I’m not sure why I have waited so long to tell this story, but on this Easter morning as my overwhelming joy is being converted to tears rolling down my cheek, I thought I’d share. This is a brief story about my ordination last spring. But I think you’ll see that it is really a story of Easter.
On that evening at Annual Conference I was ordained by Bishop Palmer. I was given a Bible and a certificate and the authority to preach, teach and administer the sacraments. On bended knee I accepted the responsibility, privilege, and humbling honor to be called an Elder in the United Methodist Church. Bishop Palmer, along with Rev. Keith Zimmerman laid their hands on me and called upon the Holy Spirit.
I do not remember much that Bishop Palmer said to me in those moments. I remember tears flowing down my face, and I remember the feel of his hands on me. I felt the loving presence of my family – whom I knew to be standing behind me, in body and spirit, amongst the congregation of those gathered. I knew that members of my church were there as well - beloved saints who had made the drive to be with me on that holy night. But there were so many more.
As I bowed my head I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. It filled me with an unspeakable joy. Then I saw something I wasn’t expecting. It was a woman. A beautiful woman smiling at me with a radiant glow. She was so beautiful. Her brown hair and brown eyes glowed. Her face was youthful and filled with love and joy and I recognized her in an instant. It was at the same time unexpected, completely real to me, and somehow no surprise. It was my Aunt Jean. Then she sort of nodded in a way that said to me, “Look who I brought.” She wasn’t alone. Standing there with her were my Grandma Esther and my Grandpa Nick. And with them were my other grandparents Eugene and Lucile. The five of them stood there for a moment, looking at me with pride and joy.
When I was a boy, I remember going to the Communion rail with my Mom and Dad at Our Redeemer’s UMC. We would kneel at the railing and take the bread and the cup and linger a little to pray. I would always wait there, even if I was done praying, because I knew that if I waiting long enough, my Father’s hand would reach out and grip my shoulder. Then his arm would wrap around me, and I would feel the power of his love and the love of my heavenly Father wrapping me up. As I knelt at the railing at my ordination, I could feel the loving arms of my father and mother, my sister and brother, my wife and daughter and all of those that had lead me to that moment.
Then I saw my Uncle Larry and Aunt Janie and more and more saints – until I was completely surrounded. I could hear them clearly saying, “We love you, Robby.” There was a golden glow that surrounded them and fully embraced me. I could feel again my father’s arms wrapping me up in unconditional love. It was the single most powerful moment of my life because, you might have guessed, none of these people dwelled on earth any more. I was surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses – the resurrected saints of God who were claiming me.
This was not a dream. This was a holy vision and it was as real to me as holding my daughter at her birth. It was an Easter moment.
Today we celebrate Easter and I am reminded of the power of the Holy Spirit to conquer sin and death. I am reminded of the words that I have read at so many funeral services, “Where O death, is thy sting, where, o death, is your victory?” I am reminded of the words of Charles Wesley, who wrote, “Lives again our glorious King. Alelulia! Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alelulia! Once he died our souls to save, Alelulia! Where’s thy victory boasting grave? Alelulia!”
I feel the sins of which I have been convicted. I feel the sins of which I have been forgiven. I feel the sin that remains in this world – the sins of war, poverty, hunger, racism, sexism, greed, corruption and the rape of the earth. I know that the world threw everything it had at Jesus, and that on this day Jesus rose. And just as Jesus defeated death, so too will God conquer all of these sins. On this day Jesus won the victory. On this day life won. Grace won. Love won.
All of those that have died are alive again. All of the battles I fight as a pastor, as a husband, as a father, as a son, and as a man – I fight surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses and by the power of the Holy Spirit. I will surely fail. I will fall and I will be beaten by temptation. But I will rise; just as Aunt Jean rose. Just as Eugene, Lucile, Esther and Nick rose. Just as Jesus rose.
And so I invite you to rise as well. Claim Jesus as your own. Claim the victory that Jesus has won. Be a part of the fight to redeem the world. Rise and live in the Kingdom of God. Rise because Christ is Risen.