taking the words of Jesus seriously

Ah, Easter. Green grass and daffodils, lilies and ham and asparagus. And snow. Colorado is famous for spring blizzards, and we were not expecting Kevin’s family to make it in time for the Easter Sunday service. They were driving in from Michigan, way back in 1983, and that morning they were white-knuckling their way over the Continental Divide. We couldn’t imagine that the whole pack of them- Mom and Dad, grown children and spouses and grandkids- could possibly pick us up by ten am. We figured we’d do the lazy thing and hunker down in our jammies. No, we wouldn’t make it to church, but they’d probably be here by lunch, and we’d celebrate Easter then.

Those were the days before cell phones, but still, Kevin should have known better. After all, this was his family. Had I known more about their history, I would have at least put some clothes on.

And I wouldn’t have been shocked when the car pulled up out front, encrusted in frozen slush and honking the horn at 10:00 am sharp. Nothing says embarrassment like being caught in your nightgown by your new in-laws. Never in their lives were they late to church on Easter, and they weren’t about to start now.

My husband was raised in a rather strict Protestant sect, and their lives revolved around church. By the time we met, he had walked away from the church and his faith, with good reason. I was raised with no belief system whatsoever. In our lives as young marrieds, church was not something we did. Easter, maybe. Christmas Eve: absolutely. After all, we weren’t heathens! Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that church would become the loving family I never had. With all its ups and downs, personalities and peculiarities, weaknesses and strengths, I loved being part of a church. We changed a few times due to our kids’ needs and the seasons of our lives, but I always felt as though I had a home as long as we were part of The Body of Christ.

READ: Choosing Love at Belonging’s Expense and Wondering What Now

Easter was no longer about the bunny, or baskets with plastic green grass and marshmallow eggs. When I asked Jesus into my heart, the most sacred of seasons filled me with a joy I had never known. The tragedy of Good Friday was transcended by the joy of Resurrection Sunday. Now we had friends with whom to celebrate, and for the first time in my life sacrifice had meaning and passion had purpose. And I-the real me- was loved, and I knew it. Even with the stresses of parenting young children and trying to make ends meet, I had found a level of peace that transcended understanding.

We never intended to become as involved in church as we did; it just happened. We wanted to raise our children to know Jesus. We wanted to be part of a community. Far from our families of origin, we needed love and support to wrap their arms around us and our kids. We found friendships with other parents when we volunteered to teach Sunday School. We created bonds with all kinds of folks when we hosted Bible Studies. No longer did we have to eat holiday meals alone- there was always someone willing to come over.  Many kind people hosted us as well. Together we raised our children, figured out how to stay married to our spouses, prayed for each other’s families, shared cribs and bikes and baby clothes, and grieved when the worst happened. No matter what, we were never alone.

I’ve written quite a lot about my despair over the Evangelical Church’s devotion to Donald Trump. There’s no point in rehashing the heartache. Sadly, most of the people we have known over the years have fallen prey to the Religious Right’s political movement. That, in and of itself, is tragedy enough. But add in false conspiracy theorists who now occupy the pews on Sunday morning, and we no longer trust what we always believed to be true: that the primary mission we share as a church is obeying the teachings of Jesus Christ.

This will be the first Easter for just the two of us. Our kids have gone on ahead- one to Heaven; the other, with his wife and kids, to teach in Norway. We moved to a small town three years ago that is overwhelmingly Christian and overwhelmingly MAGA. We did join a church when we arrived, only to find out the leadership was very partial to Donald. Though the congregation welcomed us with open arms, it was absolutely assumed everyone was Republican. The Stars and Stripes onstage spoke silently but clearly about American nationalism. We  communicated our concerns to the leadership, and they politely blew us off. Then COVID hit town, and we were able to make a graceful exit.

There’s probably a church out there somewhere waiting for us; a place where they stand up to MAGA thinking and white supremacy. Where the teachings of Jesus are not just preached but acted upon. Where the LGBTQ children of God are as welcome as everyone else. Where women are not relegated solely to the kitchen and the nursery, but also encouraged to use the gifts given them by the Holy Spirit for teaching and preaching. Where the congregation believes that Black Lives actually do Matter, and are willing to take a public stand to that effect. I’ve got to say, it’s probably not in this little town, but I’m not going to let that take Easter from my heart.

The tragedy of Good Friday has still been transcended by the joy of Resurrection Sunday. Christ’s sacrifice still holds the ultimate meaning of love,  and his passion’s purpose saved me. I am still loved by God, and I know it.  Even with the stresses of politics, the COVID pandemic,  the betrayal of the Religious Right, Evangelical leaders selling their souls for presidential favor, and QAnons occupying the pews, I can at least aim for a level of peace that transcends understanding. “Christ The Lord is Risen Today” will surely be available on YouTube. The Gospel accounts of that first Easter morning will still bring tears to my eyes. I may have to cook up a ham dinner with scalloped potatoes and asparagus, and hustle down to the supermarket for a bunny cake. While the expression of our Christian faith may not look exactly like my husband’s childhood experience, we endeavor to live the life Christ called us to. We still pray without ceasing. We do our best to love our neighbors. When it comes to forgiveness, we give it our best shot, we thank God for forgiving us, and we trust God will make all things beautiful in time.

Happy Easter to all, especially to the spiritually homeless. This present darkness will not last forever.

About The Author

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Rachel Ophoff met Jesus when she was 30 years old. For the last 34 years, they’ve bonded over addiction and recovery, beauty and brokenness, and even the loss of her daughter on a church outing. In the Evangelical Church, she found the family she never had. Now she is watching those she loves fall prey to the Religious Right’s quest for political power and is fighting the good fight by writing and speaking to remind people it’s all about Jesus.

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