Several years ago, after I dropped Keith off at a local medical laboratory to get his monthly labs drawn, I decided to swing through the McDonald’s drive-thru to get us cups of coffee. I weaved my way through the cars in the parking lot up to the drive-thru screens. You know the drill: repeat everything you want numerous times because the attendant can’t understand what you’re saying through their earpieces. I ordered Keith a chicken biscuit and then ordered our two small coffees (repeating how I wanted them “dressed “several times). The cost of the biscuit appeared on the screen and then the cost of the coffees. The transaction was almost complete. I was already tasting the creamy goodness of that cup o’ Joe when the attendant blurted out, “By the way, small coffees are free today!” Free??? My goodness, I had hit the jackpot – and first thing on a Monday morning, too! I couldn’t wait to tell Keith when he got back in the car that our coffees were free today. Now, this might not sound like that big of a deal to you, but I’ve never been the kind blessed with luck enough to win door prizes or drawings. And I carry my parents’ words always in my head, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” so, I don’t buy lottery tickets or jump at free vacation offers. Generations in my Scots/English/Irish background have worked hard and long for all they have owned and for every inch of ground gained. “Free” isn’t something I expect, and generally, isn’t something I am comfortable receiving.
Perhaps you can deduce then that grace isn’t an easy concept for me to wrap my head around. Giving up what your heart beats for, so others can receive what they have done little to deserve? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.“ (John 3:16, NIV) In my mind, this sounds like the behavior of a lunatic! Why would God give up his child for me? How will I ever work hard enough or earn enough to repay what was lost with that kind of sacrifice? My work ethic pulsates with the notion that the best things come to those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and jump into the trenches to do the work required. The Scriptures tell me Jesus died to save me from the evil forces at work to destroy me and to sever my connection to God. They even say that God was complicit in the crucifixion – willingly giving over his Son, so nothing could ever come between me and his love. I understand from the writings in the New Testament there will never be anything I can do to earn love like that or to repay God for it. Specifically, the writer of Ephesians said, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”(Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV) The grace offered to me by God is plain and simply a free gift that I may either embrace or discard. Yes, it might sound too good to true, but Christians for centuries have been reporting that the gift of grace is real and that it has changed the trajectory of their lives.
During Holy Week each year, we remember and celebrate anew God’s freely given gift of grace through the acts of Jesus Christ. We journey again with Jesus into Jerusalem; into the Upper Room as he prepares to say goodbye to his disciples; to the Cross of Calvary as he lays down his life; and to the empty tomb as we become aware he has risen – annihilating death as man’s final and fiercest enemy. I don’t find Holy Week a comfortable journey because I’m offered yet again the free gift I’ve done nothing to deserve. I must grapple all over with a love so fierce nothing is considered too precious to set aside for me. Will I let that love transform me or will I run from it?
As a child, in my neck of the woods in North Carolina, Easter Sunday was anticipated and prepared for weeks in advance. Plans were made for family celebrations and new outfits were purchased to wear to church. Easter Sunday was literally a parade of flowers, gloves, hats, shined up black patent leather, immaculately tied ties, and pastel colors. Worship services were full of music, pageantry, and language so warm and well-formed it rolled around on the tongue like honey. It was a special day – a day like no other – and I looked forward to it every year. We dress Easter up less these days trying to make it more accessible to everyone. In so doing, I wonder if we have let go of much of the special nature of the day. It should still be a day like no other. We should come into God’s house expectantly waiting to confront again the free offer of God’s grace. You don’t have to show up in fancy, new clothes to hear the Good News or to celebrate it. God desires nothing more than a “date” with us to tell us again that nothing – especially death – can separate us from his enduring love. I pray to see you Easter Sunday. The lights will be on at First Christian and the doors open. We are preparing for the party. By the way, admission to our kingdom celebration is FREE. And the grace? Well, it’s overflowing the grounds! Come on out....you’ll see!
Serving the Risen King,
"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Hebrews 10: 24-25, ESV