Easter is upon us. This high and holy time is filled with celebration and splendor. As a pastor, I get really focused on Holy Week and Easter Sunday. It is, after all, the day we celebrate and remember again the resurrection of Jesus with Christians all over the world. Much prayer and preparation goes into Holy Week and into Easter Sunday service. And this year has been special.
This year, like much of life recently, has been different. More time and energy has been put into preparing for this celebration than I can ever remember before. I have been praying and planning. So many others, both staff and volunteers, have been working hard to make Holy Week and Easter Sunday meaningful for all. This work, of course, has been made harder by the pandemic. As a church, we have tried to create the safest environment we are able to create and to provide the best virtual worship we can provide. It has been stressful, but so important. Caring for one’s neighbor is primary in our life together and finding new and inventive ways to do that has been both challenging and rewarding. This has not been easy though. It seems to me that we are living in a time of great stress and great discord. I believe this is affecting us all. I am also keenly aware that my struggle is not unique and that others in our society have been asked to deal with much more, but I would like to share where I found hope.
As a pastor, I have discovered over this last year that I cannot please everyone. That seems logical, but it has been hard for me to handle. One day last month, I had been to two different meetings where we were making plans and trying think of all the little things we used to take for granted when planning worship. I had also been on the phone with a person who was very sick and alone trying to offer prayer and hope. In the midst of pastoral care and planning for worship, I also got to hear lots of people’s opinions about how things should be and how we were getting it all wrong. Needless to say, I was tired. I was spent. I was wrestling with my calling to pastoral ministry. I was wrestling with whether I am capable of continuing to answer this call when it feels like, no matter what I do, some good people will be unhappy.
The day had grown late and nothing was pressing and so I made my way to the car dejected. As I cut across the lawn, I noticed a kid playing basketball all alone in the back of our parking lot. I felt the pull to go and meet this young man and welcome him, but I also felt the desire to hide away from the world. I am so glad I listened to the Spirit. I made my way to the back of the parking lot and keeping a distance to not alarm the young man I introduced myself and welcomed him. He told me he was new to town, having moved here with his family. I took a few shots with him and we laughed about how my jump shot lacked a jump. I got him to smile. I hope for that moment he felt less “new here.” I told him about our church and the youth group. Since that afternoon, I have seen him playing with new friends and his family several times on our make shift basketball court and I have waved, mimed my jump-less jump shot, and laughed with him. That day, and each time since, I have been reminded of the hope found in our Lord.
Even when things are hard and we do not have all the answers, God is still calling us to one simple thing. That one simple thing is love. When I am wrestling with what to do and struggling with the undercurrent of discord in our culture, I ask myself the following question: How can I love like Jesus? I do not have all the answers, but I know one thing. That one thing is that God’s love changes the world. When we stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about others, God’s love transforms us. I am far from perfect, and no matter how hard we work or how well we plan, Easter Sunday will not be perfect. However, if we all would stop and find a way to love others like Jesus does, it just might be the greatest Easter Sunday we have ever known. If we would stop and find ways to love others like Jesus does, every day would be different and we would be closer to living in the Kingdom of God that I think we all are seeking.
I want to challenge us this year to stop trying to make things the way we want them to be and instead start considering and truly loving others, because that is the way God commands it shall be. I have hope that the world, and indeed our lives, can change for the better, because when we love others like Jesus loves, all kinds of miracles happen. I went from an exhausted, defeated pastor to laughing like a child because I took a few minutes to try to make someone else’s day better. Imagine what could happen if we all dedicated our lives to truly living to love God by loving others. If Jesus can be resurrected, then nothing is impossible. If the love of forgiveness can overcome the hate of a cross, then nothing is impossible. If we will live as disciples of Jesus who seek to love God and our neighbor as ourselves, then hope shall abound!
Easter is all about the hope found in God’s love. May you remember hope this Easter season and share that love in Jesus name. Amen.
Working on my jump shot and my faith,
Pastor Jimmy Hendricks, firstname.lastname@example.org