Easter when I was younger meant black and white Stride Right shoes, knee socks, seer sucker shorts, oxford shirts, and bow ties. Combine those mom-forced clothes, a large scary rabbit, pastel colored boiled eggs that had probably been lying out on a hot day too long, and baskets of brightly colored, death-to-sea-turtles, fake hay and you realize quickly that Easter could appear a little weird.
As a child I would go to church on Easter morning looking like I had just returned from a vacation to Bermuda, sit with all the other boys just back from vacation, and watch all the girls dressed in their brightly colored sundresses. Although I was a terrible grammar student, I never did understand why everyone said, “He Is Risen.” Should it not be, “He arose,” or possibly “He has risen?” Weird.
If someone entirely unfamiliar with Christianity walked into almost any church on one of those southern Easter mornings, they would have left thinking, “Those folks dress their kids funny. Their chickens lay brightly colored eggs in the yard, and they have a thing for very large rabbits.” For an outsider, our confessions and traditions as a community on those Sundays would look really weird.
Read it carefully. Words matter.
In our campus faith connections group, we have been working our way through the book of Hebrews. It has been a challenging book so far. Hebrews is one of those books of the Bible that we do not preach on often. It is not often covered in Sunday school. It kind of falls through the scriptural cracks. So, I was like, “Why not?!”
This past week, we read and talked about chapter 3:1-6. As we read through the words written on those pages, I focused on one word. Actually, the lack of one word. In verse one, it is written, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” My brain wants to automatically add a “TO” in front of “whom we confess.” I want to read it as, TO whom we confess. Hopefully you all are thinking along with me, “Wow, words sure are important.” The addition of that one word changes the entire meaning of that bit of scripture and what the writer is trying to share with the community.
Bogged down and losing focus.
The writer of Hebrews is writing to a community of believers who has gotten bogged down and tangled up in some details concerning the incarnation that have put into question if Jesus is really who He said He is. Is He really the Son of God? Is He really God incarnate or does He simply appear to be human? Were the angels higher than Him when He became human like us? How does He compare to Moses? Bogged down, tangled up, and in a mess.
In this mess of arguing, questioning, and losing focus as a community of believers, the Hebrews writer tells them, “…fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” He did not instruct them as individuals or as a community to confess TO Jesus, but instead to focus on Jesus whom we confess. In this tangled up mess, their words, actions, and possible beliefs as a community were confessing something different from their original beliefs: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven” (Hebrews 1:1-4).
They had drifted away and gotten a little lost. The Hebrews writer was redirecting them to what was important, Jesus and His promises.
I hope all my pastor friends have a real ringer ready for this Sunday. It will be like the Masters, the Super Bowl, and the Daytona 500 all wrapped into one Sunday. There will be plenty of seer sucker, bowties, and oxford shirts. Does Stride Right even still make shoes?
Many folks will be grateful that He is Risen as our Lord and Savior. I hope there are still a few members of the grammar police hanging around. There will also be a few folks who will check the box for their once-a-year church service and won’t be able to wait to hit the parking lot.
This Sunday is Easter y’all. And I am so very thankful for God’s love for all people, as well as Immanuel, His death for my sin, and for His resurrection. But I cannot stop wondering what the Hebrew writer would think we are proclaiming as a community of believers if he were to show up at our churches this Sunday. Hopefully he would not see us bogged down and focusing on the wrong things – but holding tight to what we first believed and confessed: that Jesus was, is, and always will be the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of God’s being. His Resurrected Son.