The Moment When Easter Happens
This Easter we hear from Doug Hagler. He graduated from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC with an M.Div in 1990. For the last ten years, Doug has worked as an editor at The Upper Room in a variety of positions, currently as a web editor. He is the father of four grown children, and has three grandchildren. He lives in Hendersonville, Tennessee with his husband, Frank.
For several years, Mom and I have shared with each other the moment when Easter happens, that instant when each of us experiences once more the truth that Christ is risen. Mom hasn’t told me her moment yet. In the past, for me, it has almost always involved Easter worship.
I remember preaching at a sunrise service in a small, rural church not far from the Tennessee-Mississippi border, where the folks were willing to entertain the crazy ideas of a still wet-behind-the-ears preacher. They agreed to show up for an Easter sunrise worship service that began in darkness. As we sang the closing hymn, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” the ushers opened the doors and the light from the rising sun poured in, accompanied by birdsong. That was my Easter moment that year.
Another year at another Tennessee church (Bethlehem United Methodist Church, whose building was since destroyed by a fire), we gathered in darkness around a vigil fire burning in the adjacent cemetery. I lit the Christ candle from that fire and led the procession into the church as I called, “Light of Christ!” and the congregation responded, “Thanks be to God!” I weep as I remember that Easter moment. It was such a powerful moment of worship! It was liturgical perfection, if there is such a thing.
I think that was the same year that the ushers hid Easter eggs in the cemetery during the second Easter service. The adults processed out, again singing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” while the children waited impatiently in the sanctuary, baskets in hand, eager to search for and find the hidden eggs. Young and old, the living and the dead (buried in the cemetery), laughed, smiled, and played together as we celebrated the resurrection. It was Easter moment overload!
The first year my son sang the Hallelujah Chorus with the adult choir–that was an Easter moment. The only thing that could top it was a subsequent year when all three of my children sang the Hallelujah Chorus. Those where both precious Easter moments.
There was the year I cooked lamb like Julia Child, meaning, I sipped wine the whole time I cooked the lamb. It took a long time to cook. I drank a lot of wine. By the time it had finished cooking, I was cooked as well. I can’t tell you if the lamb was any good or not because I couldn’t taste it. I also can’t tell you why it was an Easter moment, but that year, it was.
This year’s Easter moment came early and surprised me. I work at The Upper Room, where we have weekly chapel worship services. On Maundy Thursday, Katherine asked Nicole and me to wash folk’s hands as a symbolic remembrance of Jesus’ washing the disciples feet. As people arrived for worship, I poured water and Nicole dried hands. She said to each person, “Love one another as Christ has loved you.” Being a part of that experience with Nicole, who has become an amazing friend to me, qualifies as an Easter moment all by itself. But there’s more.
I attend chapel services regularly at The Upper Room. For several weeks, I’ve been more comfortable standing just outside the doors during the service. I still don’t have my ulcerative colitis under control. It is better for me to participate in worship from a place that allows me a quick get-away if one becomes necessary. So there I was in the chapel entrance, left alone to wash and dry the hands late comers. Two older ladies arrived; I washed their hands. A woman with a small child on her hip came in; I washed their hands. A couple more people arrived late; I washed their hands. As the thirty-minute service drew near its ending, culminating in Holy Communion, a coworker ran up the stairs after the Communion liturgy, didn’t even notice the towel and pitcher of water on the stand, and said, “Oh good. I’m not too late!” Then he took his place in line to receive the sacraments.
In my head, I thought, “Well, you really are too late. You’ve missed the entire service. You’ve missed hand washing, the scripture reading, the sermon, the prayers, and the consecration of the elements. Why are you even here?” I thought.
The service ended and I went on about my work day. It turned out to be the most difficult day so far.
The most important thing I had to do all day was attend a teleconference regarding a web site that I’ve been working on for months. I met in the Weavings editor’s office and we talked to the project manager and designers, communicating important changes to the site and moving closer to launch. About halfway through the meeting, I had to go to the bathroom. For me, colitis has meant unpredictable, urgent, and intense bowel movements. I stood up from the table and I knew I wouldn’t make it to the bathroom. I made it as far as my office, where I managed to shit in a trash can. I cleaned myself up and went back to the meeting, where I was there in body, but certainly not fully present in mind or in spirit.
Later that afternoon, I was talking to my former boss, George. He called me on my cell phone. I was delighted to hear from him. During the conversation, I had a cramp. I stood up from my chair and rushed to the bathroom. Ahead of me was a male coworker, also headed to the bathroom. I would have had to knock him down to get to the toilet, so I decided to try and make it to another bathroom further down the hall. I got as far as the elevators before my bowels loosened. Now, when this happens, I also urinate. There, in an instant, my pants were a mess.
There was someone there waiting for the elevator. Guess who it was? It was the coworker who arrived so late for worship, the one who got there just in time to line up for the body and blood of Christ. I nodded as I rushed past, thinking if I went by fast enough, he wouldn’t notice my wet khakis. I did all of this while still carrying on a conversation with George, or thinking I was. Honestly, I have no idea what he was saying or what I was saying in response. I also have no idea why I couldn’t just say, “George, let me call you back.” In my panic, I felt like I had to cope with what was going on by hiding it from everyone.
I made it into a bathroom stall and I got myself cleaned up. I waited a while, hoping that maybe someone would come in and I could ask him to go to my office and get my backpack with a change of clothes. That never happened. Instead, I called my boss and she sent a coworker down with my change of clothes. I put them on, packed the soiled underwear and pants in a plastic bag, and went back to work.
At the end of the day, I got an email from Nicole. She told me how much she had enjoyed washing hands with me that morning. Her words moved me. When I read them I realized that my judgmental mind had tainted the experience for me.
I imagined the evening of the Last Supper. What if a disciple had arrived late? What if one of the disciples had rushed in, hungry and excited, but had missed everything Jesus had just said about the bread being his body and the wine being his blood? What if this disciple hadn’t heard the words, “Do this in remembrance of me?” Would Jesus have said, “Oh no. You may not have this bread or this wine. I just went through this mind-blowing, history-making, mystical thing that turned them into my body and my blood. You missed out. You will have to find something to eat somewhere else.” Somehow my imagination wouldn’t let me see it happening that way. Instead, I pictured Jesus smiling at the disciple, hugging him or her, breaking off a piece of the bread, dipping it in the wine, and giving it to the disciple, saying, “Are you still hungry? Do you want some more?”
I thought of that coworker who was so late to the table. For all I know, he could have been stuck in a bathroom stall with shit all over his pants, waiting for someone to bring him clean clothes.
There is no room for judgment at the Lord’s Table. There is only room for grace. “Love one another, as Christ has loved you.”
Now, to take that lesson and live it away from the table–there’s the prayer and the challenge.
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed!