The academic is year has just about drawn to a close. Yesterday was spent in a two hour meeting for writing instructors and then a lunch meeting discussing course and faculty evaluation. The afternoon was given over to purchasing and planting zucchini and building string and stake arbors for the peas to climb. The afternoon’s activities were the high point of the day. I know: some people are totally confused that I would think planting and caring for my garden could be more engaging than three hours of meetings. I guess I am just whacked. However, someone once said a person is never closer to God than when one is in a garden. Or watching VH1 Classic.
That’s right: watching VH1 Classic, which is what I did while waiting for the evening news. In particular, I stumbled across “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray. As you may know, the storyline follows Phil Connors (Murray), a self-centered egotistical hedonist, who is sent to Punxsutawney to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities. Once there he finds himself trapped reliving February 2 over and over and over again. Initially, Phil attempts to use his dilemma to his own self-indulgent advantage, in particular to seduce Rita, his producer, played by Andie MacDowell. Ultimately, the reliving of this meaningless and selfish existence takes its toll on Connors and he tries to kill himself…repeatedly, creatively and unsuccessfully. He wakes up to relive the same pointlessness every day. That is until he gets over himself and starts living in such a way as to make Punxsutawney a better place. He tries to save an elderly homeless man, convinces a young couple they really do want to be married, catches a young boy who falls out of a tree, performs the heimlich maneuver on a choking man in the restaurant, and works at bringing beauty into the world…learning to create ice statues with a chain saw, playing classical and jazz piano, and crafting a beautiful Groundhog Day weather report that includes an Anton Chekov quote.
Call me crazy, but this sounds a lot like Jesus’ program for our salvation and the salvation of the world. While some folks want me to believe Jesus was thinking about me as he hung on the cross, I am thinking there was a much bigger storyline and program working itself out. (By the way, did you ever notice how narcissistic the former version of Jesus’ death sounds when you think about it?) Jesus came announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God, which will come in its fullness when God alone rules over a recreated heaven and earth in which there is “no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away” (see Revelation 21:1ff). To be a part of Jesus and God’s recreation program, we have to “get over ourselves.” Jesus did say, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-5). And once we get over ourselves we are in a place to accept the invitation to build the Kingdom. Paul figured this out when he reminded the Corinthians they (and we) are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2). Like Phil Connors, we overcome meaningless and repetitive lives when we look beyond ourselves and our small stories to the grand story of God’s plan to redeem all of creation. Investing in that Story moves our lives and the world forward to transformation and redemption.