I still have the sunburn as a trophy to remind me of the awesome Easter service we participated in this year. While my wife played a pivotal role in the sanctuary with the volunteers’ kids, I spent the entire morning and afternoon on the hill with 1,000 other volunteers. Easter on the Hill at Celebration Church was from start to finish a God-anointed event. From the moment Celebration Church got the call from Tim Tebow‘s representatives that he would be interested in speaking, the plans for Easter changed. No longer would they be deciding how to approach the upcoming celebration of Christ’s victory over death in their sanctuary, but reconsidered preparations by dropping to their knees in humble prayer. Perhaps this call was the response Celebration Church received after saturating their spirits in fasting and prayer at the beginning of the year. In January members of the church all had the same conviction–God was going to bring His power and transform the church in a new and mighty way–though the staff and pastors had yet to make specific plans.
Easter Sunday of 2012 has been the most unique and unorthodox service I have ever been a part of, or even attended. Various people dressed in costumes and had interacted with the people awaiting the service in a Woodstock-like fashion (of course, without the clouds of smoke). Recognizable characters such as Elmo (who “Tebowed” with some kids), Woody and Jesse (Toy Story), Football players, Snow White, Mr. Incredible (The Incredibles), and a few others all made the people feel comfortable and at home. Although they primarily served to bring a smile to everyone’s faces, what made them indirectly part of the ministry was the simple message that said, “Come as you are!” This was the entire thrust of Jesus’ ministry. He never established a building and “invited people to church”, but brought the Kingdom to them! Jesus met people in the conditions they were already in, and the religious people hated Him for it. After the idea of Tim Tebow speaking on Easter had been established, God’s peace moved in the hearts of Celebrators to prepare the way of His presence. The church new people were going to fill the hill from all over the country to be eye-witnesses of Tim Tebow; a family even drove down from Indiana, where one member committed her life to the Almighty. People new that Tim Tebow was the absolute sole reason hundreds upon hundreds were even coming to any Easter service that day, and praise God for it!
However, big events like this don’t come without their criticisms. People from across the nation poked fun at this “mockery” of Easter. Churches became jealous that their services were suddenly “irrelevant” in comparison, and so some changed plans accordingly rather than celebrate the movement of the Spirit. One writer audaciously called it the “Tebow Easter Extravaganza“. Perhaps the problem was to compare one branch of the Vine to another branch. Part of our sin-nature, our pride-soaked corruption leads us to form ideas on what should and should not be. We have taken an amazing truth–the narrative of a God who has created a people bearing His image, those people choosing to do life their own way apart from Him, and His mission to save them from their blind attempts that lead only toward death–and we have fashioned it in such a way that we can grasp it with our own stingy hands. The truth is, although many Christians talk about evangelism, the pride of even Jesus-followers motivate them to seek control and power over the Church. They don’t want people they have proclaimed as ‘sinners’ in their church. They want a nice, traditional (or maybe even “contemporary”…whoa now), and pristine Easter service that no one dare touch with their dirty hands. Every Sunday is Resurrection Day! Why have we made the official “Easter” sacred from the rest? Why should certain Christian holy-days be placed on the shelf like a glass menagerie? Churches that proclaim themselves as followers of the carpenter from Nazareth despised the Easter on the Hill even because a popular American football athlete would be there to draw thousands–and, the thousands came!
Yet, Jesus continues to seek us in our utmost failures. We fail to see Him with our heart, and so are blinded when the pupils of our eyes take in the unexpected. He has grace, though, and believe me–“Grace” is God’s middle name (of course “Love” is His first, see 1 John 4:7ff). God values us so impossibly much that He redeems our human attempts. He allows us to use our cultures to participate with Him in the Gospel to bring others to Him, and He is all about it. The calendar date set aside for Easter wasn’t really even for Jesus at all, but rather a celebration of a goddess Eostre. God has consistently through the years redeemed our humanness into bringing us to glorify His name, just read all the different books on various aspects of missions history–how the world has been transformed in the last two-thousand years because of the Gospel. He continues still, and He will do it again. We should remember to be confident in this–God seeks to put His city on a hill so that the world may know He loves them and wants them–and oh, what a literal city of 15,000 people sat on a hill that day and heard the transforming power of Jesus Christ on the life of one of their favorite athletes. We definitely have something legitimate to celebrate!