John 20:19-31

“new” television event has taken over most network television stations
in American society: reality shows! They are on every night of the week on American
television, with variations upon themes invented quicker than you can say “Survivor
Island!” A new category of the Emmy television awards had to be created
to award such shows that are so plentiful these days. They range from the tropical
zones of “Survivor Island,” to the Los Angeles-based “Amish in
the City”; from the puerile “The Bachelor,” to the world-tripping
“The Amazing Race!”

anyone has seen these unreal reality-based televisions shows can tell you, there
is something about the world that we are living in that makes for an unreal
spectacle. People put their very lives on video and audio recorders, taping
every unplanned goof and error. We watch with shock and wonder as we listen
to people plot the demise of other people on “The Apprentice,” choosing
who we would vote off the show on “The Average Joe.”

we read in Scriptures that we are to “love your enemies,” to “not
be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” and “do unto others
as you would want them to do unto you,” we find the exact opposite being
played out in modern television reality shows. It appears that everything that
is in our Scriptures is lost amid the greed perpetrated in these shows. On these
shows, the axiom that holds true is “build up alliances and make enemies
of friends if need be to win the game.” This is followed by “if evil
helps you win, do it,” as the end justifies the means. As for “doing
unto others,” this is twisted to mean “if your alliance hurts you,
and you are voted off the show, then really do something evil against those
who oppose you!” Vengeance is a virtue that plays well on these shows,
not to mention the money coming in for advertisers, and making possible new
stars amid the wounded few who survive the onslaught.

peculiar moral plays play well on these reality television shows. In turn, those
of us who watch these shows are treated to an onslaught of survival of the physically
buff and fittest, of the intellectually smartest but of scrupulous ethics, as
we watch ruthlessness and cunning take on familiar games that we play out in
our ordinary lives. We hold our breath as we watch the more politically adroit,
the sexiest, the prettiest players be manipulated by the schmooze-meisters among
the producers, in which the ones who are left “winning” the game have
lost the game of truth and honesty a long time back . . . these are the people
who embody the practices that make them the lucky ones who win the one million
dollars, go to bed with the adorable hunk, and win the supreme prize of never
having to work again for the rest of their lives. The end does justify the means!
The one who crosses the finish line first will be the one we remember; the head
of the line gets the best meal! The “Survivor” winner takes all!

for the rest of the gang, the Roman thumbs down on the losers!

the swirling, tempting lure of such capitalistic swill stands the unchanging
truth of the Gospel, whose wonderful, quirky, yet resolute logic confounds and
seems foolish to the best, “the winners” among those who buy the “Survivor’s”
tale. We followers of Christ are told time and again that the last will be first,
and the first will be last. This stands in stark contrast to the bizarre world
of the television “reality” shows, in which the last are the losers,
and the first is the one who has been able to perform and be the “fittest”
as the shows rely upon Darwin’s axiom, “survival of the fittest.”

how the Passion Story would be interpreted by those who write and produce the
scripts for “Survivor Island,” “Big Brother,” or “The
Apprentice,” in which the weakest link is voted off our “Survivor
Island.” The first to be voted off this island, this blue orb, in this
Passion story was Judas Iscariot, who was a common crook, wasn’t he? He led
to Jesus’ arrest, who was to be hailed and mocked at his crucifixion scene as
a two-bit “King of the Jews.”

was the second tossed off this island earth, his torched light extinguished
on Good Friday. Thereby, all those who remain on this earth, the ultimate blue
and green egg-speckled “Survivor Island” in the black starry tumbling
landscape of the universe, are the winners. . . or are we?

The One who calls us his disciples isn’t playing by the same rules as the modern
television shows, thanks be to God. We’re playing by God’s rules; the kingdom
of God’s script . . . and things have, are, and will never be the same again.
We worship the One who lost his life, who was considered by some in the world
to be weak, the loser, the outcast, the Tikki-torch of life snuffed out, voted
off the island earth by the other puerile uppity members of the television-version
of the Lord of the Flies tribe. The God of incautious and extravagant hope is
the Savior of us all, the first born of a fantastic new creation. In Jesus’
conquering death we all are given new life abundantly. In the risen Christ,
the game of “Survivor Island” is overthrown. The Holy Spirit reminds
us in subtle ways that we no longer have to compete, betray, lie, cheat, steal,
gossip, hate the enemy, and search for love in affectionless sex. God’s victory
in Christ’s resurrection is our glorious victory as well.

truth is quietly portrayed in this simple Eastertide story, as told by St. John,
where there is an encounter between the frightened-to-the-bone, scared-to-death
disciples, with the risen Christ in the fullness of life, human and divine.
Christ, our Passover, the one who embodies God’s peace, comes and stands among the frightened and remaining few “survivors.”
He didn’t come to the homes of the Scribes and Pharisees, who were undoubtedly
not in hiding; Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas slept soundly in their night shirts
at nights after the crucifixion. But here, in this darkened space crowded by
the grey and dark moving shadows of the evening, is illuminated the mystery,
the wonder of life, the bearer of light: the risen Christ. In confident yet
hushed tone we read: “Peace be with you,” said he, the one who is
our peace.

can’t blame the disciples, including Thomas, for being so out of the loop or
doubtful about the resurrection. It caught everyone, women and men followers
alike, off guard. It is one thing to feed a few thousand people with some fish
and bread loaves, walk calmly on the water during a raging storm while inviting
Peter out for a stroll, and heal a few hundred paralytics and people with leprosy,
while with one hand he raises Lazarus from the dead and with the other hand
make gestures to Legion; besides, there was a prophet on every other corner,
worth about ten cents and a bucket of spit. But resurrection was as quiet as
the still small voice of God heard now and then by those in our Old Testament,
like Elijah, when the prophets stopped their blathering and cared enough to
listen to God. Resurrection didn’t come with the grand choir of angels that
made the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sound like a small off key quartet of voices
at the street fair, when they were announcing to scared shepherds in the cold
stone field of sheep on the arrival of Emmanuel – God with us – at his birth.
There was none of the ear shattering cavalcade of sound as the very fabric of
creation was ripped from top to bottom with thunder clouds swirling the globe
and stars in the heavens bursting as Jesus hung gasping his last breath on the
cross made of the very wood first created by the Creator’s hands. Death would
lose its stinging bite of this world. And the cries of fear from his followers,
and the jeers of his accusers rang around the earth and soared through the heavens
above for all eternity to hear. But resurrection came upon us and the world
with an audible silence.

it safe and subtle is not divine. Love is the wildest, choicest door into the
Passion, into Eastertide. God saved the world not by sitting up in heaven on
the gold throne with the Burlesque act of seraphim and cherubim in long Rockettes’
dance lines, issuing antiseptic directives thither and yon. Instead he became
human, vulnerable, intimate, humble, and available to us and with us … and
for us. He died not because he despised the earth but because he loved it as
a man or woman loves the dearest person in his or her life. And now he is arisen,
standing up like a man, a human being, indeed. With glorious scars, and with
flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of human nature,
our Lord and Savior stood among the twelve. He even offered to Thomas the opportunity
that we would all clamber, climb over, and step upon others for: the chance
to touch the mark of the nails in his scarred hand with the tip of our stubby
or elegant finger, or ease the side of our hand along the wound, sliding our
hand in the mark of the spear by his side. The vicious, animalistic death of
Jesus, the scars still there, prompts a scared, hesitating, suspicious, unbelieving,
skeptical disciple to speak for all of us for the generations of Christians
to come, “My Lord, and my God!”

a most fantastic twist to this play upon the world stage! The “rules”
we play and live by defy the rules of reality television shows, because we live
in and by the love, the grace, and the joy of new life, found only in Christ,
who is revealed and made known in the mysterious and wondrous body of Christ.
As I mentioned earlier, playing it safe is not divine. We can, you see, take
this good news with us. We have no fear of being tossed off anyone’s “Survivor
Island” with the good news we are part of and carry with us. The news we
live by is of the transportable kind. Such news needs no news-clippings from
current events for a second-grade classroom; it needs no palm pilots to remind
us of what happened, or CNN playing it over and over again on the bottom of
the television screen, in between news of the Nasdaq, Dow, and sports highlights.
The news of Christ’s resurrection is with us always, because we love Christ
and Christ loves us even more. We bear and bring this saving news to the world
of “reality television” in our very bones, so that our gestures, smiles,
handshakes, and embraces reveal what all humankind aches to know deeply and
empty lives long to hear: “Peace be with you.”


Webb-Mitchell is a writer in Pittsboro, NC.

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