This is a piece I shared with Eikon Church last Easter but I never posted here. It was part of a three-part series, so it doesn't exactly have closure, but isn't that what Holy Saturday is all about?
When I was little I had fairly simple expectations for my life.
I wanted to be one of two things when I grew up:
Dolly Parton or Madonna.
I think my mother preferred Dolly’s brand of trashiness, but she indulged my Material Girl obsession nonetheless.
But it wasn’t long before the simplicity wore off, & through a series of broken homes, broken lives, broken promises and broken expectations I came to no longer expect much from life.
And then I started high school.
Three years of my life that completely changed the expectations I had spent 15 years developing.
Three years it has taken me 15 years to unpack, understand and unravel.
When I started high school, some friends invited me to church.
I prayed during a youth rally, checked a box, and walked the aisle the next morning after a few stanzas of “Just as I Am” to let the church know about my decision to follow Christ.
For three years I attended Sunday School, morning service, youth choir, evening service and youth group after-parties. Monday nights were for community visitation and Wednesday nights were youth-group (SWAT: Spiritual Warfare and Training). There were retreats, and camps and conferences and mission trips. And, of course, the essential task of starting a Christian club on campus so that we could assert our right to exclusively assemble.
What seems so foreign to me now was quite formational.
When I left for my Christian college, I had renewed expectations for my life:
The girls I had formed a deep bond of friendship with? We would always be friends, and always hold the same values in common.
I had surrendered to Christian Service (girls couldn’t surrender to the ministry), and would no doubt fall in love, marry a youth minister, go to seminary with him, and spend my days discipling teenagers & raising 4 or 5 kids.
I expected following Christ would continue to look exactly as it had those three years of high school, only with increased dedication. I would become even better at living my life by the expectations laid out in the Bible, and those expectations would always be clear.
Released from the safe cocoon of my religious adolescence, I began to fulfill my youth minister’s worst fears.
I started observing the Christian culture.
I started asking questions.
I started forming ideas.
My expectations for my college experience and where it would lead were slowly being chipped away.
On a campus overrun with high spiritual achievers, I never found my place as a ministry leader, and didn’t know how to find my identity apart from that.
I quickly lost interest in the pageant of getting dressed up on Sunday morning to attend one of a 1000 different churches in our little town, and opted for the ultimate blasphemy of entering the cafeteria in pajamas on a Sunday afternoon.
My understanding of God and Christianity and the world in general was expanded and reshaped and occasionally turned on its head, and I had a hard time making it all fit within the worldview that had been so carefully crafted during my three-year intensive training.
I spent a summer in the Delta, and experienced a town where racism ran rampant, and the Church perpetuated it, while those who had rejected or been rejected by religion were the ones making a true difference.
And I graduated with no intention whatsoever of stepping foot in a seminary.
I returned to Little Rock, to the church that had raised me in my faith, but I no longer fit.
And I was introduced to a new congregation, which embodied so much of what I felt the Lord had been teaching me.
After prying my fingers lose from the security of my home church, I dug my nails into this new one and served with my whole heart.
But after years of serving there, I became aware of things that weren’t quite right, and when attempts to address it only made matters worse, I made the heartbreaking decision to walk away.
I looked around, and I was lost.
I couldn’t bring myself to enter a church, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to.
So I wandered around in the desert for a bit.
When I returned, it was to a new community of believers & a renewed relationship with God.
Renewed – but different.
More open to questions, on both of our parts.
Less dependent on the expectations of others.
Definitely not where I would have imagined myself during the three years of high school.
And I would not trade where I am, for the fulfilled expectations of that young believer.
Easter is about expectations.
Easter is about expectations being turned inside out, and about the final picture looking nothing like we could have imagined.
See, the Israelites had certain expectations about their Messiah.
They expected that he would rule in a way that restored them to a place of power as a chosen nation, that he would obliterate their enemies and that they would rule.
The disciples had expectations for Jesus. To them, he was more than Messiah, he was friend. In a few short years, the disciples had built up an expectation that they would be serving alongside their friend in his royal court as he rose up to rule the kingdom of God.
When he was beaten and mocked and murdered, any expectations they had were shattered:
That he would overthrow the Empire.
That their lives would change for the better.
That he was telling the truth, and wasn’t just another fraud.
After the cross, they went back to fishing, to collecting taxes, to being ordinary citizens of an oppressive empire.
A little less trusting.
A lot less hopeful.
But they weren’t the only ones with expectations.
In the beginning, God created mankind. And they walked together. And he told them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and enjoy it, and care for it. And God didn’t even have to ask them to enjoy their relationship with him, because that was a given.
But that relationship changed.
And things got worse.
And he started over.
After the Flood, when Noah and his family left the Ark, God told them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and enjoy it, and care for it. And God promised never again to do a complete revision, though he reserved the right to make edits.
But people began to seek their own security.
Rather than seek God.
And he decided to shift the plot.
God made a covenant with Abraham, and promised to make him fruitful, a great nation that would be blessed, so that they could be a blessing to the rest of the earth. And they became such a numerous people, that they were seen as a threat to the power of Pharaoh.
So the people were made slaves.
And God spoke to Moses, and commanded him to lead the Israelites out of their captivity in Egypt, and promised to help him and teach him and guide him through the process of liberation.
But the Israelites didn’t find the desert to be very liberating.
So the Lord reminded them that he created them.
That he knew the best way for them to live.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.”
And life went on.
Through prophets, priests and kings.
Through wars and oppression.
Through riches and rags.
Until they weren’t feeling quite blessed.
Until they didn’t feel much like being a blessing.
Until they were just waiting, for a Messiah, to bring them out from under the Roman Empire.
But God challenged their expectations.
Through Jesus, God lived and walked among his people, and demonstrated what it means to be a blessing, what it means to live the kingdom, what it means to be his people, and allow him to be their God, what it means to love God with our whole heart, to love ourselves as part of his creation, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
He fascinated them.
He confused them.
He made them ask questions.
He turned their expectations upside down.
And then he died.
All in an effort that his expectations for his people, his creation, this world, would be fulfilled.