At the funeral of a great baseball fan, the presider commented that our faith life is a lot like baseball. Baseball, he said, like our spiritual life, is all about getting home. Even though we start at home plate, we don’t get to stay there. We run the bases, live our life, and sometimes find ourselves striking out, or stranded on third base. When we’re stranded on third, we might get lucky; someone just might sacrifice for us to get home. Someone might give up their chance at that moment to advance towards home so we might get there first.
Sacrifice. It’s the Easter story. Not the miraculous story of the stone rolled back and the empty tomb; not the story of Jesus walking with a couple on the road to Emmaus and breaking bread with them. The story of sacrifice is the story of Palm Sunday: Jesus showing up in Jerusalem, knowing what would unfold. It is the story of the Garden of Gethsemane, of Jesus walking out with his friends onto the Mount of Olives knowing that a Seder meal was not simply another Seder meal, but in fact his Last Supper. It is the story of Good Friday: crucifixion; death; offering himself in sacrifice.
We’d rather not think about the sacrifice part of Easter. Chocolate Easter bunnies and Easter eggs are so much easier to swallow when we narrow our focus to the Resurrection story. But sacrificing to help another get home? That is so Good Friday, can we please move on? Pass the ham and cheesy potatoes, please.
But if we are honest with ourselves, our first taste of resurrection may be a tart remembrance of another’s sacrifice. Our first feelings may be fear and trembling, as when the women in the Gospel of Mark fled from the empty tomb. We move into our new life with a lack of sureness, trying out new steps in a new world emptied of old laws, of old truths; emptied of the one who destroyed those laws and truths as part of his sacrifice. As William Faulkner said when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, “Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear” which causes us to forget “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself, which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.” Faulkner made the point that people alone have “a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” Faulkner wrote about these things to lift the human heart by reminding us of what we’re capable of: courage; honor; pride; compassion; pity; and sacrifice.
These are not dime store commodities, and we do not earn their value nor resolve the internal conflict of our hearts without pain. When my friend Becky died this week, I witnessed her dear friend Eileen sacrifice to get Becky home. She arrived night after night at the hospice to sit and pray with Becky. When Becky was no longer responsive, she told her it was ok to go to God. She sat in vigil, sacrificing her time for someone she loved. Sacrificing, knowing Becky wanted what Jesus asked of his disciples in the garden: Stay awake, and pray with me.
Sacrifices like the one Eileen offered Becky take place in person-to-person encounters. It is the unique gift of Jesus that he offers a one-on-one sacrifice for each of us as an invitation and an example, saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Batter up, and Happy Easter!