Our cat is going on 18 years old. We named her “Sophia”--the beautiful Greek word for “wisdom”--BEFORE we knew her very well. Sophie is kind of an “arm’s length” cat. She doesn’t like to be picked up; isn’t one to climb up on your lap and snuggle. She prefers to lurk around watching from a distance.
We don’t have many rules for the cat in our house. Not that it would make any difference if we did…Sophia pretty much comes and goes as she pleases. In my office, she would get into pretty much everything. I didn’t really mind much with ONE EXCEPTION. There was one space in that office that I didn’t want her getting into. It was a little space barely big enough for her to fit into behind a filing cabinet at the side of my desk.
I didn’t like her getting into that space because once she got IN that space it was very difficult for her to get OUT of it. When she was young, she could just squeeze her body through a small space behind my desk and get into that corner.
But life was good for Sophia, and as she got older all those kitty treats and naps in the sun had altered the shape of her body so that she couldn’t fit through that hole anymore.
I tried to explain that to Sophia. I would point out that she had the ENTIRE ROOM to explore and enjoy without getting into just that ONE space. But did that matter to her? NOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooo!
Did it matter that Leslie and I had purchased her a zillion kitty toys so that she had things to play with all over the house? Did it matter that we had installed perches on windowsills or that we’d gone around the whole house strategically opening blinds and curtains in just the right places, so she could look out windows in all directions? No. The only thing on her little kitty brain that day, was getting into the ONE space in the entire house that she KNEW I didn’t want her to get into, and she was focused like a laser on getting into it.
So one day I was working hard on something at my desk--weighing hefty theological issues no doubt--when out of the corner of my eye I saw this blur of cat-fur whizz by, and PLUNK, there she was, stuck behind my desk.
When she would do that—it was a big pain to get her out. I would have to move piles of junk, I mean important work, from my desk and disconnect my printer, and move it off the cabinet. So I did all of that but there was still a problem. The space was so confined that Sophie couldn’t jump out of it. She could jump down IN THERE easily enough, but jumping out was another matter entirely. To make a big jump up like that, first she would have to back up a little, and twitch her butt from side to side, and wag her tail…and THEN launch her jump--and there just wasn’t room to do ANY of that maneuvering. So she was stuck, indeed.
I did what any cat-owner in my position would probably do--I started talking to the cat. “I hope you’re happy!” “So NOW what do you think you’re going to do?” And of course, the ever-popular: “I TOLD you not to do that!” “Now you’ve got a BIG problem!”
But the truth was now, I was the one with the big problem! I couldn’t reach far enough over that cabinet to the floor behind it to pick the cat up. And there's something else you need to know about Sophia--she doesn’t LIKE to be picked up! So when I bent and reached as far as I could trying to help her out, what did she do? She cowered back as far as she could get in the corner, so I wouldn’t be able to reach her.
The only way for her to get out of there would be to let me help her, but she would NOT let me help her out. So I turned out the light, left the room, and went downstairs, calling back over my shoulder something inspiring and helpful like: “Okay—you made your bed, now you LIE in it!”
I heard some thumping and scratching for a while but when I came back up to my office Sophia was still stuck behind my desk. “So…NOW are you ready for me to help you out?” I asked her. I reached over again, but AGAIN, she cowered down flat against the floor in her dark little corner, and wouldn’t let me help her.
I tried and tried, but could not force her up so I gave up and went back downstairs for a while longer. Finally,I went back up to the office, looked over the cabinet and said, “Well???”
Sophie made a little meowing noise. And I know this part was REALLY HARD for her--she stood up on her hind legs with her front paws reaching up, and held still while I reached over and picked her up.
She FINALLY let me save her.
When I got over being so mad at the cat I started thinking about what had just happened with my preacher mind, and I realized that I had just seen a really good illustration of the Biblical story of Sin and Redemption that is the core of the Easter Message.
If you strip away all the heavy theological terms--here’s what the Bible tells us about the human condition: We have been provided with ALL WE NEED to live happy, fulfilled lives. God created us and put us in a world filled with good things like our cat in that house filled with treats and toys and window perches, but there is something inside each of us, that tends to make us turn our backs on all that good stuff and instead to seek out the very thing that separates us from all that goodness.
Remember the story of Adam and Eve and the apple? In the Garden of Eden, they were given free use of ALL the good things. But there was ONE THING they were warned against--only ONE THING that could separate them from God.
What did they do in the story? Just like Sophia, they turned their backs on all the good things at hand, and felt DRIVEN to the one thing that could hurt them. And the Bible says that all of us have something inside us that makes us do the same thing. It pushes us away from the light, away from the things we KNOW are good for us and into those scary places in life where we feel trapped, and lonely, and helpless, and afraid.
The Bible tells us that we simply can’t get out of those spots all by ourselves. No amount of effort on our part can do it. The only way out, is to have a helping hand to hold onto.
The Good News of the Bible--the Message of Easter--is that God has offered us that helping hand. In Jesus Christ, God reached into our world
and offered us a way back up out of the hole we had dug for ourselves as a race, and TODAY, God continues to offer us that same helping hand when we struggle in our individual lives.
But we have to TAKE that hand. All too often, when God reaches out that hand to help us, we cower away from it, like Sophia in her dark corner behind my desk.
Maybe we are afraid -thinking it is one more person trying to hurt us. Maybe we feel guilty and are afraid God wants to judge or condemn us. Maybe we feel so lonely and alienated that we just can’t quite believe God would care enough about us. Maybe we feel that we DESERVE to stay stuck.
When we respond that way to God’s grace the only thing God can do for us sometimes is to “go away” for a while and give us time to think; time to let us flounder around some more; time to try and fail, and try and fail, and to finally realize that we can’t do it all by ourselves; that we really do need help.
But then God comes back--again and again sometimes--until we finally reach that point, where we humble ourselves enough to accept that help being offered; until we hold still long enough for God to lift us up.
Jesus Christ lived and taught and died to offer us that helping hand--to show us the way out of the pits of despair we stumble into--to teach us there is no shame or disgrace in accepting help.
The resurrection that we celebrate together on Easter Sunday is all about this new life made possible for us by what Christ did. It is about the triumph of that life over sin and death. It is about being able to experience ETERNAL LIFE--not just as a reward after we die--but as a quality of life we can experience and share right now.
This ETERNAL life is a life in which we can put aside our pettiness, and all our little hypocrisies and stop hurting each other. It is a life in which we can really begin to see, and taste, and feel the fabulous beauty in all the world around us. It is a life in which we can learn to bring out the best in each other, each and every day.
Would you like to experience that kind of freedom? It is here today—for the taking. The same spirit of God’s love that triumphed over sin and death on that first Easter Sunday is here on THIS Easter Sunday, reaching out to you. No matter how deep or dark a hole you may have pressed yourself into, God wants to give you a hand-up for a second chance. God wants to give you a fresh, clean slate--the opportunity to start again--and to experience life—maybe for the first time in all its fullness.