Unlocking Easter: Start at Your Own Front Door – The Original 12 Step Plan

E A S T E R! Some would say, “It’s all about the empty tomb.” According to John’s Gospel, this week might be all about “The Doors”. The doors barred and locked for fear. The doors shut-up and the disciples shut-down on Easter Evening, as though everything were just the same as on Easter morning, before the empty tomb. Most of us can name a few of Jesus’ Twelve. But not their last names. We know the Zebedees, James and John. Iscariot, some would say, for Judas. A few by their father’s first names. That’s it. But if we could name the rest by their acts on Easter Evening, they’d mostly be members of the Door family. Brothers Shut-the Door and Slam-the Door. The triplets, Bar-the, Block-the, and Lock-the Door. It would take their sister Op’n-the Door to bring the word that, “He is risen as he said!” These disciples, by any name, Biblical or fanciful, are very much like us. And we like them. Easter morning comes and goes. Our fears remain. Jesus rises. We still sink in doubt, suffer with grief, shut ourselves off from what God is doing in Jesus Christ. Our churches huddle together, as they did. But most of us come, stay, and go, still looking out for ourselves as “number one.” Whatever the news you read, saw or heard last week, did it strike you as an “Amen” to the Easter greetings, “Christ is risen; risen indeed?” NOT!So, wouldn’t it be something if we could find a way to not-do-nothing, not-be-changed by the resurrection! ‘Find a way to go with Him, be like Him, this Jesus-God-has-raised-up-from-the-dead. Oh, there’s a name for this. We call it Discipleship. Around here these days, we call it the Discipleship Adventure! It’s the antidote for what we might call, Dooritis, that shuttin’, slammin’, lockin’, barrin’, blockin’ thing we do, like those of old. In fact, one of our leading lay persons wrote to me last summer on this very thing. “I need to hear something to get me up off my… [umm… well, you know]… and do something about my faith. I think we need a kind of 12 Step Plan.” Brace yourself! We’ve actually got one. And we’re going to talk about it over the next three weeks. It begins with disciples in the Upper Room on Easter Evening. It extends to us. It all begins at our own front door. John’s Gospel gives us the first four steps. Here they are. 1. Unlock your heart. 2. Take (receive, accept) what the Risen Christ offers (the Spirit, the NEW breath of God). 3. Attach (attend) to the body of those who believe (or strive to), 4. Be s’mitten (i.e. submittin’).

UNLOCK your heart. That’s where an Easter Life begins. We read, “The doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ …He showed them his hands and side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” Jesus does his part. First, he bursts the barriers between us and him. What he does to the grave, he does at our door. Believe he miraculously passes through the walls or doors. Or in risen form, knocks in a way they/we summon the courage to slide the bolt. Either way, the point is he breaks the bounds we set on him. Then he offers to quiet all that roils and rails and ruins our insides. Peace, he says. Wholeness, he offers, in exchange for our broken hearts and dreams. What about us? Now’s the time to unlock! Let him in. Actively. Consciously. Constantly.

I think of Ray. Bottled out. So long, bottled up. Oh, he’d heard the Jesus talk all his life. ‘Always kept him at a distance. But the day did come. “I always kept my life in separate containers. [‘Sound familiar?] Work here. Kids there. Wife, here, ‘til she was gone. Bottle in a place of its own… like it didn’t spill over all the rest! Jesus? Oh, he was under lock and key. I wasn’t letting him out… or in.” But there came a day. “One day he just kind of came and stood by me. And I knew he was real, alive, not dead. ‘Just that he was with me, spoke to me. I knew I could answer and open to him. Or not. I did. Everything changed. I could see how one part of me, of my life, related to another. I got a reason to be and a direction to follow. I poured out my bottles and poured in Jesus. And that gave everything/body else a proper place in my heart. I got peace!”

Take (receive, accept) what the Risen Christ offers (the Spirit, the NEW breath of God). Step one: unlock your heart. It’s that simple, and that hard. Step two: Take what he gives. The Spirit. A fresh breath. Don’t miss this. Jesus does in the Upper Room with his own, exactly what God does in Eden’s Garden. He breathes into us. Literally, it’s the difference between life and death. Resurrection breathes new life into us, as surely as into those earliest followers. It empowers us. Says Jesus, it allows us to call brokenness what it is, sin a sin; and it let’s us forgive in a way that makes forgiveness work! How many times have you and I had the feeling, “I’m wasting my breath,” against the trials of our lives and the tribulations of this world? Now we’ve got an Easter-New-Thing goin’. Our breath is Jesus’ breath! Have you been squabbled out at home? Doctor-ed enough? Have you been meeting-ed out, or chewed out (or up) at work? Have the school kids left you breathless with dumbness, orneriness, meanness, cluelessness? Have you been Imus-ed and Sharpton-ed, and Duke Cased, and Senator-ed, and President-ed and Iraq-ed and Alqueda-ed and emailed and text messaged enough yet? Does all of it leave you gasping for air? Well, Easter comes along to breathe Jesus into us. Our breath is Jesus’ breath! Breathe Jesus into home, work, family, school, the news… and we get something really new! We can see straight. Do right. Even: holy! Example. There’s been a lot of talk this week about “the line” between decent and indecent, acceptable and not, in public and private. Either folks can’t find the line, or keep it still, or keep up with it. Easter’s plumb line is the vertical arm of the cross. We are judged by it and no other. Its endline is the invitation to touch the hands and feet and sides of Jesus-risen. Easter people breathe Jesus, so they speak Jesus. They hear Jesus, so they listen for Jesus. They see, so they watch Jesus. So where’s the confusion, the ambiguity? What puts down, tears down, soils body or soul is out of line. Whether it hips or hops, flips or flops, reports, retorts, records, televises, prosecutes, pretends to be cute, emails, text messages or-tantrums-in-gossip-across-the-back-fence! If it opens Jesus’ wounds by wounding others, or fails to lift like Jesus lifts, it’s unacceptable or unworthy. If it doesn’t present us or others as one for whom Christ died and to whom Christ rises, it’s not ready for our nostrils, nerves or our now! Because now, in the resurrection, we belong to him. Step one: unlock your heart. It’s that simple, and that hard. Step two: Take what he gives, new breath, the Spirit, new life!

Step three. Attach (attend) to the body of those who believe (or strive to).Get hooked up to stay hooked on… Jesus! There is no church on the Resurrection Day! But the would-be faithful do gather. Once Jesus sends Mary to tell them he’s on his way, the gathering is the place where he appears. His empowering words: plural, spoken to the body not to the lone-ranger wanna-be righteous.

Thomas will have to return to what passes for church to witness Jesus’ return for himself. Wanna know why for so many, Easter is so brief? Because they get separated from the Body of Believers/Christ, or stray from it, so quickly. How many of us have known the experience of leaving the Body awhile (this church or some other) only to find faith withers, spiritual strength weakens, certainty gets uncertain. Then you come back. And like Thomas, you see His Face again…and you see… my Lord and my God! If you need to get up off your [well, umm… say…spiritual sofa] then you need to get into community-life-for-believers. Old John Wesley is still right. “No one’s soul is ever saved by itself.”

Step four. Be s’mitten (i.e. submittin’). A story. A new young preacher and spouse in town. Off to the local store. The clerk learns their headed to pulpit life. Rudely, it seems at first, he blurts to the wife, “Are you s’mitten?” The ego-inflated pastor/groom replies for her, “Why yes, she loves me very much and finds me quite handsome.” The unphased clerk clarifies, “Rev., I was thinkin’ of them verses about wives s’mittin’ to their husbands and husbands lovin’ their wives like Christ submittin’ his self for the church!” Now… this is a different matter altogether. In the 12 Steps for Easter People, none may be more challenging than this. Anybody can be smitten with Jesus. Attracted to him. In praise of him. The real thing is ever submitting to him. Him first, me second. Others first, us second. His time, our time, our time his. I was well-behind this week when the call came. A 22 year old we’ve helped before. A single mom with kids. ‘Helped for three years by a friend introduced to her need through this very church. Says this friend, you (NB) and I are all she has. She needs us. Her kids do. A long, verified story followed. I stole the thought, “Not now, please, I have no time.” “Yes,” said Christ to my heart, “but she has no hope and your time is mine!” Smitten’s easy. Submittin’ requires that “u” “b” in it… with the Risen Christ!

Unlock! Breathe his breath. Hook up to hook on. Be s’mitten. Four steps in a Twelve Step Easter Journey: our Discipleship Adventure.

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