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“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

May, 2018

It’s time for my twenty fourth annual post-Easter column. Easter at Maplewood UMC is always wonderful and always inspiring and refreshing. This year, after the “Sunrise Service” (which, fortunately, didn’t take place at sunrise), the great breakfast cooked and served by the MUMC men, a small but dedicated crew assembled ninety six “blessing bags” for homeless persons we might encounter. Later, we attended a meaningful service that included Holy Communion. The sermon was amazing, the anthem was marvelous (okay, as a choir member I’m slightly biased), everything was incredible.

There was only one thing missing: The Leftovers. I don’t mean leftovers from the Easter breakfast, I mean the singing Leftovers. In past years, anyone who was “left over” after decorating the church for Easter services would gather and learn a song to sing during worship. This year, however, there were no “Leftovers.” I was disappointed because “The Leftovers” were a tradition when I started attending MUMC nearly forty years ago.

After worship, during lunch, I was telling my wife, Charlotte, wistfully (okay, maybe complaining a bit; okay, maybe even whining a little), that I missed “The Leftovers.” She replied, “It’s just another tradition that’s been left by the side of the road.” I suppose she’s right but I miss them anyway. As a former “Leftover” for many years, I felt “left out” instead of “left over.”

Various Bible verses refer to “tradition,” some in the negative. For example, Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “‘In this way, you have revoked God’s word because of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said: “These people honor Me with their lips, / but their heart is far from Me. / They worship Me in vain, / teaching as doctrines the commands of men.”’” (Matt. 15:6-9 Holman Christian Standard Bible). But then Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now I praise you because you always remember me and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.” (1 Cor. 11:2 HCSB).

Why are some traditions good and others bad? Paul also wrote to the Colossians about “. . . human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.” (Col. 2:8b HCSB). That’s why. If our traditions don’t reflect Christ, we don’t need them but only those traditions “. . . built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone.” (Eph. 2:20 HCSB). The traditions Jesus opposed violated God’s commandment (Matt. 15:3-4) instead of promoting it, and that made them a problem.

In the United Methodist Church, we use the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” of Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. We weigh ideas and doctrines against these four and weigh them against each other. Traditions have to stand in the light of the other three elements. If they aren’t Biblical or don’t make sense or don’t line up with our experiences, they aren’t worthwhile traditions. “The Leftovers” sing of the Biblical truth of the resurrection; they’ve been the source of many great experiences; and, in this humble scribe’s opinion, they just make sense. That satisfies three elements of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which makes them a great tradition.

The disciples on the first resurrection day were “leftovers” too. They didn’t know what to do—or even what to think—after Jesus’ crucifixion. The women who went to the tomb that first morning didn’t even know how they were going to roll the stone away from the entrance. They simply knew that they were left and they had to do something. When they arrived, God surprised them. The stone was rolled away and Christ was risen (Mark 16:1-8). Jesus had told his disciples, “‘Tonight all of you will run away because of Me, for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, / and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But after I have been resurrected, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.’” (Matt. 26:31b-32 HCSB). They were scattered for a time, “leftovers” with nowhere to turn, but Jesus went before them as he promised and he will go before us too in our daily life and witness.

“Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb at sunrise. They were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb for us?’ Looking up, they observed that the stone—which was very large—had been rolled away.” (Mark 16:2-4 HCSB.)

Copyright © 2018 by David Phelps