These days one of the greatest challenges I face is not so much work as it is play, specifically, playing with my children. I never would have imagined play to be so difficult, but I’m finding that, as I get older, playing (at least the kind of playing done by the likes of 3 and 5 year olds) can be…well…just another form of hard work. And, in our house, Mom and Dad are expected to participate.
For all its challenges, I continue to be amazed at the play of my children. These past winter months meant extended time indoors; they also meant that the house was in total disarray, from top to bottom. Toys, blankets, books…a real mess. Frankly, as long as their play was peaceable, this wasn’t too much of an issue. Peace-amid-clutter is preferable to any sort of disharmony, in my opinion.
I’ve noticed certain themes reappearing in their play. Play is, after all, a form of drama. There is usually some sort of crisis involved. Imaginary rock slides of cascading blankets and pillows. Terrible storms wrecking havoc upon cities of blocks. Trains toppling over crumbling bridges. There are the variations of the cops-and-robbers theme: stories populated with good guys and (of course) bad guys, locked in eternal struggle. And, if there are moments of defeat in their play, there will soon come eventual redemption and victory. The good guys, after all, always win.
These themes—crisis, seeming defeat, eventual victory—are deeply imbedded in the fabric of their imaginary universe. I am not so sure where these themes are developed in their minds; probably through stories we tell, books and (who knows?) maybe even the television. They not only perceive these dramatic themes but they also live them out through their play, enacting little dramas, whether with toy trains, stuffed animals, whatever they can animate with their imaginations. And by playing, they are wound up in the story they create. They become, in some sense, the story they tell. Only through time and experience will these stories unfold in their own reality. Life is (as most adults will admit) a reality of crisis, seeming defeat, and (hopefully) moments of victory despite it all.
In the coming weeks, the Church enacts—or shall we say plays—these very themes. We probably don’t think often of our worship life as “play,” but that might be a good way to think about it. After all, we already live in the reality of the Resurrection; yet we play Holy Week, immersing ourselves in that sacred story of the crisis of sin, seeming defeat of the cross, the victory of the resurrection. It’s not just a liturgical exercise. It’s a re-telling and a re-enacting of a sacred story, much in the same way children will re-enact their favorite stories. By letting ourselves be drawn into the story, say, of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, or the agony of Gethsemane, or indeed, the astonishing discovery of the empty tomb on that first Easter, we claim our place in the story. It’s not simply the story about Jesus and his followers who lived in a faraway time and a faraway place; it’s our story. By playing it out we rediscover the crisis of our humanness, the seeming defeat in the face of death, and the astonishing reality of victory through the resurrection of Jesus.
As another holy season comes upon us, let us allow ourselves to be astonished again at this, our story. Let us allow ourselves to experience the tension and intimacy at the table with Jesus, confronted by his call to radical love. Let us sink to the depths of our deepest brokenness, revealed and experienced in his cross. And let us rise and shine—again—with the astonishing news that he is not dead, but he is risen! This is the glorious good news! Let us play it out, and then (most importantly) let us live it out!
+ Pastor Tom Kildea