(from a Sermon preached by the Rev. Lowell E. Grisham, Rector St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas, March 23, 2008; Easter Sunday, Year A)
The late spiritual writer Henri Nouwen liked to tell how enthralled he was the first time he saw the trapeze artists The Flying Rodleighs. After watching their elegant performance, he returned to their circus the following day to see them again, hoping to meet them and tell them what a fan he was. He was able to meet them, and they responded generously, inviting Henri to watch their practice sessions, giving him free tickets, inviting him to dinner, and later, suggesting that Henri travel with them for a week sometime in the near future. Henri took them up on their offers, and they all became good friends.
One day while he was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, Henri fell into a discussion with him about flying. The acrobat told Henri this: "As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump."
Henri asked him to explain how it works. "The secret," Rodleigh said, "is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catchbar."
"You do nothing!" Henri said, surprised. "Nothing," Rodleigh repeated. "The worst thing the flyer can do it to try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It's Joe's task to catch me. If I grabbed Joe's wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him." (Writings Selected, p. 55; originally from Our Greatest Gift, p. 66)
When Jesus faced his death on the cross, he did nothing. Nothing other than continue to be who he was. He refused to fight or to run away, he didn't curse or threaten his attackers. He did nothing but hang there, trusting God, stretching his arms and hands out on the bars of the cross, waiting for God to catch him. Today we celebrate his death-defying leap.
On the cross, Jesus taught us how to die. When our time comes, we know that we can jump toward God and trust with outstretched arms that the catcher will be there for us too.
This arms-out-flying is a lot more than a way to die, it is the way that Jesus lived his life as well. Flying-with-your-arms-out is the way Jesus invites us to live our lives also.
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