It was “Holy Week” about 12 years ago. It began with a rather sudden break-up with a long-distance boyfriend. I was sad on Monday, but by Tuesday I was already surprisingly pretty much healed. What I thus confronted for that Holy Week was the fact that because he'd been planning to visit me, I’d set aside lots of time to spend with him (in addition to, of course, participating in several Holy Week worship services and extra prayer….). Now I had all sorts of free time to pray and...what?
And then it came to me. An inspiration.
Make a “Jesus-in-the-box”!
I was the Associate Pastor at my church, and I’d be giving the “Children’s Sermon” for our big Easter services at Holy Week’s end. Wouldn’t that be a great, child-friendly way to tell the Easter story? After all, isn’t that in a nutshell what happens? Jesus is dead in a tomb and then, suddenly, Pop! There he is!!
I had plenty of time to give this a shot. If it didn’t work, I’d do something with Peeps. After all, they have a shelf-life that is eternal….
I trotted over the to the local toy store to check out Jack-in-the-boxes. As I don’t have children, I didn’t quite know what to look for. But the “standard” version, with a happy clown jumping out of colorful box with playful floppy jester horns, seemed as if it would work just perfectly.
In addition, of course, there was lots of fabric and yarn scraps in our children’s ministry craft stash for me to create clothes and accessories that would transform Jack into Jesus. Plus, I reiterate, I had PLENTY of time.
So, although I hadn’t sewn much in years (but still knew I had it in me!), I figured out how to make a little white tunic and a pretty good beard. I slowly but surely sewed these items together and onto Jack-turned-Jesus. A little colorful yarn made for a rather festive tunic tie.
On Easter Sunday, as many children gathered around me I pulled out my finished creation. Jesus was standing up in his box, and the lid was open. That way I could tell the story of how Jesus died and rose again.
I began, “When Jesus died on the cross, everyone was so sad because they loved him and were so sure they’d never see him again. Even though he promised he’d come back in three days all they could do was think about all the good times they’d had with him that they’d never have again. Because he was dead.
“He died on a cross because he loved them, and then he was put in a tomb and a big, heavy stone was rolled in front.”
I slowly pushed Jesus into the box, closed the lid and let it latch.
“But,” I continued as I started to crank on the side of the box so "Pop goes the Weasel" began to play, “even as his followers continued to cry and get on with their lives without Jesus, God didn’t forget about him, or the promise that Jesus had made of returning. Even then, God was at work, bringing Jesus back to life.”
The music continued to play as I cranked…..
“And then,” I said, “on Sunday morning, when no one expected it...while everyone was at the tomb still crying...all of a sudden...
The lid jumped open as the music and cranking stopped.
“Out Jesus came!”
Everyone’s eyes – children and adult alike – opened wide! Mouths burst into wide smiles! Gasps and laughs that were beyond anyone’s control to keep in filled the sanctuary!
I then put Jesus back in the box and sang the Jesus-in-the-box song I’d written for the occasion. You can hear it here – I recreated the magic in this podcast for the Portico Collective.
And, just like these guys on the Podcast, everyone laughed even more when Jesus popped up this second time.
At the original Easter presentation, I then invited everyone in the sanctuary – children and adult - to sing the song along with me, which everyone did pretty freely and loudly (even though they only knew some of the words). Regardless, by the time “Pop! Up comes Jesus!” came around this third time, people were shouting it out, or just laughing too hard.
I was thrilled this children’s sermon went so well. I was truly amazed that afterwards several people wanted to know where I’d bought my Jesus-in-the-box as they couldn’t wait to purchase one for themselves.
(It’s nice to know I have a good cottage industry back-up plan for a career if the pastor thing doesn’t work out.)
I have actually shared my “Jesus-in-the-box” sermon several times and in a variety of settings. My former Bishop, Bishop Marianne Swenson, requested I bring it to the session floor at the Cal-Pac Annual Conference one year.
I’ve been thinking about what makes “Jesus-in-the-box” so popular. I like to think it’s more than just because it’s clever and goofy and fun and the church needs more clever, goofy and fun things in its life together.
I actually think it speaks powerfully about the nature of Easter joy!
After all, what makes us laugh when Jesus (just like Jack) pops out of his box? I suggest it's a combination of surprise and surprisingly met expectations. The game of "JITB" is pretty mechanical; we can pretty much guess when this Jesus will emerge - as well as when - although we don't know exactly when or how it will be. We’ve seen him pop out before and the music makes it pretty clear when it's going to happen again this time. So we can relax and simply be totally excited about the fun thing we know is just about to happen....
And, sure enough.... Ha ha ha ha ha!
In the alternative, if Jack didn't pop out or came at a completely unexpected time, we might be more frightened and tense and find the exercise much less playful.
"Jesus-in-the-Box" provides a delightful surprise we can count on! Just like the one Jesus made about returning in three days.
Pop! There he is! Ha ha ha ha ha!
Unfortunately, in our gospel story, it seems everyone forgets Jesus' promise. Once he dies they're inundated with fear and sadness. Except when he suddenly shows up. Then, it seems, at least some of his disciples remember and are happy, to a point. Maybe not as happy as children enjoying a Jack-in-the-box.....
But they could have been.
And, more to the point, we could be. We should be. We know it’s going to happen. Jesus is going to pop up once more! This year - today! - everything in the cosmos is synced for it to happen, just as he promised. It won’t be exactly predictable, but we can trust something wonderful is just about to surprise and delight us. No matter how fearful or grief-stricken or despairing we may otherwise be.
It's crazy foolish, yes? Especially with everything in the world - and, maybe, our lives - being as messed up as it is? What an odd, even subversive stance to take, embracing the same kind of giddy, expectant excitement children have as they know they're about to see colorful, playful, goofy Jack emerge from his box….
Do we – can we – have that kind of faith? That kind of hope? That the DIvine is even now cranking the handle?
Happy Fabulous Easter everyone! Don't be afraid to show - and share - your joy! Childlike if you can!
And if still you're feeling resistant to any of this, remember as a Plan B you can always share Peeps. Their eternalness, too, will never disappoint.