Easter was awesome, but not in the way I had expected. I went to University Fellowship for the first time and sat in the bleachers next to about a dozen strangers. As I mentioned before, nearly everyone was dressed nicely, which made me in my new favorite hoodie stand out like a Duck fan at a Beaver’s game. We all stood when the worship leader said to, sat when he said to, laughed at the greeter’s jokes even if we didn’t get them, and prayed when the pastor did. Throughout it all, though, I hadn’t noticed Jesus sitting next to me.
Somewhere along the way, He had walked in through the double doors of the rented high school gymnasium in His plaid, button up shirt, shorts, and Velcro sandals. After shaking hands with a few people He hadn’t met yet, He found where I was sitting, and worked His way over. The people next to me politely scooted over as He sat down. He made some light-hearted, sarcastic joke about the worship leader’s cowlick, sang two songs with eyes closed, opened them on the third because He didn’t know the words, and bowed His head when the pastor started in. He was quiet, candid, but sincere – exactly what you’d expect from a guy who’s good at getting by unnoticed. And He sat next to me on Sunday.
It didn’t take a powerful, inspirational sermon. I didn’t need a moment of deep meditation and prayer. And it certainly wasn’t one particular Bible verse that woke me up; it was simply God doing what He does best: sneaking His love in on you. If you aren’t careful, He’ll slip around your worries of debt and unemployment, hop right over that shameful act you did the other day at work, and glide right on through your depression. At that point, He’ll put His arm around you and start talking about baseball or what kind of sauce would go well with some pork ribs – even though He’s Jewish. You see, Christ’s casualness catches you off guard. It gives you what you need just before you realize you need it. And I think the beauty of it is it was meant to be contagious.
Brett Gilchrist, pastor of University Fellowship, spoke about what Christianity has become from his perspective. He said it’s more like a coffee-table sort of faith where you can pick it up like a magazine, get what you want out of it, and then move on to something else. It’ll give you health, wealth, and success all the while demanding next to nothing. Here in America, this is the perfect brand of Christianity.
What I’ve come to see as the problem for this particular brand, though, is that it doesn’t bring about lasting change. This kind of faith, like consumerism, needs the next big thing in order to survive. It needs something new, something fresh, to keep it going. A new pastor, a new devotional, a new worship song, a new whatever – only until something cooler comes along and then it gets put on the shelf as a souvenir, forever fated to collect dust.
I think Brett knew what kind of crowd he was speaking to on Sunday morning. I think he knew that quite a few of them weren’t regular church-goers; just bi-annual ones showing up on the important Christian days (Easter and the Sunday before Christmas). I think he knew because he talked about the true gospel of Jesus and what its call for us is. He chose Easter morning to remind everyone what it really means to follow Christ. And how it is not always convenient.
Jesus rose not so that two thousand years later we can eat a bunch of candy and chase after plastic eggs that some bunny laid (which is biologically confusing). He died, as Brett said, so that we could be saved. And it’s not just a spiritual salvation – Jesus didn’t die just for my soul. It isn’t like we can be “saved,” we can be with the “in” crowd, and then do whatever we want for the rest of our lives. Jesus died so that we could be a different kind of people – a new kind of man.
What is this new kind of man? Is it that Bible-thumping freak standing in public places calling people all sorts of names? Or how about that spiritual snob who emphasizes their church only and talks about other churches and Christians (or other lifestyles in general) in a condescending tone? Or what about the super spiritual person who’s always praying, reading Scripture, or worshipping? Is any one of these the new kind of man God is creating?
It’s often a human thing to say, “Well if it isn’t this, then it’s this.” We want to clarify and define with absolute certainty what “it” is, but we really can’t. We know it’s Jesus to some degree, but the moment we venture to say “Jesus hates gays,” He’ll be there drinking coffee with gay men and women the next morning. Whenever we so arrogantly say Jesus wouldn’t do this or that, He does it – not only to prove us wrong, but to spread His contagious love in spite of what we’re doing.
So what does Easter mean for the Christ-follower? Does it mean we have to amp up our knowledge of doctrines and Bible verses? Does it mean we have to constantly defend our theological beliefs? Does it mean we have to go on missions trips to convert the masses? Does it mean we have to commit ourselves to several Bible studies each week and attend multiple services every Sunday morning? Does it mean we have to become some sort of extreme Christians? It might… but I doubt it.
If you want to be a follower of Christ, then know this: You do not have to be excessive to be effective. Christ’s example from the Scriptures shows us that much. He sat with people, had meals with them, washed their feet, fed them, healed them – no matter the situation, He saw each individual’s unmet need. And He simply met that need.
And if you think this is something that can only be done by Jesus, then you’re entirely wrong:
“In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man sprang up and began to walk,” – Acts 14:8-10
Paul “intently” saw this man’s need and simply met it. What’s most important, though, is that Paul didn’t do this under his own power. He did this as a product of Christ being revealed to him. In other words, once Paul truly met Jesus, his world was changed, but so was the way he saw the world around him.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else,” – C.S. Lewis
Committing (or re-committing) to Christ need not begin with an extreme experience; His fire does not require fireworks, but rather a match – something small, but with incredible capabilities. Such a match-sized experience could be simply opening your home for a meal, bringing some blankets to those homeless fellows on the corner, or even something so little as asking a coworker how their day has gone. It’s casual, but intentional – not prone to backing off when things get uncomfortable, but rather seeing them through. If you ask someone how you can help them, be ready to help – whatever that may require.
Easter is the simply the day Jesus proved His casual, intentional nature of love could conquer all. We celebrate it not just because “it’s what Christians do,” but because it reminds us of what we’re supposed to do. It reminds us why we’re even here in the first place. The only question we have remaining is: Do we want to wait until sunset to do something with our lives or do want to take advantage of the light while we have it?