While they were singing the last hymn, a nice-looking man in his early forties wearing khaki pants and a blue oxford button down shirt, and brown loafers sat down next to her. He looked around and saw that the men were all wearing suits and ties. He chuckled, gestured to his clothes, and whispered, “I guess we didn’t get the dress code memo. No matter . . . I don’t think He cares.” He pointed a finger up.
He skipped a beat and put out his hand. “I’m Gabe.”
She smiled and took his hand, relieved that she wasn’t the only casually dressed person in the room. “Rebecca.”
Gabe looked comfortable in the setting, despite being under-dressed. Well, maybe she would stay for the service. Several people had smiled at her when she came in, and the family in her pew had moved down to give her more room.
The man next to her seemed familiar, but she couldn’t place him. She would talk to him after the service to see if that jogged her memory.
After the ancient words of the liturgy were said, the Scriptures read, and the sermon hymn was sung, Pastor Bernie stood in front of the congregation with a music stand for her notes, and greeted them with a smile as Saint Paul had greeted the early churches: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Bernie looked out over the congregation for a moment, and said, “What a glorious day!
“As Paul noted in today’s epistle lesson, but for the Resurrection, Christianity would be useless.”
She opened her Bible to 1 Corinthians. “In Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, we read Paul’s words in verses 12 through 14: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
“The Resurrection was a revolutionary event that changed the course of history.
“Whether or not you believe in Jesus or follow his teachings, you have to admit that Jesus’ impact on the world—and his crucifixion and resurrection was a cataclysmic event that changed the course of history. In fact, modern history is dated in relation to the years before Christ was born and the years after Christ was born. It was apparent that the revolution had started a few days after Jesus died on the cross—when he was resurrected.
“During those first revolutionary years, early Christians were persecuted; many of the disciples were martyred for their steadfast belief in and teaching of the message of the Resurrection, the proof that Jesus was who he said he was. They met with Jesus for days after the Resurrection, and were eyewitnesses to his power, and that he had indeed, been resurrected from death. They had first-hand knowledge that he was the Messiah, and they were willing to die for that belief. Most of them died grisly deaths on account of their preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. They continued to fight the good fight—to spread the gospel without regard to their personal safety, because they knew for a fact that it was true. They were the foundation of the revolution begun by Jesus.
“The revolution propelled by the Resurrection continues today. The number of Christians who are killed every year for faith-related reasons continues to rise every year. While North Korea continues to be the most dangerous place for a Christian, Islamic extremism is the main driver of persecution. The martyrdom of the early Christians and those who continue to preach the gospel at great risk to their own personal safety today is not absolute proof that Jesus was who he said he was. But taken with all the historical, archaeological, and geographical records, the evidence for the truth of the basic tenants of the Christian faith is overwhelming and compelling.
“Reaching the conclusion that Jesus was God as he said he was, leads to the question—why did he do it? Why did he start the revolution? If he was God and God is all-powerful, why did he die on the cross? Why did he do it?
“Jesus answered that question in one word: love. We read in the gospel of John, that “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.”
“Think about that. “God loved the world so much . . .” God’s love for us is so strong, so powerful, so overwhelming that we cannot fathom its depth. Read the evidence of the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ. Then open your heart to his love and to his Spirit. Encounter the resurrected Christ yourself, and join the revolution.
“Let’s pray: Christ, we rejoice that you rose from the dead! Alleluia! Your Resurrection put feet on Christianity and has sustained your truth throughout the ages. We thank and praise you for who you are—all-knowing, all-seeing, ever present, ever merciful, ever loving, creator and eternal God—Alleluia! Amen.”
After Pastor Bernie sat down, the choir director invited the singers in the congregation to join the choir in singing the Alleluia Chorus of Handel’s Messiah. He motioned them forward.
“Don’t be shy” he said jovially, “I know you want to sing!” It was indeed an event that members of the musical community looked forward to every year.
As the singers came forward to the front of the church, the choir director handed each the sheet music.
When all who wanted to sing had joined the choir in front of the church, the choir director turned to face them. They began to sing . . building to a crescendo. “Alleluia! Allleulia! A-lay-luu–aa-!”
When the group finished with the last triumphant alleluia, Crystal turned to Gabe to declare how wonderful it—but he had vanished.
She didn’t have time to wonder about it, though, because the mother and father from the family at the other end of the pew had turned to her to wish her Happy Easter and to welcome her to Hope Chapel. They conversed for a few minutes, and then were swept up in the queue that had formed to shake the pastor’s hand.
Pastor Bernie greeted her warmly, as did Liz and Brian O’Connell. She saw a few other people she knew from around the village. Everyone was pleasant and welcoming. They invited her into a reception room decorated with balloons and streamers, where people were milling about drinking coffee and nibbling at baked goods and fruit set out next to the coffee urn.
Crystal was sipping her coffee when Liz caught her eye, and walked across the room and hugged her.
“It’s so good to see you! We miss you in our SIS meetings.”
“It’s great to see you, too Liz. I miss you too. Your family looks like you all just stepped out of a bandbox!
Liz smiled and said, “Thanks. We take every opportunity to get the kids out of patched jeans and tee shirts. But the clothes don’t tell the story of what’s in your heart. And that’s what counts.”
“What’s happening with all of my SIS buddies?” Crystal asked.
“Lots! You’ll have to come back next month. We’d love to have you.”
Crystal gestured at the dozens of Easter lilies, banners, and other decorations around the room and in the church. “Is it always this festive?”
Liz laughed. “Well, the Resurrection is the foundation of the Christian church, so we celebrate it!”
Liz’s countenance sobered, and she asked, “How are you doing? Are you okay? I’ve been concerned about you, since you mentioned that Dexter left and Max died.”
“Coping,” Crystal replied. “My brother has been helping me through.”
“Hmm. . . so glad that you have family to help. What brings you to Hope Chapel today?”
“Well, I’ve had a few meetings with Pastor Bernie, and have attended a few seeker’s meeting with Ginny Thompson. She invited the class to the Easter service, so I thought I would come and see for myself. I have to say, I thought that I would feel out of place, and I did at first, but everyone was so welcoming, and didn’t seem to notice that I am terribly under-dressed!”
Liz grinned. “I’m glad you felt welcomed. This is God’s house and everyone who crosses the threshold is welcome.”
“By the way,” she said, “if you’re not doing anything for dinner, we would love to have you join us.”
“Oh, I couldn’t intrude,” Crystal protested.
“But you wouldn’t be . . . you know practically everyone–the family, Bernie, Ginny, and Harry and his father from the seeker class. The more the merrier!”
She added with finality, “I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. We’ll set a place for you at the table and expect you at 4 p.m. You remember where we are, yes? On Charm Acres?”
“Oh yes, I remember. If you’re sure that I wouldn’t be imposing . . . then yes, I’ll come. What can I bring?”
“Just your winsome self, Crystal.”
“By the way, I’ve gone back to my birth name—Rebecca.”
“Okay, we look forward to your joining us, Rebecca.”
“And I’d better ask—what’s the dress code?”
Liz laughed. “No dress code. I’ll wear a pair of slacks and a sweater—Brian too, and the kids will probably be wearing shorts. We have a few other guests coming, most of whom you know. What you are wearing is fine—whatever you feel comfortable in. We’re not entertaining the queen of England!”