Easter Sunday A, 2014
Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
It has already made more money than any animated film in history, and at the moment is the eighth-highest grossing film of any kind in the entire history of cinema. Everywhere you go, literally or virtually, you will hear people of all ages –- especially young women -- singing its Academy-Award winning sing, Let It Go. It is a phenomenon, and it is called Frozen. It’s got a great story, great music, and great animation. It also happened to be released at the beginning of one of the worst winters in our memory, when we all felt like the citizens of Arendelle, caught in an icy curse with no sign of a thaw.
It’s not an ostensibly Christian film – the writers and the producer claim no theological bona fides. I want to suggest, nonetheless, that the overwhelming audience reaction to this movie – and if you haven’t seen it yet, please do as soon as possible – is because it speaks at the deepest levels to the human condition. It represents -- whether consciously or unconsciously makes no difference – a profoundly Christian understanding of life, of evil, of hope, and of redemption. Frozen is thoroughly an Easter story.
Let me borrow freely from Wikipedia’s synopsis of the plot:
Elsa, princess of Arendelle, possesses the magical ability to create ice and snow. One night while playing, she accidentally injures her younger sister, Anna. The king and queen seek help from the troll king, who heals Anna and removes her memories of Elsa's magic. The royal couple isolates the children in their castle until Elsa learns to control her powers. Afraid of hurting Anna again, Elsa spends most of her time alone in her room, causing a rift between the girls as they grow up. When the girls are teenagers, their parents die at sea during a storm.
When Elsa comes of age, the kingdom prepares for her coronation. Excited to be allowed out of the castle again, Anna explores the town and meets Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, and the two immediately develop a mutual attraction. Hans proposes marriage and Anna quickly accepts. They return to Elsa’s coronation, which despite Elsa’s fear, goes off without incident. When Hands and Anna reveal their love to the new queen, Elsa refuses to grant her blessing and forbids their sudden marriage. The sisters argue, culminating in the exposure of Elsa's abilities during an emotional outburst.
Panicking, Elsa flees the castle, while inadvertently unleashing an eternal winter on the kingdom. High in the nearby mountains, she casts off restraint as she sings the signature song Let It Go, building herself a solitary ice palace, and unknowingly brings to life her and Anna's childhood snowman, Olaf. Meanwhile, Anna sets out in search of her sister, determined to return her to Arendelle, end the winter, and mend their relationship. While obtaining supplies, she meets mountain man Kristoff and his reindeer Sven. She convinces Kristoff to guide her up the North Mountain. The group then encounters Olaf, who leads them to Elsa's hideaway.
Anna and Elsa reunite, but Elsa still fears hurting her sister. When Anna persists in persuading her sister to return, Elsa becomes agitated and accidentally strikes Anna in the heart with her powers. Horrified, Elsa creates a giant snow creature to drive Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf away. As they flee, Kristoff notices Anna's hair is turning white, and deduces something is very wrong. He seeks help from the trolls, his adoptive family, who explain that Anna's heart has been frozen. Unless it is thawed by an "act of true love", she will become frozen solid forever. Believing that only a kiss of true love from Hans can save Anna, Kristoff races back with her to Arendelle.
Meanwhile, Hans, leading a search for Anna, reaches Elsa's palace. In the ensuing battle against the Duke's men, Elsa is knocked unconscious and imprisoned back at the kingdom. There, Hans pleads with her to undo the winter, but Elsa confesses she doesn't know how. When Anna reunites with Hans and begs him to kiss her to break the curse, Hans refuses and reveals that his true intention in marrying her was to seize control of Arendelle's throne. Leaving Anna to die, he charges Elsa with treason for her younger sister's apparent death.
Elsa escapes and heads out into the blizzard on the fjord. Olaf finds Anna and reveals Kristoff is in love with her; they then escape onto the fjord to find him. Hans confronts Elsa and tells her Anna is dead because of her. In Elsa's despair, the storm suddenly ceases, giving Kristoff and Anna the chance to find each other. However Anna, seeing that Hans is about to kill Elsa, decides to throw herself between the two just as she freezes solid, blocking Hans' attack.
As Elsa grieves for her sister, Anna begins to thaw, since her decision to sacrifice herself to save her sister constitutes an "act of true love". Realizing love is the key to controlling her powers, Elsa is able to thaw the kingdom and even helps Olaf survive in summer. Hans is sent back to the Southern Isles to face punishment for his crimes against the royal family of Arendelle. Anna and Kristoff share a kiss, and the two sisters reconcile; Elsa promises never to shut the castle gates again.
This, brothers and sisters, is the Bible story, from Genesis to Revelation, with its stunning climax on Good Friday and Easter Sunday:
We were created to live as sisters and brothers in a beautiful kingdom, and each of us were given wonderful powers to love and to create. But with great power comes great responsibility to use them well. And in the absence of a loving Father to guide us, sometimes we grow so afraid of our powers that we shut ourselves off from everyone who simply wants to share joy with us.
Especially in adolescence – which sometimes can last a lifetime – we can use our power to hurt the people that we love the most. Resentful of people trying to constrain us, we run away and throw off any control others have over us. Frozen’s anthem, Let It Go, is a fascinating song. It’s being sung, especially by young women, as a hymn to cast off the stereotypes and restrictions our culture places on women:
Don't let them in, don't let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know
Well now they know
Let it go, let it go
Can't hold it back anymore
That’s a good thing. But listen to the words as she builds an icy palace for herself where no one can touch her:
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don't care what they're going to say
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway
It's funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can't get to me at all
It's time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You'll never see me cry
Here I stand
And here I'll stay
Let the storm rage on
That’s the heartbreak of sin: we refuse to live as children of a loving Father, and build our own frozen prisons where no one can hurt us ever again. But our rebellion doesn’t just freeze us: it freezes everyone and everything around us, spreading out its icy death through the whole world. And we even wound the people we love the most, the people who are trying to love us in spite of our cold hearts.
What can save us? Kristoff -- the Scandinavian form of Christopher -- Christ bearer -- takes Anna to the trolls – the outsiders who seem ugly and misshapen, and who are disguised as rocks. Rocks: on this rock I will build my church . . . The only thing that can thaw a frozen heart, say the outsiders, is an act of true love. And what jumps to everyone’s mind when we think of true love? Romantic love. Love’s true kiss.
But, it turns out, that’s not it at all. In fact, Anna’s supposed true love, Hans, turns out to be truly evil, because he uses love as a means to power – to seize the kingdom. At the end, dying, Anna has to choose between what she thinks will save her life – a kiss from Kristoff, who truly loves her – and saving her sister Elsa, who is the very one who is responsible for Anna’s fatal illness. So Anna, with her dying breath, places herself between Elsa and Han’s sword, touching Elsa with one hand so she will turn into ice, and blocking and shattering Hans’ sword with the other. Anna assumes the shape of the cross: it’s Good Friday.
There is silence. Then, as a weeping Elsa embraces her frozen sister, Anna begins to thaw and come back to life. The act of true love wasn’t a romantic kiss – it was an act of self-sacrificial love, a sister putting herself between the weapon of evil and her undeserving sister’s life. And that act of self-sacrifice thaws Elsa, brings Anna back to life, and then spreads out to bring spring to a frozen world. It’s Easter. Queen Elsa learns that the key to using her power wisely is to use it with love, not with fear. The movie ends with the promise that the gates of the city will never be shut again. And that, brothers and sisters, is how the Bible ends in the Book of Revelation.
I am convinced that Frozen is wildly popular because it speaks to the deepest experience and longings of the human heart: we want to play with each other in God’s beautiful kingdom, but out of fear, we misuse our God-given powers to protect ourselves from hurt. In the process we build ourselves icy prisons and wound the people closest to us. The only cure is an undeserved act of true, sacrificial love. Jesus has done that for us all. In Paradise Lost the center of hell isn’t fire – it’s frozen. Jesus entered the frozen hell of death, standing between the sword of hate and us. That, and that alone, is the love that can thaw our frozen hearts and lives.
It’s been a long, hard winter that we thought might never end. All of us have frozen places in our lives – ice palaces into which we’ve crawled to protect us from being hurt. We’ve been wounded by the curses of people we wanted to love, and we’ve shot icy bolts into the hearts of others who were trying to love us. Listen to the Good News this Easter Sunday: only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart. Jesus died for you, and God has thawed him out this Easter Day. Wrap your arms around him, and let spring come flooding into your frozen heart.