1 John 3:18-24 (The Message)
18-20 My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.
21-24 And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.
I have a confession. We dyed Easter eggs on the Tuesday after Easter.
I tried to comfort myself by remembering that the Easter season is actually fifty days long on the church calendar, but that was little help. I did manage to gather a pinwheel, a bubble wand, and a coloring book late Saturday night to pass for an Easter basket. Easter Sunday lunch was pancakes and bacon—delicious, but not traditional.
As a Pastor of Music and Worship, my days leading up to Easter Sunday are very full, allowing little time for planning and carrying out holiday traditions. At least, it feels that way to me. I have to admit, scrolling through Facebook and seeing some of the things my amazing friends put together for their little ones left me feeling guilty. I was especially guilt-ridden to see many of my minister friends, just as involved in Holy Week services as I, do some really thoughtful and involved things to make the day memorable and fun for their children.
Many of my fondest memories of childhood are wrapped up in holiday family traditions. My grandmother was especially good at creating meaningful and fun holiday experiences. Unfortunately, I did not inherit any gifts related to coming up with, planning, or carrying out crafty or magical traditions! I’m just not wired that way.
It doesn’t take great spiritual maturity to know that those things are just good fun and not essential (or even related) to helping our children understand the resurrection. Still, I felt guilty on Easter for not being that kind of mother.
The truth is, I feel guilty most of the time about anything and everything. When I’m at work long hours, I worry I’m not being a good mother. When I take time to be with my family, I worry I’m not being a good minister. I constantly feel guilt about not being a good friend.
I waste a lot of time feeling guilty. Guilt is like a quiet unwelcome companion. Sometimes it is so much a part of my life that I don’t notice it or the damage it does.
So, when searching the lectionary texts for inspiration as I was beginning to write, verses 20 and 21 of the 1 John passage jumped out at me. It was as if Jesus was reminding me that a guilt ridden life is not what he wants for me. Guilt keeps me from being who he wants me to be. In fact, the very good news of the gospel is that Jesus came to save us from being guilty!
On Easter Sunday, our sweet little boy sat in worship with his daddy as I led our choir to sing I Know that My Redeemer Liveth and Hallelujah from Messiah. He heard the congregation sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today and Crown Him with Many Crowns. He heard us all say together, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”
My husband is in the process of becoming ordained as an Anglican priest. We were able to be together on Easter Sunday at the church I serve because while his church does have Easter Sunday morning worship, their biggest resurrection celebration happens during Easter Vigil on Saturday night.
During that time of worship, everyone gets a bell to ring when Christ’s resurrection is proclaimed. I was moved to tears as we sang “Alleluia!” over and over again as we all joyfully rang our bells together. Both times of worship were so meaningful for us as a family as we celebrated the good news and as we watched Elijah take it all in.
As I focus on what we did to celebrate the resurrection rather than what we did not do, I can’t find guilt anywhere. As I think about shouting and singing “Alleluia!” with my family, all I see is the joy and hope of the resurrection.
Guilt cowers and runs away when faced with the power of the resurrection. Thanks be to God!
I imagine I am not alone in having guilt as my quiet unwelcome companion. My prayer is that we who struggle with guilt can open our hands to let it go and open our hearts to receive the grace and love God offers us so lavish and free.
For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God!
Melanie Walk has served as a music minister, chaplain, and divinity school admission associate. She currently serves as the Interim Pastor of Music and Worship at Lafayette Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC. Melanie’s husband is becoming an Anglican priest. They have a 2 year old son who spends his time spreading joy and being cute.