shepherds in the Christmas story: "And they were sore afraid." I love that line. I love when Linus says it in the Peanuts Christmas special. "And they were sore afraid."
Easter is the great miracle story of the Christian family. It's a family that maybe you're in, maybe you've left and just come home to for the holidays, maybe you married into the family, maybe you've noticed that there are a lot of nasty relatives in the family. That's okay, and some downright crazy ones. Every family's got them. But that shouldn't ruin Easter for you. Easter is soul food of the highest order. So this is how the Easter story got told in the Christian family:
Did you hear about Jesus of Nazareth?
No, what did he do now?
Well he went up to Jerusalem for Passover, and got himself crucified.
Oh, no. Well, it's no big surprise. Very strange boy, he was. Wonderful, wonderful man, though. Everyone who was there that day at Jairus' house swears that that child was gone as can be, and he touched her and said a word and she was up and eating a meal in no time. He really had something.
He certainly did! When they went to bury his body, the tomb was empty.
Yes. Empty, and the burial cloths rolled up neat as can be in the corner.
But that's not all. You know his people claim to have seen him.
Seen him where?
Walking on the road. Teaching. On the beach. Eating. I mean, alive.
That's what they're saying.
It seems to me there are two kinds of people in the world. The first kind of person hears a story like this and wants to get the facts. How is this possible? What's the explanation? "I need to understand. And if there's no possible explanation, it didn't happen." Now that's a great way to go about solving a lot of life's important questions, but when it comes to mysteries and miracles, it's not a productive approach. I think some folks cling to it because to do otherwise would be to admit that they can't control reality by explaining it into submission. The world needs to work in an orderly way for these people. "One plus one equals two," and that sort of certainty. That's what they need. Firm foundation under their feet. Nature has laws and those laws don't get broken.
The second kind of person hears a miracle story and the hair on their arms stands right up. They get a little shiver and they like that shiver. Their world is full of signs and wonders. In fact, sometimes this kind of person gets so wound up in signs and wonders that they lose their grip on reality a little bit. You want to tie a brick around this sort of person's foot sometimes to tether them to the Earth. You know what kind of person I mean. "Oh! I found a parking space! That means the Universe really wanted me to go out for dinner tonight!"
Those are two extremes. But deep truths aren't usually found at the place of extremes, and I don't think the truth of Easter can be, either. The truth of Easter isn't found in the question, "How did this happen? What explanation could there possibly be, and if there isn't one, it didn't happen?" And it isn't found in the question, "Why doesn't everyone just accept that Jesus was resurrected? Why can't they just have faith?" The truth of Easter isn't in either of these extremes. Easter orients us toward awe. That's all it needs to do. Easter orients us toward awe.
I need to tell you about something that happened earlier this week. Because I can't make sense of it, and it's got my hair on end a little bit. I learned to knit on New Year's Eve. I have gotten good enough that I knit myself a green scarf. I brought my knitting basket to church on Tuesday night where I knitted during a meeting, and that's when I finished my scarf. I drove home at 8:30 pm and brought my knitting basket in the house with me.
At 10:30 pm, two hours after I got home, I took my dog out to do his business before bed. It was dark and drizzly. As I walked Max out the door I noticed a bit of green yarn on the driveway. I peered at it in the dark. To my dismay, it wasn't a little bit of yarn, it was a lot! I thought "OH NO!", and I assumed that I had dropped my knitting somehow, or that it had gotten snagged on something and unravelled. What a mess! I imagined all my hours of work, undone. I looked around for the needles and the mess that I assumed would be lying somewhere nearby, but as I followed the green yarn, it slowly became clear to me that the yarn didn't end. There was no mess. There were no needles.
In a total daze of shock, I followed the green yarn -- which seemed to have been placed carefully and neatly -- all the way down the driveway. My heart began to pound as I peered in the rain and saw that the yarn actually took a right at the end of the driveway, as if it was walking to church. Suddenly I became very frightened -- I was sore afraid!! -- and I ran back to the house with Max.
I told myself I was being silly. There must be an explanation. Yet when I got to the house, there was my basket of knitting sitting right on the kitchen counter with the scarf still as finished as ever, wrapped neatly around the needles. The only difference is that instead of having an extra ball of yarn in the basket, there was a raggedy end where the extra ball of yarn had been pulled away. Car door, you think? So did I. But wouldn't I have noticed a snag? And even if I dropped the ball of yarn going into the house and caught it in the house or car door, that doesn't explain what I found the next morning when I went out to investigate:
The yarn was stretched all the way down the driveway, still in place from the night before. It took a neat right at the end of the driveway, wrapping itself around the 25 MPH speed limit sign and continuing along the grass in a straight, taut line -- just exactly the way I walk to church -- and continued until it ran out next to the State Police barracks next door. I have photos and video footage. Maybe you can explain this. I sure wish someone would.
The best I can do is imagine that the neighbor's cat, Brinks, found the ball of yarn that had fallen when I went into the house (and somehow detached itself?). Cats like yarn. So I imagine that Brinks took that yarn in his mouth and stretched it all along the driveway, walking with it. Why he took a right instead of going across the street to his own house, I can't figure out. But that's what I imagine.
It comforts me to have an explanation in my mind. Because the thing is, yarn doesn't move by itself. It scares the heck out of me to imagine that yarn moving around in the windy rainy night just that way, that perfectly lined up along my path to church. Nature has laws that don't get broken! I would rather not think about it. But then, why not? Because what if I just let myself be unafraid for a moment, not need Nature to follow its laws for a moment, just imagine an angel unrolling a ball of green yarn to get my attention? As you heard earlier in the gospel of Luke, Easter is full of angels. Why not an angel in Norwell? Why not an angel in your life, or mine? An angel in the form of a cat, even.
I have often described the Easter story as one of God's greatest attempts to get our attention, to communicate to humanity that the ultimate nature of reality is love. What could a length of green yarn be communicating?
That ultimate reality is playful, like a cat plays with a ball of yarn?
That ultimate reality is bright, the color of springtime, of trees and grass?
That we are a "close-knit community?"
That when a group of women gather on Tuesday mornings (as we do here at church) to talk and knit caps for chemotherapy patients and teach the minister how to knit -- it is holy work?
These are some of the things I have been wondering over the past days. Yes, I am still incredibly bothered that I don't know how the yarn got there, but I am learning to have an Easter attitude about the whole thing, allowing the event to orient me toward awe and away from needing answers. God knows the cat won't ever tell me. A "yarn," of course, is another name for a good story. So take this one with you, this green yarn of Easter, and have fun with it, our little Yarnitarian Yarniversalist miracle.