Empty Tombs and Chaos Muppets

Sermon on John 20:1-18.

       On this glorious Easter Sunday, the most sacred day in our spiritual tradition, I very much want you to know, dear kindred in Christ, that there are, basically, two kinds of muppet: Chaos Muppets and Order Muppets.

       Order Muppets are those devoted characters who are just trying to do their job, keep it together, and maintain some shred of sanity. Order Muppets include characters like Scooter, Bert from Sesame Street, and (the greatest muppet of all-time) Kermit T. Frog.

       Meanwhile, the Chaos Muppets, like Ernie, Miss Piggy, and (my personal favorite) Animal are constantly on the verge of blowing everything up with their shenanigans (sometimes literally).

       Now, it’s important to remember that neither kind of muppet is inherently evil. The world of The Muppets is based on friendship and balance. A great example is the duo Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. Bert (the Order Muppet) is steadfast and meticulous. Ernie (the Chaos Muppet) is a whimsical free spirit who, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, wants “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” Ernie sometimes needs Bert to help him stay focused and get things done; Bert sometimes needs Ernie to help him relax and enjoy the little things of life. These best friends need each other and help each other, even though they are very different.

       As human beings, I think there is a bit of the Chaos Muppet and the Order Muppet in each of us, but one or the other will tend to be more dominant, based on our personality and circumstances. I, for example, have frequently been typecast as a Chaos Muppet. This is largely due to the fact that I live with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD” for short). This condition, which affects a little less than 1 in 10 people, is a developmental disorder that affects the way by brain functions.

In scientific terms, my brain produces less dopamine and more reuptake transport proteins than the average brain does. This structural difference results in an interruption of the reward pathway and an overall increase in executive dysfunction and emotional dysregulation.

In plain English, that means that I cannot feel as good as other people, and when I do, it doesn’t last as long. You know that satisfied feeling you get when you finally get the house clean or finish a project ahead of schedule? I literally can’t feel that.

On the outside, it sometimes looks like I am impulsive, undisciplined, and oversensitive. On the inside, I know that I’m working as hard as I possibly can, but it doesn’t seem to be good enough. In short, ADHD makes me into a Chaos Muppet.

       Now, I’m not telling you about my ADHD because I want your sympathy. I’ve lived with this for my whole life and I’m honestly fine with it. I’ve done years of medication, talk therapy, and research to manage the way my particular brain works. I’ve hit a lot of speed bumps of life’s road, but at 43, I’m pretty happy with where I am and who I am today.

I’m telling you all this because living with ADHD is about learning how to embrace life’s chaos and work with it. Your chaos might be different from mine. It might be related to your job, school, relationships, medical problems, or grief. I can’t list all of the potential causes, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that each person in this room feels some kind of stress in their life that is threatening to tear them apart at the core. That’s the call of the chaos.

       When I look at our gospel reading this Sunday, it’s the chaos that stands out to me most. Everybody is running back and forth, jumping to conclusions, disagreeing with each other, and trying like heck to figure out what’s really going on. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb and finds it open, immediately decides that she knows what’s happened (without even checking to look inside), and then she runs back to Peter and John to announce her conclusion. Peter and John then run back to the tomb, look inside, and come to their own conclusion (without any direct evidence, I might add), and then run back to their house. Mary Magdalene, meanwhile, has also run back to the tomb, still clinging to her original interpretation, and collapses in an emotional mess.

       This is where things start to get interesting (and more than a little funny) because, while Mary is still standing there, in the midst of a mental breakdown, angels appear to her. Normally, you’d think this would be enough to snap her out of it, but it doesn’t work. So then, she turns around and Jesus himself is standing right in front of her, but Mary is still so hyperfocused on this thing she’s afraid of, she can’t recognize the obvious truth, even though it’s literally standing right in front of her!

It’s not until Jesus says her name, “Mary!” that she finally pauses long enough to realize what’s actually going on.

       I find it very interesting that the thing that brings Mary back to reality is the sound of her own name, spoken back to her by someone who loves her. There’s something very powerful in that. When Jesus speaks Mary’s name, he is bringing her back to the awareness of who she really is. Behind and between the letters of her name are the years of shared history, in which Jesus and Mary had traveled and worked together. This was the voice of someone who saw her, knew her, and loved her more than anyone else ever could. By speaking her name in that moment, Jesus grounded Mary in the reality of her true self.

       Practicing the Pause is good medicine when we feel so overwhelmed by the stress of life that we begin to lose our bearings on reality.

  • Sometimes, like Mary, the Pause is given to us by someone who loves us.
  • Sometimes, it feels like we are alone, so we have to speak our own name to ourselves.
  • Sometimes, we see a miracle so amazing, it takes our very breath away.
  • Sometimes, all we see is this ordinary world, but we notice some detail or perspective that piques our curiosity enough to bring us back from the edge of catastrophe.

       Either way, the effect is the same: We are drawn out from the momentary crisis and rooted firmly in the truth of who we are. Like Mary Magdalene, we begin to see through the swirling clouds of chaos and begin to realize the creative possibilities emerging from the depths of reality.

       For me, the emergence of these creative possibilities happened much more slowly than it did for Mary Magdalene. In the swirling chaos of life with ADHD, I spent decades floating from job to job, relationship to relationship, and church to church. At this point, I’m beginning to learn how to be more grounded in the truth of who I am and the creative possibilities that are still emerging from that truth.

Recently, I’ve learned that the neurological differences that made me a very bad administrator can also make me a very good hospice chaplain.

  • I’m finding that my emotional sensitivity, which made personal relationships so difficult in the past, can also give me the compassion to sit with dying people in the final moments of their lives.
  • I’m finding that my unfocused wandering, which has made me late for work on more than one occasion, can also give me the mental flexibility to jump from topic to topic with hospice patients from a wide variety of religious backgrounds.
  • I’m finding that my inability to feel the satisfaction that other people feel at solving problems can also give me the patience to sit with someone in a terminal situation where there is no solution other than the imminent finality of death.

These are just a few of the creative possibilities that are emerging for me from my life with ADHD (even though I’m still a Chaos Muppet).

       I asked you earlier to think about the stressors and chaos in your own life. Where does the Chaos Muppet vex the Order Muppet within you? Now, let’s turn that around. Like Mary Magdalene, let’s pause at the sound of our own name. If you were to rest in the full acceptance of who you are, what creative possibilities might emerge for you, from the chaos of your life?

       As we begin to discover our own answers to that question, we will experience, with Mary Magdalene, what it feels like to have Resurrection energy flowing through our bodies. We will, each Chaos Muppet and each Order Muppet, in our own unique ways, live out the truth of the oldest Christian creed: “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”