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Easter Sunday in Barbie Land

A sermon given by April Stace, March 31, 2024. Easter Sunday, Church of the Epiphany, Trumansburg.


I’m going to ask you this morning to dive deep into your memory banks… all the way back to summer of 2023. I know, it seems like forever ago.


I did something I very rarely do during that summer – I went to a movie theater, to see a movie. Actually, I went twice. Any guesses as to what movies I saw?


If you guessed “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie,” you’re correct!


I wasn’t expecting the Barbie movie to be as thoughtful and nuanced as it was. If you saw any of the previews, you may remember seeing a particular scene where everything changes for Barbie. See, she lives in Barbie land, where everything is awesome all the time, and every night is the best night ever. On one of these best nights ever, Barbie is dancing with all the other Barbies, and they’re having a great time, and then, all of a sudden, Barbie looks around and says, out of nowhere, “Hey, do you guys ever think about death?”


The record screeches, and everyone stops dancing and stares at her, because in Barbie land – as opposed to the real world – no one ever thinks about death. Death isn’t real in Barbie land.

After this moment of thinking about the unthinkable, Barbie has all kinds of problems. Instead of magically floating down from her townhouse in the morning,  she takes a step out and just falls. And of course, her feet are flat – instead of the high-arched feet she is known so well for, feet that were made for high-heeled shoes. It’s one of my favorite lines, when she tries to put high heels on with her new “real” feet, and exclaims, “I would never wear shoes like this if this was how my feet were made!” 


All I could think was, yeah, I feel you, Barbie.


There’s a song from this movie that has won all kinds of awards, called “What was I made for” by Billie Eilish. I’d like to share the words from the first two verses with you:


I used to float, now I just fall down

I used to know but I'm not sure now

What I was made for

What was I made for?

Takin' a drive, I was an ideal

Looked so alive, turns out I'm not real

Just something you paid for

What was I made for?


The people that walked with Jesus – his disciples and friends – had all undergone transformations in understanding what they were made for over the three years they walked with Jesus. I think of the fishermen, who worked so hard to make a living, being required by Roman authorities to sell most of their fish to wealthy elites instead of keeping the food, and the money, in the local community… who believed this was all there was, that being a part of this system of exploitation was what they were made for, the best thing available. Or the tax collectors who became friends of Jesus, people who were known to be corrupt and working for the occupying power, who, through listening to the teachings of Jesus, suddenly understood what they were made for differently – and became generous and humble. Or the many women that Jesus spoke to with compassion, women who were able to see that they weren’t made to just be pawns in a patriarchal system, but were made to be fully human in the divine dance of life, to see that they had gifts that were essential to bringing transformation to the world.


One of those women – Mary Magdalene – is the the one who finds the resurrected Jesus in his tomb in our reading today. Mary Magdalene is often mis-identified as being a prostitute – it does not say that anywhere in the Bible, for what it’s worth, though it does say that Jesus didn’t mind at all hanging around with sex workers. He certainly preferred hanging out with them as opposed to religious professionals like me! He counted them as friends. But anyway, Mary Magdalene, through her time with Jesus, is empowered by Jesus to become a teacher in her own right. She is the first witness to the resurrection, having been drawn to his tomb by love, to care for his body.


And when she discovers the resurrected Christ, she discovers that the betrayals, the beatings, the crucifixion – all of the trauma that had happened in the last couple of days --- all that hopelessness was not the end of the story. It was not what humanity was made for, after all.


Just as there were so many messages about what people were made for in the time of Jesus, you might agree that there are plenty of similar messages still today that seem to define life in stark terms:


The only things certain in life are death and taxes.

People never change.

Everyone is only out for themselves.

You have to keep your cards close to your chest.

You get what you deserve.


We could all be forgiven for believing these messages. After all, doesn’t it seem, with everything going on internationally and nationally, that people are only out for themselves? Don’t we have to keep our cards close to our chest in order to be successful in the bureaucracies we work in and depend on for our livelihoods? Don’t we all struggle in relationships where change and new life seems nearly impossible to even imagine? Don’t the powerful always win? Isn’t life, after all, reduce-able to the certainty of taxes… and death?


I wonder if that’s how Mary Magdalene felt on Easter morning, as she walked to the tomb. I wonder if that’s what all of the disciples felt in the aftermath of Jesus’ death – horrified by what had happened to their friend and teacher, wondering if they had spent three years chasing a dream that would never become real, ashamed of the ways they had all betrayed him and refused to acknowledge that they even knew him, as he was being put on trial. I imagine them coming to terms with what must have seemed like the fact that yes, this, in fact, is what we were made for. I can imagine them thinking, I was so naïve. Of course there’s nothing more to life than death, and taxes, and trying to survive under Roman occupation.


But then, there’s the empty tomb.


And a man that Mary Magdalene mistakes for a gardener (I love this – who knows better than gardeners how to take literal manure and mix it with literal dirt and somehow make flowers and vegetables and all kinds of plants come out of the ground? Jesus was definitely a gardener at heart.)


Traditionally, Jesus goes to visit the dead on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter – and meets Adam, the first human being. In an ancient sermon a friend shared with me many years ago, this meeting is reimagined. Let me share a bit with you:


“Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve… He took him by the hand and raised him up saying: Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light. I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in the darkness to be enlightened, and all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you, together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.”


In short, Jesus comes across people who are in chains and says, let’s get out of here – this isn’t what you were made for. This isn’t what we were made for.


Resurrection is what you were made for.


Even in the parts of our lives that are dying, the parts of ourselves that are dying – we were made for resurrection. Not replication, where things go back to what they were, or stay the same forever, like in Barbieland, but resurrection, where yes, there is death, and new life actually begins to grow from places where hope has been lost, into something we never could have predicted or even allowed ourselves to imagine.


Resurrection is what we were made for. Friends, you are a love letter, to and from the creator of the cosmos. You are not made for the chains of fear, or denial, or regret, or trauma, or loneliness, or bitterness, or despair. Like Jesus is imagined to have said in that ancient sermon, no one was created to be in any kind of prison. Not you, not your neighbor, not the people who are suffering in a very real prison right now in Gaza, not the many migrants attempting to flee violence in their home countries by crossing the border into the US, not the women and girls of Afghanistan who are told day after day that they were made to be hidden, abused, and restricted. Not the person you saw at the intersection in Ithaca begging for money.  We are all made for resurrection and the freedom of knowing that we are made for more than the worst thing that has happened to us, made for more than the worst thing we’ve done to someone else.


So, sleepers, awake! We are people of the resurrection, and there is much work of resurrection to do in this world. My prayer today is that we all step into the light of the resurrection, and take the freedom offered to us – not so that we can escape the world, but so that we, like Jesus, can stand in solidarity with those who suffer at the hands of others, and break the many yokes of oppression that keep others in chains.

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