“Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say … 'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”
That's a line uttered by the great Jimmy Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd in the delightful 1950 movie Harvey.
Harvey is Elwood's friend. Because of Harvey, though, Elwood's family tries to have Elwood committed to an institution. Why? Well, because Harvey is a six-foot-three-and-a-half inch tall invisible rabbit. So, despite his friendly and nonthreatening personality, everyone thinks Elwood is flat out bonkers.
When speaking with a psychiatrist, Elwood admits, “Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.”
The Gospel of Matthew reports that on that first Easter Sunday morning two women visit the tomb where Jesus' body had been placed. An angel descends from Heaven, rolls back the stone and reveals that the tomb is vacant! Jesus, whose execution the women themselves witnessed, is risen from the dead!
Then, frightened by the experience, but filled with joy at the possibility that it may actually all be true, they encountered Jesus himself. What did Jesus say to them? “Don't be afraid!” Oh, and “Go and tell the disciples.”
The women knew all too well what happened to people who see and touch and talk to someone who can't really be there … someone they themselves watched die. Had you and I been one of those original disciples listening to these women, we would have responded like Elwood P. Dowd's family responded to him – the women had obviously lost their minds!
But believe it the women did; and believe it the disciples soon did. And their lives were forever changed. They began to live in the greater, unbelievable reality of the Resurrection.
Maybe each new generation of Believers has to experience the Resurrection anew for ourselves; maybe each generation of Believers has to learn to live in the greater, unbelievable reality of Easter.
How the “real world” works is embodied by the rumors, lies, half-truths, jealousies, fears, and threats which led to the trials, torture, and murder of Jesus. In the Crucifixion, reason, rationality, fear, hatred, coercion, violence, money and power are all victorious.
But, the Resurrection, you see, is God's victory over what we perceive to be “the real world.” The Resurrection is the victory of the Way of Christ over the ways of the world.
Every Easter is an opportunity for us to see that when we claim the name of Christ but sell our souls for political power, or succumb to fear of our neighbors, or turn a blind eye to mutlitudes of people in great need, or cry “foul” if others are treated as our equals, then we live in denial of the Resurrection.
In Jesus' resurrection, faith, hope, humility, forgiveness, sacrifice, cooperation, and, yes, love are all victorious. If God is Love as the Bible tells us, and if Jesus is God Incarnate, then, as author Rob Bell and so many others have stated, in the Resurrection of Jesus, LOVE wins!
I don't wish to spoil it for you, but let's just say that at the end of the Jimmy Stewart movie, we learn that Elwood P. Dowd is actually the most sane and most real person around, as is Harvey! Everybody else is just too blind to know any better.
Now, I'm not saying the Resurrected Christ is a six-foot-three-and-a-half inch invisible rabbit, but I am saying those of us who call ourselves Christians could learn a lot from the movie Harvey.
In this world, Christians, we can be oh so smart, or oh so loving. Well, for years, we've been smart. Jesus recommends loving.
And before you try to explain how the “real world” works to me, remember the Easter story. Remember the women and the disciples who believed the unbelievable and then lived in a greater, eternal world right here, right now.
Like Elwood P. Dowd, we've wrestled with “reality” for thousands of years; the Resurrection happily declares that Jesus has won out over it!
Bert Montgomery pastors University Baptist Church in Starkville, teaches religion and sociology courses at Mississippi State University, and longs for the contentment and understanding of Elwood P. Dowd. Bert is also part of the weekly Faithelement podcast. He can be contacted at email@example.com.