By Joel Hess –
As the seconds wound down and the outcome became more inevitable, a triumphant feeling overtook me. My Michigan State Spartans overcame the odds and perfectly impressed their focused will upon the other team like Jesus calming the sea. No, I am not exaggerating. Tom Izzo cried. I cried. We all high-fived. The day suddenly became brighter and warmer. The lion lay down with the lamb.
But soon, as I got out of my La-Z-boy in my middle class basement in a small northern town in Michigan far removed from the game and its heroes, an empty feeling erased my elation; what does this have to do with me? Why am I so excited? It’s not my victory. It wasn’t my effort. (Truth be told, I may have had something do with it as I trespassed the 2nd commandment with my anti-jinxing spells, cast among my fellow MSU fans.) Still, this glorious climax did not conclude my journey. It wasn’t a part of my meta-narrative. Tom Izzo doesn’t even know who I am.
Ugh, I cried out! I sat through 2 hours of sweat and cheering for nothing!
What does it have to do with me!?
What a fool!
Similar deflating realizations used to dull my mood every Sunday when I was young. These feelings were related to a different March Madness.
The Pastor proclaimed: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Jesus loved others. Jesus did everything right. Jesus obeyed His Father. Jesus fought the devil. Jesus calmed the sea. Jesus died on the cross. Jesus rose again!
I worshipped Jesus. You are so awesome Jesus. What a cool story! What a triumphant ending! Every Good Friday and Easter I would watch the Jesus show with blood sweat and tears. Jesus rocks! I would applaud with the rest as we recalled His rising from the grave.
Yet I remember that moment as if it was yesterday. One Sunday, as the preacher preached, I disappeared. I sat there silently in my 1980s preppy green polo shirt, pimpled face and feathered hair, thinking about why my Dad hated Prince, looking over at the empty space in the pew behind us where poor Travis used to sit until he blew his head off with a 20 gauge after his mom found out he had been suspended from school for selling “black beauties”.
A whisper interrupted my attention saying, “Good for Jesus! He’s awesome. But what does that have to with you?” “How do you know you will rise again?” “How do you know you are forgiven?”
The space between myself and the pulpit felt like the space of 2000 years and 2000 miles between me and the great confetti filled victory party of Jesus at the end of His own March Madness.
What does His victory have to do with me?
I remember always being told about faith. Though it was said with joy, it was really a mocking answer, an evil imperative, “just believe!” All you have to do is believe! It’s as easy as sending in the 4 cereal boxtops and you get a free set of Star Wars glassware.
All you have to do is believe? That’s supposed to be easy? Telling me I need to give $1000 a month to Jesus is a lot easier than believing! How does one define “believe”? It’s too abstract. I remember wondering whether or not I believed or if I believed enough. Even if I did “believe”, how does that connect me to Jesus? Believing is not an answer.
Something very important to the Christian Faith was either not taught in my church or I wasn’t listening.(Which is entirely possible; like Jesus in Mark 10 when He told the disciples He was going to Jerusalem to be arrested, suffer, die and rise again. All they heard was “I’m going to Jerusalem…blah, blah, blah….and will rise again.)
I was baptized. I took communion. But I didn’t know why. Perhaps I learned once in confirmation class on a fill in the blank sheet as I was lost in my 7th grader daydreams. Repetitio mater memoriae.
Yet all along that was it! That is where Jesus’ victory becomes mine! When the pastor, sent by God, does what His Son asked him to do – pour water over me and put HIs name on me – the accomplishments of Christ become mine! When the pastor, even knowing my sins and failures, places the body and blood of the suffering victorious servant in my mouth, I truly am at the victory feast, fed by the hand of the victor. Along with His Word, these treasures transcend those 2000 years and 2000 miles which separate me from that universe shaking victory won by Christ over sin, Satan and even death!
No longer am I far away worshipping Jesus crying out, “Good for Jesus.” Now I can say, good for me! He gives His reward to me! I feel it, touch it, hear and taste it! His death and resurrection is a part of my story! The day becomes brighter, warmer and full of possibilities!
I feel sorry for Christians who must cling to their faith instead of Jesus. Of course they are Christians. But they are missing out on the certainty we are meant to have in Jesus. They are missing out on enjoying God’s certain hand feeding them in this wacked-out world.
They are left wondering sometimes, “How do I know if Jesus victory is MINE!?”
Take and eat.