Pastor David was expecting a great day! Tomorrow would be his first Easter since graduating from seminary. Primed with the latest in theology he was called to Maple Street Community Church. He made the final touches to his sermon that morning and shared it with his wife. He told her about Paul Tillich and his theology of “new being.” He spoke about the resurrection as a symbol that the estrangement from our authentic self was over. He didn’t seem to notice his wife shaking her head.
That evening, David drove to the church for the rehearsal of the sunrise service. When the practice ended, a youth, lovingly called “Tiny” because of his six-foot five inch frame, asked, “Pastor, can you give me a ride home?” David said he would be glad to do so, but that the young man would have to give him directions. With Tiny pointing the way, David delivered the youth home without incident. When he left, however, he could not remember if he was to turn right at the end of the cement and left at the crossroads or the other way around. It had only taken ten minutes to reach Tiny’s home, but now after twenty minutes of driving he found himself on a deserted dirt road, totally lost. When the car sputtered he realized he was out of gas.
David was overcome with anxiety. It was 10P.M. on Holy Saturday, He was lost. He was out of gas. His cell phone showed no coverage. He needed to be at church at 6A.M. to set up for sunrise. He got out of the car and began to walk. Ten minutes later he saw some bright lights up ahead. As he drew closer he could see that the lights were the neon sign of the Knotty Pine. Everyone, even a newbie in town like David, knew the Pine was one of the seediest taverns in town. As he walked to the front door he saw a group of motorcycles which made him even more anxious. Nevertheless, he went inside. It smelled of rancid beer and stale tobacco. He didn’t see anyone he recognized, which was good and bad. He wondered what the church members would think if they knew their pastor was at the Knotty Pine on Holy Saturday night.
David walked to the bar, intending to ask for a ride to town, but found himself ordering a coke and, noticing a billiard table, wandered over to it. Before long he got into a game. David’s grandpa had a table, and David had shot pool since he was six. He was pretty good. But this night, however, David was fantastic; he twice ran the table after the break. That got him noticed by Turk, a short powerful “biker,” who, taking off his leather jacket, challenged David to a game.
Turk was good. But that night David was better. After three consecutive wins, Turk conceded defeat. He bought David another coke and announced that henceforth David would be called “Shark.” He then asked the inevitable question, “What do you do?” David was uncertain to tell the truth or lie, but he summoned his courage and said, “I’m the pastor at Maple Street Community Church.” The crowd was shocked and began to mumble, but from the background Turk bellowed, “Quiet!”
Immediately the mood in the bar changed and the patrons, one-by-one began to tell their stories. When Turk’s turn came, he began, “I’ve never been to church. My mother was never married so people told her she was not good enough for any church. I’ve never been to Sunday school, either. What I know about the Bible comes from television. I don’t even know what we celebrate at Easter.” All eyes turned to David. He realized that Turk had given him an invitation and he needed to respond.
So David began to tell the Holy Saturday Knotty Pine crowd about Jesus. David told them about his birth, and how when he was old enough he began to teach in public. David told them that those who were rich and powerful had little time or energy for Jesus because Jesus reached out to those who were despised by society at large. He told them Jesus did many wonderful things, cured diseases, forgave sins and demonstrated love in every word and action of his life.
David told them that after his public ministry, mostly in the North, Jesus had gone south to Jerusalem. Although he had done many wonderful things and taught people about the love of God, he was nonetheless, hated by many of the very people he came to save. So, on Friday, after a kangaroo court had agreed he was guilty of high crimes, he was led to crucifixion, wearing a crown of thorns. All his best friends abandoned him, save a couple of women who watched all these horrible things. Because he was tortured so severely, Jesus died on the cross after just three hours. His friends took him down and laid him in a tomb. As the Knotty Pine crowd listened, several began to weep openly.
David told them about the Marys going to the tomb early on Sunday. He told them about the soldiers being frightened by the earthquake and the lightening angel. He told them about the angel’s story about Jesus being raised from the dead and that they were to go meet him in Galilee.
Turk and the others were impressed but they said, “That is a crazy story.” David responded, “It’s a crazy world. But our God does the unexpected. God turns losers into winners. God has shown over and over that what we expect is weakness, is really strength. By raising God’s Son from death, God destroyed death forever and showed that God will always be there for us.”
When all this was said, David told Turk about his car problem. Quickly the rugged biker siphoned some gas from another vehicle, gave David direction and sent him on his way.
When David got home he told his anxious wife all that had happened. She told him he needed to get some sleep. He replied, “I need to rewrite my sermon!” The next day, David did not talk about Tillich’s “Ground of New Being,” or estrangement from authentic selfhood. Instead he simply told the story of how God raised Jesus from the dead and in the process gave him and all the world new life and hope.
People in the congregation thought the sermon was good, but what really got them talking they hadn’t expected. Through the sanctuary doors came a dozen or so strangers. They parked their shiny motorcycles in front of the church and sat on a couple of the front pews. When one of the ushers inquired about the visitors, one burly fellow, obviously uncomfortable in a suit and tie, growled, “We’re friends of Shark.”
What do you expect of Easter? Pastor Jackson expected a frantic day of preparation, a night of rest and a well-rehearsed church service. Turk and the gang expected another Saturday night at the Knotty Pine, their favorite watering hole. An unexpected meeting between a green-behind-the-ears pastor and a hard-bitten biker opened them both to new worlds, new expectations.
The Marys went to the grave expecting an encounter with a dead body. Somewhere along the path to the cemetery, however, they left one world and entered another. Without even knowing that they had crossed the border, they left the old world, where hope is in constant danger, and might makes right, and peace has little chance, and the rich get richer and the weak all eventually suffer under some Pontius Pilate or another, and people hatch murderous plots, and dead people stay dead. The two Marys unexpectedly entered the startling and breathtaking world of resurrection and life. Jesus of Nazareth who had been dead as a doornail on Friday, was not in his tomb that morning, and the world – theirs and ours, -- has been turned upside down ever since.
In this new and unexpected reality, the Risen Christ’s first words tell us what he expects of us: “Go. Tell. Make Disciples. Baptize. Teach all I have commanded.”
In other words, Feed, tend. Leave the graveyard, the locked room and hit the streets. What do you think? Can we expect of ourselves what Jesus expects of us?
© 2017 Gordon B. Mapes III, all rights reserved