Holy Week and Easter are the “biggies” for us church pastor geeks, friends, relatives, strangers, and innocent bystanders driving by churches suddenly accosted by banners announcing services seemingly every night of the week called Holy and YOU’RE INVITED! Anyone who hangs out with pastors perhaps feels the onset of the tension – a tightening of the voice and sometimes the jaw, a steely look in the eye and a practiced nonchalance when one is asked if the Easter sermon is done. The feigned, a-little-too-loud laughter in mock agreement at the suggestion that it can’t be that hard because the story turns out the same way every year.
There was the year I had an anxiety attack in the middle of the Sunday afternoon of Easter. It suddenly occurred to me somehow that all the people who came may have been expecting a life-transforming experience of the living and resurrected Jesus and I had left out an entire paragraph of my sermon during the last service. Yes, I realize transformation is about the power of God’s Spirit and not my words, but we pastors – at least this one – do not always think completely reasonably by the Sunday afternoon of Easter. I started having trouble breathing, beads of clammy sweat formed on my forehead and ran down my neck and back – I, of course, thought I was probably dying. So I called a friend to describe it and she came over and took me to Ruby Tuesdays, that’s how long ago it was, and ordered me a large Coca-Cola. Not diet or caffeine-free or lime-flavored or Zero. Nope, it was a real live old-school regular Coke. I took three huge gulps and started to feel better. I suppose it may have been the carbonation, sugar, caffeine and other not so good for you stuff, but maybe it was also the listening ear of a friend gently telling me that no one probably knew I left out the key paragraph to all of redemption, resurrection, and the key to eternal life. And that, in fact, life as we knew it was probably going to continue.
I’m guessing all of our vocations have those moments that make us weak in the knees, that seem to be make or break, that we are convinced will define our existence and the existence of the world as we know it from that day forward. I suppose sometimes that’s true, but more often than not, it’s probably not. Even Easter. Whaaaat?!? Even Easter. When I put it in perspective, the resurrection of Jesus is really the promise of life that comes from his witness of refusing to give in to violence, hatred of enemies, injustice, corruption, political pressure and death. The drama of betrayal and denial by his friends, the passion of crucifixion between two condemned criminals, the sealing of a body in a guarded tomb, the journey of the women on the first day of the week, the soaring of our voices together in celebration that, “Christ the Lord is risen to-day-yay, aaaaaahhhhhhh-le-luuuuu-yeah,” are all so celebratingly wonderful that sometimes it’s hard to remember that it is about more than simply one, albeit miraculous, day. We live as resurrected people each day, not simply one momentous day of the year. In fact, the question is really how we live every other day of the year without lilies and ranks of a marvelous organ and balloons and chocolate bunnies and PEEPS!
So the Sunday night of Easter I met three amazing young women that I would have reasonably in no set of expected circumstances ever had the chance to meet. I got to sit with them around their table and listen to the stories of their lives. They are each extremely gifted, artistic, play multiple musical instruments, and have a deep perspective that I believe often only comes from living through storms and struggle and no small amount of heartbreak. And I was with them because of one more. One they hadn’t asked for or planned for or would have expected. But there it was. And as different as our backgrounds and our ages (one of them kindly and patiently offered to help me learn how to snapchat, I politely and with no small amount of drama, declined) and our life experiences, we were brought together, I quite literally believe, by God’s grace. By God’s grace we were brought together to walk through the meaning of Easter at its heart and soul, the part that isn’t about anxiety because of forgetting a paragraph of a sermon. The part that is the nitty-gritty sometimes ugly always messy and oh-so-real loving and losing and hating and finding and hanging on to each other and to God when nothing seems to make sense and yet somehow, given everything, deciding to continue to make our way through the brokenness. If that isn’t Holy Week and Easter, I’m not certain what is.
I’m grateful for this week-after-Easter-what-do-we-do-now resurrection faith. I’m grateful for tolerance of singing and dancing, slamming a full and abnormally bright yellow peep, and for recognition that the on-going work of resurrection is the reality of broken hearts and allowing grace to heal us in the broken places. I’m grateful for knowing three more young people in the world that give me hope for a future that sometimes doesn’t seem all that bright. I’m grateful for a gospel that speaks deeply to harsh realities with honest recognition and a process (sometimes long) of reconciling grace.
The peeps are gone, the helium has succumbed to gravity, it’s going to snow on Friday and there are wonderful glimpses of beauty in the midst of some of life’s most difficult circumstances. May God magnify those moments as we make our way together in grace.