“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
It’s time for my sixteenth annual column about the balloons that decorate the interior of our church on Easter Sunday morning. This year, my Easter got off to a rocky start. I worked late Saturday night and as a result I overslept and arrived late for church and stood in the back. I looked around at the balloons and saw—well—balloons. Nothing special. No inspiration. No nothing.
After church, when we had released the balloons, my wife, Charlotte, pointed to a tree on the church lawn and said, “Some of them didn’t get very far.” There, tangled in the branches of the tree by their ribbons, was a pair of balloons. They had indeed not gotten very far.
On hearing Charlotte’s words, I thought of the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15). In the parable, a man went out to sow seed and different things happened to the seed, depending on where it fell. However, most of it never had a chance to grow. It “didn’t get very far,” as Charlotte would say. Jesus went on to explain that the seed was “‘the word of the kingdom’” (Matt. 13:19b ESV) and the various places where it fell were the people who heard it. Some of those who heard the word didn’t understand it, some gave up after encountering difficulties; and some found other priorities; but still others understood, endured, and flourished.
I realized that there was indeed a message for me in the balloons. If I had given up when I first got to church, thinking there were just balloons, with no special significance, then I wouldn’t have known what God was trying to tell me. In other words, I “wouldn’t have gotten very far” and this would be a very different column. In the same way, the fact that I had to stand in the back when I arrived for church meant that the church was full, not that there was a problem. What had been a minor inconvenience for me was a blessing for others. I wonder how often this is the case?
If Mary Magdalene and the other women had seen only an empty tomb on that first Easter morning, you and I wouldn’t be where we are today. They could have seen a “new tomb, which [Joseph of Arimathea] had cut in the rock.” (Matt. 27:60a ESV). It would have been basically a man made cave. A hole in the ground. And then they could have simply gone home and given up because Jesus was gone. But instead, they came to understand the significance of the empty tomb. They—and especially Mary Magdalene—asked “Where is Jesus?” (John 20). The answer, as we already know, was “‘He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.’” (Matt. 28:6a ESV).
Easter—and Christianity—is about looking beyond the surface, about asking “Where is Jesus?” It’s also about answering that same question. People are searching. They’ve heard the message. Maybe they didn’t understand. Perhaps difficulties have caused them to lose the way. Possibly other things have gotten in the way. Can they find the answers they seek in you? In me? Can they look at us and learn where—and who—Jesus is? Can they see how Jesus affects our lives? Can they find the answer in us, or will they not get very far? I pray that they can get as far as the Spirit will take them.
“‘Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’” (Matt. 13:18-23 ESV.)