Some years ago, a Micah pastor asked one of our neighbors to help bring the cross down from the attic of the church in preparation for Easter Sunday. The neighbor obliged and the pastor further asked him whether he would like to participate in carrying the cross into worship as part of that week’s processional. “Oh, I couldn’t do that,” he said. “You don’t know who I am and the things I’ve done.”
I am often reminded of that story, as we have worked to give Street Church a shape and structure that suits our neighbors unique narratives. The more this community grows, the more I am convinced that their ability to be part of a mainline congregation has never been for lack of want; more often, it is that their lives and stories, for whatever reason, have led them to believe they are not worthy of the cross and the community that gathers around it.
Chelsea and I both had the joy this resurrection Sunday of sharing street church with our families. As you well know, worship together has been quite the challenge this past year for any church and family. In both of our cases, we have often been long gone from our houses on Sunday mornings before our children are even out of bed.
As I watched Chelsea’s sons, Evan and Nate, and my sons, Patrick and Ian, blend into the Street Church congregation, I was touched by the ways they loved on our people and our people loved them back. Evan particularly, took serious his street church responsibilities, first passing out the rocks we use for our weekly change offering and then gathering up the Easter eggs that had been scattered throughout our outdoor sanctuary. What I found particularly special about Evan is that he not only collected the eggs and looked to see what was inside, he proceeded to walk the rows of chairs offering candy found inside back to our neighbors.
A little child shall lead them, I thought. How prophetic of Evan to search relentlessly for those eggs, pull out the best part and offer it freely to those who gathered yesterday. We do not need the empty egg, or tomb rather, on resurrection Sunday, just the goodness found inside.
Whether our neighbors know it or not, we too are like those Easter eggs. The shinier and more colorful on the outside, the more accepted, desired and precious the world perceives us. If we find ourselves cracked and scraped, discolored and damaged, as many of our neighbors do, the world wants less to do with us. No matter what goodness remains inside, long-standing rejection, marginalization and exclusion can have us forget the beautiful creations we are.
The goodness inside all of us is not meant to be contained in an egg or locked away behind a heavy stone. As the resurrection story calls us to consider, it is meant to be nurtured and freely given away. None of us can truly appreciate the gift of the risen Lord when any one of us has yet to discover that truth.
In her message yesterday, Pastor Chelsea asked our neighbors the Jesus question. “Whom are you looking for?,” Jesus asks Mary as she sat weeping within the empty tomb. I sometimes wonder that very thing as I look across our street community on Sundays. Do our neighbors know, they are someone worth looking for? Do Wendy, Bill, Chris, Arritt, Junior, and so many others know the special blessing placed inside of them when they were created in God’s image? Who would they be if they fully understood how perfect they were in God eyes, despite all the bumps, bruises and imperfections they have collected on the outside?
And what of the rest of us? We look for the risen Lord on Easter Sunday, in our own lives, in our close circles; but can we see the Christ in the man who slept outside last night, the woman who sold her body to buy her next meal, the child whose unspeakable trauma produced an adult that drinks to numb the pain? Who are we looking for when we encounter a seemingly empty tomb?
I look for Wendy and Junior, who danced as they sang “Because he Lives” yesterday. I thank God they have a place to come, a place to belong, a place their voices can be heard. May they continue reaching for the light we know is inside of them.
I look for Bill, who can barely move from point A to point B but comes up with the most simplistic wisdom for applying scripture in our every day lives. May he continue keeping us honest. “You have to check up on people who stay away for a while,” he says. “You never know when they will be ready to come back.”
I look for Carth, a true resurrection story. I could tell you the twists and turns he has been through, but what I really want you to know is the special role he has developed on the landscaping crew at RACSB. May we continue to find hope in darkest hours of our neighbors; May their successes affirm our understanding that nothing is impossible at the hand of God.
I look for Ken and Chris, whose curiosity brought him to street church just yesterday. May God bring them back and bring others, so that they too can be fully known and fully loved.
He is risen, he is risen, indeed! And not just on Easter Sunday, but every time we look at the hardest, darkest corners of our world and see something more than an empty tomb. May all of our neighbors know that the cross is not saved for the well behaved and most put together. The tomb is empty, but they are not and the light still shines within them.
As we closed our gathering yesterday, Jimmy Joe said just perfectly,
“I can see everyone out here,” he said “There aren’t fancy hats, pretty shoes and outfits…but you don’t have to have fine clothing to know Easter is about our savior who is risen. We just came as we are. He didn’t die for us to be fancy. We come to worship with whatever we have. Just remember, no one took his life he gave it for all of us.”
Thanks be to God!
P.S. We are especially thankful to Mike King of Fredericksburg Baptist who made sure we had a beautiful arrangement of flowers for altar yesterday. And we are grateful, as well to Stafford Food Security who provided a pancake and eggs feast for our neighbors.