“The extent of his love”

Happy Easter y’all!  Are you ready?

New dresses, new shoes, new purse – check.

Big hair, big chocolate bunnies, big family gatherings – check.

Full churches, full bellies, full hearts – check.

I know this may not be true for everyone and for some of you the idea of church is a little scary and intimidating.  So, I’ve saved up one of my best and most horrific church stories just for you.

My husband and I had been in Nashville for several months and we were striking out week after week in the church finding game.  So, on this particular Sunday, we were both a little frustrated and probably should have stayed at home.  I also wasn’t feeling well, but I let my Christian guilt get the best of me and I went anyway.

Well, the place was packed and the ushers guided us into a very crowded section, right in the middle.  I sat down beside this overly friendly lady who was wearing none other than White Diamonds perfume – and a LOT of it.  Now if you wear this perfume, please forgive me, but for some reason it invokes extreme nausea in me.  And, my new found friend just kept talking to me and giving me the little side hugs so the perfume was now on me too.  I prayed for her to cheer down and find me less interesting but my prayers were unanswered.

Then the minister preached for what felt like five or six hours.  I became hot and more and more nauseated.  Now, I know you think I’m gonna vomit but I didn’t.  That would have actually probably been a better choice.  But instead, towards the end of the sermon I got the church giggles.  Now if you don’t know about the church giggles, let me explain.  It’s almost an out of body experience where you absolutely can’t stop laughing and usually at the most inappropriate time.

The seating was tight and my new BFF, myself and my husband were shoulder to shoulder.  Now my husband knew exactly what was going on and the giggles migrated on over to him.  But my BFF, she thought I was crying and she just got closer and closer.  I’m pretty sure she began praying for me, although I wouldn’t make eye contact with her.  Somehow, I managed to regain my composure by the end of the service, but then the unthinkable happened – a wedding.  Yep, right at the end of the service – a wedding.  I have no real explanation for this, but when they told us to take our seats for the wedding I looked at my husband and said something to the effect of “we didn’t bring a gift”.  My gift of sarcasm had reared it’s inappropriate head at just the right inappropriate moment and it was on.  Getting out of there with my dignity wasn’t going to happen.  I think the pressure of church hunting combined with the randomness of the morning finally got to me and I broke.  I kinda did one of those bahahahaha moments.  Y’all in the middle of someone’s wedding – I’m sure I’m still on a prayer list somewhere.

So why so much pressure with church?

Why the buildup?  Why?

Well I think we’ve made the whole church thing too complicated.  Just think about the choices you have to make when choosing a church……

Contemporary or traditional?

To sprinkle or to dunk?

Large or small?

Dress up or dress down?

The drinkers or the teetotalers?

Choirs with robes or worship bands with tattoos?

Coffee bars or water fountains?

Cathedrals or concrete?

Pews or chairs?

Communion for all or communion for us.

Are you exhausted yet?

It’s all just a little silly isn’t it?  I mean, if we all claim to fundamentally believe the same thing and we all believe we are going to the same heaven – what’s all the fuss about???

Well, I’m sure that we could debate a multitude of reasons for church splits, new denominations, and all of the differences in doctrine.  But, I’m convinced that our differences in opinion were never intended when Jesus died on the cross.  I often ponder what Jesus thinks about our modern church culture.

Would he feel threatened by the world we live in?  Would he protest for Christian rights?  Would he state an opinion on politics?  Would he approve of how we spend our finances?  Would he agree with our rules for acceptance?

Well, as usual, I have no answers to these questions, but this week I read the gospel of John and I was completely taken back by the behavior of Jesus in the 24 hours leading up to his arrest and crucifixion.

John 13 begins to describe the Passover Feast and tells us that Jesus knew that Judas would betray him, Peter would deny him and that “the time had come for him to leave this world”.  Knowing this he “now showed them the extent of his love”.  Then Jesus got up from the meal and washed their feet.

“The extent of his love,” y’all, this won’t leave me alone.  As the disciples would soon realize this meant crucifixion but the first example was bending down and washing dirty feet – sandal wearing, walking everywhere, never had a pedicure kind of feet.  This was a task meant for a servant not a king.

After the Passover feast Jesus and his disciples were walking through an olive grove where he was met by soldiers, chief priests, Pharisees, and Judas.

Jesus asked them “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (John 18).

He didn’t run.  He didn’t fight.  He didn’t yell or scream.  And, when Peter drew his sword, Jesus commanded him to “put your sword away”.   He willingly gave himself up to ultimately show “the extent of his love.”  Now you probably know the rest.  He was beaten, he was bruised, he was nailed to a cross, gave up his spirit and died.  This y’all – this is “the extent of his love”.  This is what it’s all about.  No more, no less.

This is where the church gets lost, right?  I think maybe we sometimes lose sight of this love.  In our everyday decisions and reactions we fail to remember the depths and the extent of HIS love.  We’ve chosen preference over love, opinions over love, convenience over love, and the list could go on.  We’ve taken a perfect sacrifice that was meant to show us love and a resurrection that was meant to show us life and allowed the message to be depreciated by agendas and selfish desire.

So to those of you who have been hurt or confused by the church, please don’t let anything the church did to you overshadow what Jesus has done for you.  Please listen to the words that have kept me captive all week.  Jesus died to show you “the extent of his love” and was raised again to give you eternal life.  And to the church (and myself), in his last 24 hours, in the face of denial, betrayal and death Jesus chose humility, selfless service, mercy, grace and overall love.  Let’s please not diminish this message.

So let’s polish those nails and tease that hair – put on your best dress and let’s go to church.  People we have a lot to celebrate and a lot of work to do!  I’ll grab you a cup of coffee, save you a seat and try not to get the giggles.

Happy Easter,

Mary Ann


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