by David Phelps
"Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person." - Mother Teresa
Some traditions just won't die. When I heard, Palm Sunday morning, that we weren't going to have balloons in the church on Easter Sunday, I was disappointed. There would be special banners and a cross of flowers but no balloons. I was also perplexed. What would we do without the balloons? What would I do for a column? After all, I'd been looking forward to writing another balloon column -- my third! -- another tradition of sorts. Perhaps, I thought, I could write a column about the absence of the balloons, and what it meant. Then we received a letter from our pastor, Rachel Williams, which implied that there might be balloons after all. Easter Sunday morning, we arrived at church and learned that -- sure enough -- there would be balloons.
The banners were marvelous, the cross of flowers was lovely, the singing and preaching were excellent as usual -- and there in the midst of it all were the balloons. For me, though, the focal point of the service was Rachel's message. Rachel described Mary Magdalene's reaction when she recognized the risen Christ. The moment Jesus spoke her name, she exclaimed, "Rabboni!" (teacher) (Jn. 20:16). She probably fell to her knees, and threw her arms around him, so great was her joy at his return. But then, he said, "'Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (Jn. 20:17b RSV). Imagine what she must have been feeling: first, she lost him to death on a cross; then he was back, alive; but no sooner did he return than he was leaving again.
Jesus had previously warned his disciples not to cling to him, or the Holy Spirit would not come (Jn. 16:7-11). It's a cliche that if you love something, you have to be willing to let it go. If he had remained on Earth as a man, his ministry might have touched a few tens of thousands of people in a relatively limited area; but the risen Christ has affected millions of people all over the world. Jesus continually asks those who would follow him to let go: He asked his disciples to let go of anything that might cause them to sin (Mk. 9:43-48), he asked the rich young ruler to let go of his possessions (Mk. 10:17-22), and he asked a would-be disciple to let go of his family (Lk. 9:57-62).
And after church, we took the balloons outside -- the balloons that some of us had wanted so badly -- and let them go. It was only when we let the balloons go that they could soar, it is only when we let go of the things that hold us down that we can soar, and it is only when we let go of our faith and send it forth that the message of the Gospel can fly to all the corners of our world.
"As of old the apostles heard it
by the Galilean lake,
turned from home and toil and kindred,
leaving all for Jesus' sake.
"Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world's golden store,
from each idol that would keep us,
saying, 'Christian, love me more!'"
"Jesus Calls Us," vs. 2 & 3