I loved church camp for memories like when we collected a bounty of unwanted cubed carrots and constructed a vegetable castle, catapulting it with field soggy peas. Or on Talent night, when a camp staffer did not spot our middle school sacracaism and implored the entire assembly to imitate my youth groups’ very enthusiastic applause.
I do not remember much about Camp worship, but from seventh grade on I wanted to be a SonShare Player, a select group of talented college students. As a college freshman, I didn’t even get the first call back to be on the team. Disappointed, I ended up at Laurel Lake Baptist Camp in Corbin Kentucky. It was a local camp serving mostly poor mountain kids. It had a few hundred acres, ten buildings, six copperheads, spotty hot water, one custodian, and the camp director’s wife got drafted as camp cook. Sug, in case you somehow hear this, the food was great- even the cinnamon rolls flavored with government prunes that you passed off as raisins. Each week, I shepherded a cabin with 12-20 campers, led our morning Bible study (I had to buy a King James Version for camp), colead 4 hours of outdoor recreation, washed the breakfast and lunch dishes, and mopped the spacious dining hall. For those 18 hours days, I was paid 30 dollars a week. I would do it again!
Our camp hosted a weekend youth festival featuring a hot shot preacher, contemporary christian band, and a Son Team. On a humid Friday afternoon, I had washed the dishes and was finishing up my mopping duties when the Son Team waltzed into the dining hall asking about cold cokes. I looked down and noticed cubed carrots on my shoes. I reeked of dishwater, mop buckets, humidity, and embarrassment. One of the Team members snickered and asked if my summer mission placement was as a janitor? Some giggled. As a sharp tongued dyslexic kid accustomed to dispatching playground bullies, I summoned my inner John the Baptist. Leaning into my mop I said “Oh I was thinking Jesus did custodial work, washing dirty feet, but perhaps you signed up to be served?” My self-righteous Biblical gunslinging ended the giggles and brought a few apologies. I did not forgive them, as Jesus put it “from my heart.”
I cleaned up before the old church vans arrived with teens wearing Goodwill t-shirts and secondhand shorts. The mountain air cooled as poor kids delighted in seconds of Sug’s Barbecue, ice cream and ice cold RC. The electrified sound check excited the crowd ready for something other than old timey Gospel music. Suddenly, news came that the hot shot preacher could not make it. The Son Teams suggested my antagonist as the last-minute preacher. The Camp Director spoke with his slow twang “No, you sing your songs and fiddle with them puppets, Paul is going to preach: them kids love him.”
Well, I rocked it. Seventy kids got saved that night, three for the first time, with 67 reheated in the Spirit. God looked upon my lowly estate and exchanged the mop handle for a mic drop.I won the preach off! My preaching antagonist apologized and assured me I earned my space in the Cool Christians Club. I politely declined. I went to sleep feeling like a future Billy Graham.
Did I learn the right spiritual lesson that night? No. I did not embrace God’s deep embrace of me! Instead, I kept on finding my worth not from God’s infinite love but in my accomplishments. The next morning as the Son Team van whisked off to another gig, I retreated I washed their dishes. I would tell others of “the janitor” winning the preach off with a hint of evangelical karma or divine retribution. I wish the Good News had broken through and I could have heard God’s deep love and been content to feel good about doing the essential work of washing dishes. I had no win- win narratives. I never considered my nemesis might have been offering a kind of misguided but commerisating joke. It would be years before I began to believe that God loves and accepts me no matter my vocational output.
Father Richard Rohr says “Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us. God’s mind did not need changing. Jesus came to change our minds about God- and about ourselves- and about where goodness and evil really lie. …. “ (The Universal Christ) It is easy to take away the wrong lessons from Easter! Easter is not some token to get us into Heaven. Easter is not about Jesus sticking it to the devil, the council of bishops or the Empire. Easter a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Do we know a living and active Hope that transforms us like yeast, education, a new baby, sunlight, or Love?
“It was still the first day of the week:” Easter evening. Mary, Magdalene, and Joana had shared Easter’s message with the disciples: “we have seen the Lord.” Magdalene told them her whole story. Surely everyone was bewildered. Luke’s people said “stay in Jerusalem” Matthew reported Jesus saying: ““Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my siblings that I am going ahead of them into Galilee. They will see me there.” Holy moments, like art or love, are messy. Let’s not divide the disciples against one another or make anyone a villain for not believing.
The disciples are stuck behind closed doors in fear of the Religious authorities. Who can blame them? Surely the trauma of the crucifiction induced soul numbing stress. They are in a strange city, leaderless, over their heads, and out of their element. Their accents give them away. Jerusalem held Herod’s temple and palace, both occasionally sold to the highest bidder. Just the Sunday before Jesus rode towards the Temple City humbly on a donkey, his sandals dragging the ground, palm fronds waving, children laughing. By Friday, this one who taught love, preached forgiveness, fed crowds, and provided free healthcare and was crucified, dead and buried. “When you are persecuted in one city, flee.” (Matthew 10:23) I would have locked the doors too. It seems only the women hold faith’s fearful fearlessness.
Jesus came and stood among them. Jesus is not the same old Jesus. Jesus walks through locked doors and vanishes after breaking bread. (Luke 24) “Peace be with you.” Christ shows us his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Thomas, who missed Group, will demand: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
Again a second time, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” Then Christ commissions us to follow into the work God sent Jesus to do. “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Did Jesus make disciples by passing out tracks? Jesus set up healthcare clinics, included the marginalized, preached forgiveness, taught ethics, fed people, created community and offered radical love! Jesus’ followers live like Jesus. Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven” Easter is a work of forgiveness!
Before this year, I am not sure I had noticed how the Risen Christ “showed them his hands and side.” Jesus is Risen, glorified, triumphant. Yet our Risen Lord bears wounds. How can that be? What might it mean that our Risen Lord bears the wounds of crucifixion?
“Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us. God’s mind did not need changing. Jesus came to change our minds about God- and about ourselves. “ (Rohr: The Universal Christ) Will we put our fingers in Christ’s wounds? Will we understand that God’s woundedness does not reduce God’s holiness and wholeness? If Jesus can have wounds on Easter, then maybe my woundedness does not reduce my holiness either? Our sins and our good deeds affect our quality of life- but they do not change God’s love and acceptance of us. That night at camp, when I did not forgive my nemis I watered a bitter seed planted by bullies before him. I chose rugged individualism, market validation and unforgiveness. I lived into win-lose. Perhaps, I added shame to his load too.
Only love can heal our deepest wounds. David slayed Goliath only to become Goliath. Only Love can imprint love into our souls. Only love restores God’s image within us. Guilt, shame, fear, self-help, fasting, denial, good-deeds, will mark us with far less than God’s image. ( Colossians 2-3) Love breaks retribution’s cycle. Love brings us contentment no matter if we hold a mop or a microphone. Love frees us to be who God made us to be. Love is our hope.
“We are invited to gaze upon the image of the crucified Jesus to soften our hearts towards all suffering, to help us see how we ourselves have been ‘bitten’ by hatred and violence, and to know that God’s heart has always been softened towards us. In turning our gaze (upon our Risen Lord’s hands and side)… we drop our many modes of scapegoating and self justification– we gain compassion towards ourselves and all others who suffer.’ (The Universal Christ 152)
With that Father Richard Rohr Invites us to gaze upon the mystery of our Risen Lord’s wounded hands and side, offering us a guided prayer.
Thank you, Brother Jesus for becoming human so I do not need to pretend to be God.
Thank you for becoming finite and limited, so that I do not need to feel limitless.
Thank you for becoming vulnerable so that I can stop pretending to be superior.
Thank you for holding our shame and nakedness so that we need not hide our reality.
Thank you for accepting expulsion so that we can know you will meet us outside the walls.
Thank you for “becoming sin” so that I need not deny my mistakes and failures.
Thank you for becoming weak so that we do not need to keep on pretending to be strong.
Thank you for not being not liked by many so that I need not try to please everyone.
Thanks for being considered a failure so that we do not need to pretend to be a success.
Thank you for being crucified by church and empire so that I do not have to always be right.
Thank you for being poor in every way so that I need not strive to become rich.
Thanks for becoming all that society fears and despises, so that I can accept myself … and everyone else through you. Amen. (adapted from The Universal Christ: Why Did Jesus Die?)