The church of the Last Chance – An Easter Story

And Easter Story, Based on Matthew 28:1-10, John 20:19-29 and Job 19:25
It all began one Easter Sunday at the Church of the Last Chance. Pastor Dave had worked hard on his Easter Sunday message, praying that someone in that worship service would find comfort and strength, and a new sense of God’s love. Dave had been down on himself for some time now. Maybe it was the limp handshakes on Sunday morning, or the way people looked away from him when they greeted him, that told him he wasn’t connecting with his congregation. Cantankerous Ed Bellery consistently pointed out anything and everything he didn’t like about the way Dave did ministry, which wasn’t helping Dave’s self worth any.

Sunday’s Easter service had started out with the thunderous sound of “Christ the Lord Has Risen Today” while the scent of Easter lilies filled the sanctuary. Their choir had gone to extra effort on their anthem. Oh, there was a point in the service when Margie Morris had been able to reach that very high “C” in their choral piece, which caused the hanging glass chandelier to ring a few notes in protest. Margie was going through some messy legal trouble. She’d been caught stealing funds from the school where she worked, which she had used to feed her gambling addiction.

May Bellery, had on an extra large hat that morning, which meant Terry Larson, behind her had to keep leaning over his mother-in-law to see, who was none too pleased.

All is all, it was a typical Easter service. People had come with their worries and fears, pet peeves and unresolved conflicts.

Pastor’s Dave’s wife, Belinda, was still feeling the sting of Ed Bellery’s  putting  her in her place a few days earlier.

Nellie Wilcox was simmering after learning Sue Larson had the Youth Group clean up the church yard without checking with her first. Adding to the offense, the youth had planted spring bulbs along the fence line.

Ed Bellery and Jim Holder successfully navigated around four year old Henry’s leg, which he had consciously stretched into the aisle to trip them, while they took up the morning offering.

There was really nothing extraordinary about that Easter until Sarah Long rose to read the scripture from the Gospel of Matthew. Just when Sarah got to the part where the angels announced to the two Mary’s that “Jesus is not here; for he has been raised, as he said,” There was a clatter on the altar. The bronze cross was shaking. It almost seemed to be alive.

Dave, thinking that a nearby train rolling through town, had set the cross off, went over to it to steady it. Sarah continued with her reading.  The cross Dave was holding began to feel very warm, when Sarah read,  “Jesus said to them . . . ‘Do not be afraid.’” It almost seemed as if the cross was beginning to glow testifying to the words that Sarah was reading. Dave shook his head, sure that he imagined the glow and wondered at the hand that had polished the cross so well. He made a mental note to thank their custodian for his good work.

Yes, the cross had spooked him a bit that morning, but now was the time for his sermon and he couldn’t let a little thing like a misbehaving cross bother him.

Dave began to retell the story of that first Easter morning. He asked what it would mean if all of them had that same deep certainty Jesus was alive, those women had experienced on the first Easter morning. “What impact might it have on each of our lives. Wouldn’t it be a way to live life at our best?”

A sharp cracking sound of glass breaking interrupted his message. Everyone was looking at the cross, now surrounded by shattered glass. Smoke appeared to be coming from the cross. Ed Bellery quickly got a bucket of water, drenching the cross and altar. Later, they found a burn mark directly under the cross which left a mark on the altar.

No one understood just what natural phenomena had occurred. The following Sunday suspicious eyes darted to the cross. This was not your normal after Easter crowd at The Church of the Last Chance.  Dave noticed people he had never seen in church before. The cross, however, looked very much like it always had. The text that morning was from the Gospel of John where Thomas expresses his doubt that Jesus was alive. Sarah Long was again reading the scripture. She had just reached the verse when Jesus tells Thomas “Be unbelieving no longer, but believe.” When several people murmured “Look!” This time everyone could see the glow. The new plate glass held up, helped  by some precautionary ceramic tile which Laura Bently had slipped under the cross prior to the service.

“Is that a sign?” someone gasped. Dave abandoned his message and turned to the cross instead. People began to talk about when they had first spotted, the glow and the rattle. Each time there had been some word spoken about Jesus revealing himself to a person or believing in him and his resurrection. Margie Morris asked, “Could it be that Jesus is revealing himself, here this morning? Is he telling us that he really is alive and is here?”

Sarah Long favored that idea. She said,  “The weird thing was, that both times I was reading the scripture, I felt this strange warming in my heart. I’ve never felt anything like it before.” A nurse in the congregation suggested Sarah visit her doctor. But Sarah would have none of that, “It was almost,” she said, “as if I had encountered the deepest sense of being loved that I have ever known.”

Ed Bellery favored a natural phenomena taking place. He wasn’t sure what the trick was, but he was sure there was a trick. And he meant to find out who the culprit was! Meanwhile, the cross returned to its normal brass self. That week,  Dave examined the cross several times. He could see nothing out of the ordinary. It was just your basic, brass cross. like those he had seen on countless church altars. And now that he looked at it more closely, it really didn’t look all that polished. It was a mystery.

On the Second Sunday after Easter, Margie Morris was singing a solo, “And he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own,” when she was startled by a collective gasp. There was the cross, almost dancing on the altar and tapping with an expertise in time to the music. Ed Bellery raced ahead to catch the cross before it fell. When Margie finished the last verse of her solo, he let go, but continued to keep a watchful and suspicious eye on the cross.

Dave’s sermon focused on the book of Job. After speaking of the trials that Job had gone through, he had quoted Job’s words with force, “I know that my redeemer lives and at last shall stand upon the face of the earth.”

Smoke and a hissing sound filled the altar area. The cross was glowing red, so hot that it had melted the plate glass, and turned the altar top into a glowing ember. Two ushers brought buckets of water to douse the fire. Ed Bellery congratulated himself of having the foresight to put those buckets of water in the back of the sanctuary, just in case.

All of which ended Dave’s sermon, but hardly the discussion. “What can this mean?” Even Ed was beginning to believe that some super human force was at work in and through the cross. “All I know,” Margie Morris said, “is that as Pastor Dave said those words, ‘I know that my redeemer lives,’ I felt this strange feeling right around my heart and it was as if Jesus was telling me, ‘I’m here – today.’ And there was a sense of peace, a sense that even though things are tough in my life just now, everything will be alright.” More than one person, recalled that in addition to her legal problems, Margie had ended up in the Woman’s shelter in a neighboring town on several occasions

Sarah Long wondered out loud, “If that is what God has been trying to tell us, that Jesus is here today, what are we going to do about it?”

Several of the visitors, – (Now, attendance had really shot up since Easter, especially after Ed & Jim had told the tale about their cross down at Dusty Lanes Bowling and Laura Bently, let it be known in her beauty shop that strange things were happening at the Church of the Last Chance. Why, she even had to sand the altar to get that burn mark off). One visitor suggested that God was trying to get a message across and since this was so, it was about time that “We all paid attention.” As they talked together, they concluded that each occurrence was directly related to believing. God was trying to tell them to live as if they believed the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus really was alive and he was here to walk with them and to talk with them . . . to be a part of their lives.

Sarah Long didn’t say anything, just then, but she thought of her beloved husband who had died a few months back. “If this is really true, then Joe is with God and someday, we’re going to be together again.” A sense of peace filled her.

Ed was quiet, but he was thinking of a deal he was about to close on some property and how he hadn’t been entirely up front with a few things, like the spring which was located directly under the basement. “I guess, I ought to tell the couple a few things before we close the deal,” he said to himself.

Nellie Wilcox got to thinking that it actually was kind of nice that Sue Larson had the Youth Group plant spring bulbs by the fence. It would be a joy to see them blooming there. “Maybe I’m being too possessive of the yard,” she thought.

Laura Bently remembered how angry she had been with her daughter. Jesus probably wasn’t too happy with her carrying a grudge for the past three years, over the flavor of cake her daughter had chosen for her wedding.”

Esther, Terry Larson’s mother-in-law decided the size of May Bellery’s hat was not all that important, and it might be appropriate for her to apologize to Sarah Long for the way she’d lashed out at her at their Quilting Group last week.

Dave recalled some thoughts, that he didn’t really want Jesus to know about.

Ten year old Samantha, cringed remembering the bubble gum she had put in the new girls hair last week. It came to her, Jesus would be happier with her, if she did something nice for the girl instead.

Twelve year old Carl also felt a sense of presence, of someone caring and loving him. He didn’t feel lonely anymore.

May Bellery decided not to pass on the juicy piece of gossip she’d picked up just prior to the church service.

Ned had been dragged to the church by his mother that morning, when she refused to give him any more help unless he started going to church. He wondered if it was possible to give up the drugs he was addicted to. When the cross was glowing, he’d felt a presence too. “Was it the presence of Jesus? he wondered. Would Jesus help him quit the drugs?” When he thought about quitting, the sense of presence was stronger.

Sue and Terry Larson looked at each other, as if both were thinking the same thing, and they were. They needed to give their marriage another chance. Maybe, they could work things out – now.

Jim Holder got to thinking that he had been a bit stingy, with his earthly goods. He thought about little Carl who lived next door, whose mom was having a tough time, raising the four children by herself. He wondered if Carl would like a real baseball glove? Of course Carl would! Maybe, he could spare enough to get the boy a cap too. Actually, he had more than enough to get something for each of the children. They certainly needed it.

But Pastor’s Dave’s wife Belinda, just broke out into a big smile and said, out loud, “Then it’s true! It’s really true. All these years, I wanted to be certain. Now I know.!” And she began to think of how she would live her life differently. She’d go back to school and get her teaching degree,  then get a job at the homeless school the city had started. She wondered if this was the kind of certainty that made it possible for a Mother Teresa to give her life in India or an Albert Schweitzer in Africa, or Nelson Mandela to live with courage? Was this the source, of her mother’s joy and the serenity of her childhood Sunday School teacher?  Was this certainty she felt in her heart this morning, what those “born again” people always talked about? She thought about the people she had known who had done so much for others, and wondering if this was their secret. How they could just go on loving other people, no matter how hard it was or how difficult some of those people were. And she thought about her neighbor, the one that had lost three children to Muscular Dystrophy, but always had a smile on her face. Was this the power and love that kept them going? Was this sense of presence the strength that gave those first disciples the courage to tell the world about Jesus?

Meanwhile, the cross of the altar began to glow again . . . A gentle glow. And in each of the hearts of the people who came to worship at The Church of the Last Chance that morning, there was a new lightness and a new certainty. In each heart, hope was being born. 

And Dave knew that on this day, someone had discovered the presence of the living God. He knew, because that presence had taken hold of his own heart, in a way he’d never experienced before, and had set it on fire.

Afterwards it was said of the Church of the Last Chance – that if you went there, you would find a contagious enthusiasm and a powerful love at work. For something had happened one day – and ever after, The Church of the Last Chance was always filled with Easter Joy. For, joy radiated in and through the lives of its people.


*Copyright Shirley Hobson Duncanson, April 15, 2001