An Easter like none before….

Because of my staff job at a church, there are some Sundays that I don’t even get into the sanctuary for worship…..instead I am teaching, counseling, handling an emergency, or looking for a curriculum resource for a teacher or home group leader. Today was not one of those days. There was no Sunday School, so I had the luxury of simply attending worship, and attending worship, and attending worship, and attending worship!

Bill and I started with a 6:30am waterfront sunrise service at A.L. Kinsaul Park, hosted by Lynn Haven UMC. About 200+ of us gathered in a gusty, cool morning breeze to sing resurrection songs and hear a message by Pastor Nic Gibson as the sun rose on a beautiful Easter morning. Nic preached about the good news of salvation becoming transformation. He referenced a weblog by his brother, Stanford Gibson, in which Stan quotes a vintner who calls himself a “wine nerd, but not a wine snob”. As Nic told it, the same could be said of us as Christians – some are “spirituality nerds, but not spirituality snobs.” The spiritual snob (read: self-righteous) disdains the spirituality of others whose spirituality is not the same as her own and that causes her world to be diminished as a result. The nerd simply loves and adventurously pursues spirituality for itself, not judging others’ and consequently allowing her own world to be enlarged and stand on its own. For the snobs it’s a comparative thing, desiring that it should be better than someone else’s. For the nerd it is simply a choice made out of love for the object itself. His scripture was from 1 Corinthians 15:1-10.

In one of his prayers he used the phrase “free us from the guilt of our past, the boredom of the present, and the anxiety of the future.” Somehow that resonated with me. Although I don’t feel any of those three at the moment, I have at times in the past and I certainly know a number of people for whom all three fit right now.

He also talked about adventure movies and superheroes and called Christ the ultimate superhero, the one that everyone talks about when he saves the world from disaster. His analogy was this: consider that we sinners are poor hapless individuals tied to a railroad track, assured of certain death. In such a situation, he said, we don’t need a spiritual psychologist telling us how to reorient ourselves to our reality. We need a superhero savior with a knife who can free us from our bonds. That image resulted in chuckles throughout the group.

After the sunrise service, Bill and I went home, where I retrieved a crockpot of warm sausage pinwheels and a container of fruit kabobs to take for the staff at the church, many of whom were arriving at 7:00am and working until after noon. I hurried off to the 8:00 traditional service and left Bill at home to himself for the rest of the morning. Senior pastor Doug Pennington’s sermon at the 8:00 service was on Thomas and doubt. His message had us feeling more in sync with the “doubting Thomas”, sympathetic rather than critical, and joyful when the doubt has been put to rest personally by the risen Christ. He referenced the hallmark Methodist doctrine, assurance of salvation. Thank God that we can have that! His scripture was from John 20:19-29.

At the 9:30 traditional chapel service Jim Luther talked about the triumphant, enduring nature of love, God’s love for us expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. One interesting point from his comments was about his archeological studies in the Holy Land, where he visited a family burial tomb, in the same area and similar to the one in which Christ’s body would have been laid. He noted the practice of allowing the bodies to decay and dessicate, leaving only bones. After a period of time, the bones would be placed in a family ossuary, actually “mingling with the bones of one’s fathers”. So, when the Bible references being “laid with his fathers”, it was a very literal reference. His scripture reference was from John 20:1-18. A friend, Leslie Baker, and I sang the hymn Morning Has Broken, made famous by Cat Stevens in the 1970’s, at that service and again at the 11:00 traditional chapel service with Jim Luther. It’s been many years since I’ve sung special music on Easter Sunday. Leslie and I are both feeling the desire to return to the traditional choir – Wednesday night practices and all.

After singing at the 11:00 traditional chapel service, I slipped out and went to hear our youth pastor, Neal McGee, preach in the Youth Center. His message, entitled “Then and Now” talked about the worship and joy felt by the followers of Christ on that Easter morning as the risen Christ proclaimed the Good News to them and challenged us to the same as we proclaim the Good News to others.

After the last service, several staffers were in the office commenting on how calm and peaceful the day’s services seemed – no hurried rushing, no overcrowding, no emergencies, no technical gaffes, etc. Using two venues for nine services was a challenge, but appears to have been well planned and carried out. When I told Doug I’d had the chance to hear all four pastors preach he said, essentially, that I either deserved a crown or to have my head examined!

It was a joy to have a leisurely morning and to spend the first half of it listening to quality preaching from four pastors who are all important in my life. This Easter has set a new standard that will, undoubtedly, be difficult to meet in future years.

Another event of worthy note this Easter weekend is that I received the results of a ministry inventory that I took in January. My deacon candidacy mentor emailed it to me after reviewing it herself yesterday. I was very encouraged to see that the results support what I have believed is my calling in ministry. I scored a very high 96th percentile on counseling, as well as very high scores on scholarly pursuits (96) and spiritual guidance (90). The surprise in the assessment was the score on “priest” (82), indicating a strong interest in assisting in the conduct of public worship, sacraments, and liturgy. Moderately high scores on administration (76), teaching (71), evangelism (73), and reformer (62) are all compatible with the areas of ministry in which I am working or seeking to work. My lowest interest scores were in the areas of preaching (31) and music (33). Since those are the areas in which I feel least competent it makes sense that my interest and activity in those areas would be low. This Thursday I have a meeting with members of the Alabama-W.Florida Conference Board of Ministry. It is in support of my goal of certification as a Christian educator in the UMC. I don’t know if this inventory or my candidacy for ordination as a deacon will come up, but I hope to be prepared for whatever they might ask.

Finally, this past week our daughter informed us that our youngest grandaughter, age 6, will be receiving Holy Communion for the first time today at the late afternoon Easter worship service at their church, Red Mountain Church, PCA, in Birmingham. One by one we are having the privilege of watching our grandchildren affirm their faith in Christ. Our prayers for them to know the Lord are being answered, as we have fully expected. Our pastor says that for children raised in homes where Christ is honored and worshipped, who are taken to churches where He is exalted, it is a natural thing to come to faith. While I agree that believing is a natural consequence in such environments, we have seen many children from Christian homes abandon their faith later or simply never achieve a degree of obedience that reflects solidly embracing the belief and embodying it in behavior. Our prayers now are that our grandchildren, having made decisions affirming faith in Christ, will cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives through obedience to the Word and will know the peace and joy of living abundant lives in Christ.

So, on this Easter I find that I have much to celebrate and, gratefully, have had the time and freedom to do exactly that!