What You Really Need to Know the Day After Easter

The shoes they wore Easter Sunday morning, us all sitting there in the very front row of Gorrie Bible Fellowship, they looked like they’d crossed 47 rolling dirt fields with a herd of tramping camels.

And then had an all-out dust bath with a flock of sparrows.

So much for new Easter threads and crisp white shirts and rooster tails smoothed down with a spit and a lick.

Forget the standing to sing, “Morning has broken!” and laying out the good dishes and washing of feet.

I’m not thinking about lilies and silk ties and Mrs. Martin wearing that royal purple dress in embroidered honor of Resurrection morning.

















Hadn’t I set those shoes out Saturday night and told them to wash them down? I know, parenting rule #32: Don’t inspect much, can’t expect much. But how in the world could two of my boys have worn shoes looking like remnants of the dustbowl? What kind of mother has pressed and ironed boys shod like that on Easter morning?

Lawrence Mueller, he reads the Scripture reading from the book of Mark, one hand on his tie.

Pastor Goodkey, leads the congregation in singing hymn 168. Eleven year old Samuel Bauman, he comes up to the front with his Bible and that one sheet of careful notes shaking in his right hand, and he adjusts the microphone and tells us why he believes. We stand to sing, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”

I make a mental note not to look down at anyone’s shoes, to just keep looking straight ahead.

Then Wesley Heimstra, he unfolds an eight by eleven sheet and tells us he’s nervous, but he’ll just read what he wrote down, if we were okay with that, and he tells us how he’s just finished up school and found his first job.

How the men in the lumber yard talked crude and how they laughed when he turned away, awkward and innocent. How he got tired of being mocked and how he prayed and nothing changed, so he just came it it and I doubt his good mama ever knew: if God wasn’t showing up for him in the lunch room — he wasn’t going to go out on any limb for any God.

Wesley’s voice is thin, transparent before the whole congregation, Mr. Greer and Mr. Nagel with their heads bowed, listening.

How had I heard last week, how the Romans crowned their emperor-gods?

How the full Praetorian guard gathered around the man about to be crowned the Roman Emperor, to drape a purple robe on his shoulders and crown him with a laurel wreath place don his head, and proceed on this triumphal procession through the city carrying the instrument of death for the sacrifice, a bull.

Welsey’s telling us that after all the jeering of the guys at work — he didn’t even know if  he could believe there was a God anymore.

The triumphal procession of the next ruler of the Roman empire would wind its way to Capitoline Hill — to the hill of the head — where a bowl of wine mixed with myrrh would be poured out and the bull would be sacrificed.

Then the new emperor, with a general on his left and the high priest on his right, would be acclaimed as the son of the gods and all of Rome would wait for a sign from the gods to confirm his crowning — an eclipse, a bolt of lightning, a sign from heaven.

Wesley said he just got done waiting for a sign. 

“Come one Sunday night, when I was supposed to do music with Pastor Goodkey for evening service,” Wesley reads, runs his hand through his hair. “I just called him up and said I couldn’t do it, that church was the last place I wanted to be. Pastor Goodkey came to see me and he asked questions and he listened and I just told him how the months and the men had wore me down and I didn’t even know if wanted anything to do with Christianity anymore.

I don’t look over at Wesley’s beautiful mama, just keep my eyes on Wesley and his chin hardly trembling.

This is no bullet point sermon from a pulpit on Easter Sunday morning — this is life hanging in the balance and the testimony of the risings.

Why is this the bravest of all, to just tell your brazen story?

What story did the apostle Mark tell? 

That the whole Praetorian guard, all 3,000 of them, took Jesus to the Praetorium (Mk. 15:16), where a purple robe is pulled over Christ’s shoulder and a crown of thorns is placed on his head and the place rings with the proclamation (Mk15:17-18), “Hail, King of the Jews!”

Then this processional through the city, Christ, the sacrifice, carrying His own instrument of death, the Cross, not to Capitoline Hill,”head hill” —  but to Golgotha, the literal translation being, “place of the head” or “death’s head.”

I glance down to the end of the row, our Malakai and our Levi, sitting there with their knees under their chin, their filthy suede shoes there on the edge of their chairs. Would they tie up any shoes at all 10 years from now to come sit in a church pew? Will they believe the crowning and bear allegiance to the throne?

The Farmer reaches over, threads his fingers through mine. Malakai’s leaning up against Levi, watching young Wesley up there at the front of all our eyes.

Shalom whispers in my ear behind her cupped hand, “Wesley taught me Sunday School.”

And I pat her cheek, pat her cheek, her round eyes looking right up at me.

“Pastor Goodkey, he stayed calm and he prayed with me and we talked about the decisions I had to make.” Wesley’s reading slow.

“For weeks, I kept wrestling hard, the pressures of all these guys at work — and I kept thinking about all Jesus had done for me, that Cross and that Crown…” I’m nodding and Wesley, he’s brimming now.

And that’s what the book of Mark had said, how  Christ was offered the bowl of wine mixed with myrrh but he refused it (Mk. 15:23), how He offers Himself as the sacrifice, with one on His right and one on His left, and how His life ran away red, given, just like a beast. And then the signs, the crowning from heaven: at the sixth hour, darkness fell over the land until the ninth hour, the thick curtain in the temple ripped straight through from top to bottom, the earth splitting right open and death, now pinned in a choke-hold, coughing up its prisoners.

And the centurion crying, “Surely this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).

Not some emperor. This man.

Not Caesar, not Augustus, not Nero — this man is the Son of God, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Ruler of All our empires and warred over lands.

This God-man who leads us in triumphal procession.

“And one night, I picked up my Bible and read it for the first time in months and couldn’t get enough of it, and I knew — I knew…”

Wesley holds his voice still, just still, trying to stop the dam and the cracking, and the whole sanctuary waits with heaven. I don’t know how he’ll hold on and go on. Maybe we shouldn’t go on. Maybe we should all wait right here with what we know. I look down.

Malakai’s swinging his dirty shoes under his seat.

And Wesley looks up and he let’s go of everything and there are signs:

I just knew I wanted Jesus...” and all these waters break, this flood, this six foot two young man just breaking liquid, and our boys are in the front row, right in front of him, looking up into him. The Farmer squeezes my hand.

Wesley chokes it out, “I went back to work and I didn’t care anymore how they laughed at me, because all that matters was God was pleased with me, and I kept praying, and God’s given me an opportunity to share grace and truth with every single one of them and they’re hungry for more.” Wesley’s bent.

His shoulders wrack hard.

There are still resurrections and we are witnesses.

My sister and brother-in-law, they carry Baby Ema to the front of the chapel and they tell the story of the last year, of Ema not breathing and her heart stopping and, facing losing this little girl, how they came to taste it, like the mystery of manna, that when nothing makes sense, God is enough, and they know it, because they’ve experienced it, that the tomb is empty and He rises in us, and I can’t look up now at all.

Malakai’s shoes are so dirty.

And Sherry Pelletine she says it after them, that this was the year the infection came to her cancerous arm. And they put in the PIC line and her grandmother died and her back went out and she drove a friend every week to her own chemo treatments and she looked right up and asked God — how much more?

But she had done the homework in her Beth Moore Bible Study on James: she had taken the years of her life and divided it by four and into those quarters, she had written down the blessings for each of those decades, and she had challenged us to do it too, quarter our lives and look, “There are always blessings. Even when I couldn’t see it, He is always there and there are always blessings.

In the school of suffering, I learned the comfort of Christ.”

I look up at Shelly. At Baby Ema on her mama’s shoulder and Wesley there with his guitar by Pastor Goodkey and this is the procession, all these voices at the microphone on Easter morning, like a parade of triumphant down the Via Dolorossa, down the way of sorrows, this crowning Him Lord of all the territory of our lives.  It’s the painful testings that hold the possibility of powerful testimony — and every trial is but steps in your triumphant march.

And I reach over and pull Malakai close, lay my head on his because the thing is?

Filthy shoes are fit for the Easter Emperor. 

Because aren’t we but dust and aren’t all the roads that to the Ruler narrow and hard and what else is there But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession…” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).

When the back doors of the chapel open, we all stream out into the light and Resurrection and the Reign of the Risen King.

Malakai and Levi, they run across the parking lot, run across the whole gravelled parking lot, their shoes jumping potholes.

Dust flying like these flags of unexpected triumph…

:: :: ::

#3360 – #3370 of my own one thousand gifts … of “thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession…” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)

:: a weekend of testimony to the Risen Lord

:: Mama lighting the candles

:: this song breaking me wide open Sunday morning

:: the washing of the feet and the way they loved

:: asparagus in spring

:: the way the light made a cross over the Passover table and the youngest saw and pointed and we all nodded thanks be to God

:: singing hymns in the dark

:: waiting up in prayer

:: that the week of eucharisteo and giving thanks before the hardest of things, the message of wholesale thanksgiving is #11 on the NYTimes — there are resurrections everywhere and we are the witnesses

:: dirty suede shoes on Easter Sunday morning

:: beginning again, afresh…. praise, praise, praise.

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Print April’s Joy Dare and begin this holy week — this month — right!

Count three gifts a day, 1000 gifts in 2012 (and be entered to win the NikonD90 camera?) Thank-you is a word that can change you, your world — the whole world!

And a happy new surprise for April:

Each day of April, 3 people who share their 1000 gifts Joy Dare for the day, one on Twitter {label with #1000gifts #JoyDare so we can find you!}, one sharing their gifts in the gratitude community at Facebook , and one on Pinterest (#1000gifts), will be randomly selected & entered into a drawing for a gift card @ Amazon {100$} & joy-in-a-box {signed copies of One Thousand Giftsthe photographic gift book, the DayBrightner, and the family gratitude journal} Give thanks to Him in the assembly!

Join us? And happily change everything by keeping your own crazy list of One Thousand Gifts?
Please, jump in, make your life about giving thanks to God! — Just add the direct URL to your specific 1000 gift list post… and if you join us, we humbly ask that you please help us find each other in our refrain of thanks by sharing the community’s graphic within your post.

Give thanks to the Lord! His Love Endures Forever!