This is how I spent the night: upset, restless, up and down. Maybe it was the moon. Maybe it was knowing I had to be up early. Maybe it was the thought of being the sole leader of a worship service on Easter morning for an unknown congregation whose makeup would be determined only when folks showed up. No musicians. No readers. No greeters. Me and God and the people.
I pumped myself up on prayer and a few cups of coffee to drive down a road I had not traveled in more than a year to go to a place I had never been. “Here we go, God,” I prayed.
A joyful group assembled. Some in scrubs. Some wore church clothes. Some were in soft loungewear. Some had catheters, IV poles, wheelchairs, bandages or oxygen. Some were bright- or bleary-eyed. More men than women came.
As I have known now for 20 years, someone will always say they have never heard a woman bring the message. I am careful to call it a “message” in the bulletin because it is less threatening than a “sermon.” But one man was willing to join in with me and to praise the Lord.
I preached on “The Last Laugh.” Humor isn’t my greatest gift — I always forget punchlines. But God sent another man who has provided clean humor for churches for 25 years in his retirement. Even in his 80s, he and I kept finding common ground. I found myself sure that the Lord had sent him not only to praise but to set me at ease. I invited him to share a joke as the Lord led him after the message. He did. I told him I would like to speak with him after the service, but he disappeared. Angels tend to do that.
In the preaching moment, I pointed to the way the Devil sat cackling as he watched each moment of Jesus’ dying. As the tomb was sealed. As the friends of Jesus mourned. But when the stone rolled back and the Devil saw it empty, sounds of both the Devil’s shriek and God’s belly laugh rang across the landscape and universe. God always has the victory even if it does not feel like it. God takes our shattered pieces, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, and makes something holy of us here and now.
One man who had been cautious said I “did a good job.” It is the closest thing to grace a woman preacher can hope for. We shook hands and parted in peace.
I talked with a woman who had volunteered to read the Scripture and heard her witness to God’s grace in her life, as well as that of her family. She asked me to request prayer at my church on her behalf. I did.
As I left and headed home, an unexpected turkey showed up and made me jump out of my skin. I laughed at God’s humor. I arrived at our church in time to see our kids playing after an egg hunt, making ready for worship.
In the sanctuary, we had lilies. Thankfully, it was only one plant; otherwise, I would have had to leave. My husband and I sat with the ushers, as far away as possible. About 15 years ago, I noticed that lilies cause difficulties with breathing. This is a problem most people do not understand. The flowers are pretty, after all. But they do not possess the meaning of Resurrection Day. They make me sicker than most things. They can be deadly to some.
I ended up feeling very thankful that I could not sit with my family. I was positioned to see a young couple entering. They had a tiny baby in a car seat. I did not know them, but I usually attend an early service. I remember how hard it felt to come into the sanctuary with a tiny one. So, I offered support. I wanted them to feel at home. They already did.
While this was their first time worshipping in any church, they said, this church facility was familiar. They had stayed here with Family Promise, a ministry of several congregations that serves to transform homelessness. I offered a place of privacy if the young mother needed it, but she already knew the way. Grace.
I suppose I saw several small miracles on Easter Sunday. Who am I to say how great or small they are? Maybe they turned a bit more of my bitter, broken heart sweet.
May God grant us more witnesses to grace. Be not afraid. Go and tell.