When I was a child, it was the custom on Easter morning in the church that I attended with my family to bring flowers, usually fresh cut from the garden to the church. There in the narthex area would be three wooden crosses, with chicken wire attached to the fronts. There we children would hand them off to one of the volunteers, usually one of the older ladies of the church, who would place the stem of the flower in the chicken wire attached to the wooden frame of the crosses. This was at a time in the early to mid sixties in a fairly large suburban congregation and it didn’t take long for the crosses to become full. Then at the beginning of each of the services the three crosses would be brought into the sanctuary and carried up to a place very near the lectern. It was site to behold as the blaze of color from those three crosses, and even the scents assaulted our senses. What had started as a relatively plain and ugly construct, had turned into one of beauty and even to my young eyes, a powerful testament to God’s work in Jesus Christ. Easter has always been a wonderful experience for me, one that announces simply, life.
“I am the resurrection and the life.”, Jesus announced to the soldiers guarding his cold, dark, and ugly tomb on that first, long ago Easter morn. We are told there was a bright blazing light and that the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb, once they overcame their fear, were anxious to share the amazing thing they had just seen. It doesn’t matter to know if they had understanding, what matters was that they had witnessed a transformative event. Mary comes to the tomb and is dismayed to find His body gone. But an angel standing near assures Mary that Jesus no longer lays in this grave, “He is not here, He lives.” Later in the evening of that day He appears on the road and walks with His disciples, at first as a stranger to them, but ultimately revealing Himself in His glory. Slowly, surely and inexorably, the light and beauty overcome the cross and the grave and we are presented with fullness of Christ Risen. Alleluia.
So what is the connection from this to those crosses of my childhood church and for goodness sake, what is the hope for a simple confused cross dresser? Well, those crosses, as far as I know, are still being used at the church of my childhood. You know how it is with tradition and ritual. When I was a young adult and first returned to that church with my first wife and young family, Easter was still a special time. We had been invited to bring our flowers on Easter morning to continue the tradition. As an adult I could see that attendance had fallen significantly from the peak of the sixties. How in the world were we going to fill those three crosses. Surely we would be presented with a half flower and half chicken wire concoction. I suppose though, that this had been the opportunity that many of the proud older ladies had been waiting for, to display all the beauty of their early spring gardens and even if need be, go buy a flower or two dozen. For on Easter morning, carried at the front off the procession into the sanctuary were the three crosses, overflowing with color, and beauty, and the scent of victory. The ugliness would not prevail.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed. We can’t compartmentalize the Easter miracle apart from the ugliness of Good Friday, nor can we separate either of those from the life before. All of are one piece and point back to one another to weave the intricate details of exactly what it is that God has done. The life and teachings merely a guide for how we are to live with one another. The crucifixion and death, the descent into hell, the ultimate act of sacrifice intended to wrench us from the bondage of the old and present us to God unstained and pure; the Resurrection the final Word, the exclamation point to the story. “See, it is all true. I have overcome death and sin, and through me you shall have life.”
This is the exclamation point that even today should provide us with both the end of the story and the new beginning. It does end all discussion about my worthiness, your worthiness, their worthiness before God. Whether one chooses to believe that cross dressing, or homosexuality, or eating steak on Friday is a sin, (I personally do not) let us accept for the moment they are; but each is only one of a myriad of sins I am guilty of and incapable of escaping from. Read that again, I am incapable of escaping from, my sin. So if my sinful nature causes me to dress in feminine garments, or desire relationship with a person of the same sex, or even to eat meat on Friday, Jesus still comes in a brilliant flash of light at the door to the tomb and tells me He has taken care of it and washed me clean. He says, My Living Body is the proof, I have defeated death and by the way Sin too. So that , it was nothing done on my part, it is all God’s doing. God is in effect telling me Here is Life, it is yours with only one condition. Believe that I have done it!
Ultimately I am not so unlike the crosses of my childhood Easter. Empty, ugly, sin ridden and undeserving of God’s mercy. But God is at work, and right from the start places flowers on my empty shell. He doesn’t change the basic structure of who I am, doesn’t say you must be something else before I begin My work, He simply and lovingly places flower after flower upon me, allowing others in my life to do the same and inviting me to look at other crosses and add flowers of my own to theirs. I am far from completely covered, maybe half of one of the crossbars of the cross, and even there chicken wire and wood show through. If I look to either side of me I see other crosses, I see my grandparent’s and father’s crosses complete, shining radiantly in their Father’s sanctuary each unique in their beauty and array; I also see other’s like mine, in various stages of completion, some surprising by their being there, and those same crosses a little surprised to see mine. But the bedecking goes on. Of course to God the work is done, He has seen it to it’s end and every cross stands in His church, laden with beauty and a riotous variety of color and sensual excitement. The empty is filled, the core of each transformed. What we share alike, our sinfulness and ugliness, is now covered over and has become praise to our Lord and Our Saviour.
“Lord God, Christ is Risen, Alleluia! We join all the world in shouting this from housetops and mountains. Let the victory dance begin. You have seen fit to redeem your naughty children, to look past the warts on our bodies and our souls and claim for us victory over sin and death. We give you thanks and offer those same bodies and souls, as they are, for your work in the world. Bless our work to your good end.
In Jesus Name
(Addendum: Just so we are clear, I do not view cross dressing, homosexuality in nature, or even eating meat on Fridays to be sinful in and of themselves. Context, context, context. A reading of ALL Scripture with an openness to the Holy Spirit and finally and most importantly the lens of the cross. Have a Happy and Joyous Easter and may the words Christ is Risen be on your lips daily.)
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