Sermon delivered April 8, 2007.
At first I didn't like the movie "Castaway" because there were no explicit references to God. But since watching it several more times I've changed my mind. It contains parallels to the Christian life. For example, several small deaths occur: the plane crash, being stranded on an island, and being dashed by waves. But each time there is a resurrection of sorts: Chuck (the main character played by Tom Hanks) emerges from sea, survives the waves, and finally escapes the island.
Yet the most important death and resurrection is in the character of Chuck. He starts his nearly five year exile as an ambitious corporate troubleshooter for FedEx. His ends it a transformed man.
Chuck is humbled when deprived of the basic conveniences of life. He must discover and master the most rudimentary strategies to sustain his life including gathering water, making fire and hunting for food. He is forced to let go of his former life, especially his relationship with his fiancée Kelly and face solitude on that deserted island. The movie contains many poignant moments following Chuck through his transformation.
Finally Chuck manages to escape the island but on leaving looks back with a sense of sadness and loss, knowing that he will never return to that temporary home.
One of the most moving moments occurs after Church is rescued and returns home to his friends and coworkers in Tennessee. He discovers that Kelly has married another man and started a family. He laments to a friend that he lost her once when the plane crashed and on returning home, "I've lost her all over again."
Thankfully, the script does not take a sentimental turn by rekindling the relationship between Chuck and Kelly. After reuniting and professing their deep and undying love for each other, he respects her marriage by saying, "You have to go home."
The key to the movie follows shortly thereafter. Chuck confesses to his friend that he despaired over his lack of control over everything on the island. He tried to hang himself but failed. Then it dawned on him: "I had power over nothing." This was a startling and life-giving revelation. At that moment Chuck realized, "I had to stay alive...even when there seemed no hope." He comes to terms with loss. "I have to keep breathing. Tomorrow, the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring," he says.
As I watched "Castaway" I recalled of the sons of Abraham wandering in the desert for forty years waiting for God to bring them into the Promised Land. The desert was like Chuck's island representing barrenness and death. Some of the Israelites despaired so much over their struggle in the desert that they wanted to return to the slavery in Egypt.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, you won't hear me say, "Happy Easter!" very often. The word "Easter" comes from the ancient word meaning "Sun Goddess" and her festival. The proper greeting this week is "Kalo Pascha!" What does "Pascha" mean? It comes from the Hebrew "pesach" which means "Passover" and refers to the Jewish festival that commemorates the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
For Orthodox Christians, "Pascha" refers to Jesus Christ's Passover from death to life. He spent three days in the remote island of Hades before being raised from the dead. We have just crossed over the desert of Great Lent. Our self-imposed ascetical disciplines help us reach the Promised Land of a new, resurrected life. It is a preparation or training for those times in life when, suddenly and by forces beyond our control, our life crashes into the ocean. We struggle to survive in unfamiliar conditions. We despair the changes and the losses. However, the key is to greet every circumstance of life as an opportunity, a choice. We can either try and reassert control and return to a former life, one that is full of bondage to sin and suffering, or we can repent and allow God-ordained changes that bring us a different and new life.
In the crucible of the deserted island, Chuck's character was forged. Strong, God-given traits emerged. The same is true for us. God does not want to annihilate our being and recreate us from scratch. Rather, He wants to prune the dead branches of sin so that the good and healthy parts of us can survive and become stronger. Say goodbye to the dead branches of our life and embrace whatever the tide of His Divine will brings into our lives. Amen.
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.