The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
April 9, 2023
In the great American tradition of latchkey children, as a boy I would come home after school and plop down in front of the tv. And of course, daytime tv being what it is and being the age I am, that meant reruns of shows from the 1980s. Gilligan’s Island, Magnum P.I., and best of all, the A-Team. What young boy wouldn’t love Mr. T decked out in gold chains? The A-Team were sort of commandos who would find themselves in some thorny situation, they would concoct some plan to escape, and they would always, always catch the bad guys at the end of the show. You don’t need to know anything else about the show other than the tagline, and you can say with me if you know it, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
I love it when a plan comes together. It’s a great line for an action tv show, but it’s a terrible way to think about God. And yet, that’s what I hear all the time. “God has a plan.” You’ve heard this. When something bad happens, when we lose someone, we hear that God has a plan. It’s probably insurance companies that taught us this theology – don’t blame us, that’s an act of God, and I’m sorry, but you still have to pay your deductible.
God has a plan. Of course, it’s a way to alleviate some mental or emotional pain. And it’s a way to acknowledge that God is bigger than we are. “God has a plan,” we say, and that somehow that makes life a bit more bearable. Now, notice, we don’t talk about God having a plan when something good happens to us. When we land that job or get that raise or our kids turn out okay, well, that’s because we’re smart and successful and all that. That wasn’t God’s plan, that was us. But something bad, well, that was God’s plan.
I’ve been thinking through this. This would mean that the Lord God has put together an agenda for our lives. And day by day, life just happens, all according to the plan. We don’t have any choice in the matter. This is a horrifying proposition. Not because bad things happen, no, but because of who planned it. If all this is happening according to God’s plan, then who is God and why would I worship that god? Why would I worship a god that planned for me to have type 1 diabetes, why would I worship a god that planned for my house to get flooded, why would I worship a god that planned for my grandparents to suffer the slow decline of dementia? All that happened, yes. And if that was God’s plan, what would I want to do with that god?
That, that is the gift that is revealed to us on this Easter morning. Mary Magdalene didn’t go to the tomb on Easter morning because it was part of God’s plan. No, she went to the tomb because life had given her a raw deal. She was grieving and heartbroken, she couldn’t stop thinking about her Lord, Jesus, who had died upon a cross at the hands of a callous empire. Mary Magdalene was overwhelmed by the powers of sin and death.
The powers of sin and death – the same powers that we face today. The same powers that are opposed to God. The powers of sin and death want to isolate us, make us suffer, they inflict us with spiritual and emotional wounds. And yet, on this glorious Easter morning, we trust in the God who has conquered sin and death. That is why we celebrate today.
We celebrate because the powers of sin and death tried their worst and God came out on top. When it seemed that we were losing, God overcame. That’s why we celebrate. We celebrate today because the powers of loneliness, and sorrow, have been conquered. Because not even death, death on a cross, can stop God. With God, there is always an empty tomb. There is victory.
So let me be clear – I do not think it was God’s plan for you to get cancer. I do not think it was God’s plan for you to lose your child. I do not think it was God’s plan for students and teachers to perish in their schools. I do not think it was God’s plan for tornadoes to wipe whole cities off the face of the earth. Terrible things happen. Just look at the cross. This God that we worship knows evil all too well and has suffered with us. And yet, the cross is not the final answer, the empty tomb is the final answer. Jesus is raised from the dead.
It may not look like it now, granted. Because terrible things continue to happen. And being a Christian will not mean that life is magically easier for you. But following this Lord, by worshiping this God, we have hope for when things are hard. Hope that God can, has, and will overcome.
This also means that we are no longer passive participants in our lives. If it’s all according to plan, well, then, why even try to do good? Why even bother to worship, or serve the poor, or fight against disease, or make the world a more peaceful place? Why even bother to love your neighbor, if it’s all just part of the agenda? That’s the sinister part of this mentality. If everything is part of the plan, then why even try?
But we worship a God in Christ who has no bones about it. Jesus sends us out into the world to continue doing what he did. Easter is a promise, but it’s also a call on our lives. Through the power of Christ and the Spirit living within us, we push back against the powers of loneliness and sin and death. Every time that you feed the hungry, every time that you love your neighbor, every time that you do something good, every time you make the world a better, holier, more beautiful, more peaceful place – that is an Easter moment. Maybe I’m splitting theological hairs here, but I do think it’s important. God’s promise is to overcome sin with grace, evil with love, death with life. That is Easter.
Now, I spent entirely too much mental energy this week trying to come up with a phrase as catchy as, “I love it when a plan comes together.” I couldn’t do it, and that’s why I’m a priest and not a writer for tv shows. So how about this? The next time something terrible happens, the next time you get that phone call you dread, the next time the news alerts shows up on your phone with some fresh, new horror, the next time you are standing there with Mary Magdalene, grieving at the tomb; when you are dealing with all that, remember the promise and the will of God. Don’t trot out that trite saying about God having a plan. No, when it all breaks down again remember the words of scripture. For “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39).
3 thoughts on “Easter 2023”
I enjoyed your analysis. A great reflection for taking on challenges of all kinds with the enduring spirit of Easter.
Beautiful words Fr. Jimmy. I hope you and your family are doing well. One of these days we’re going to spend a weekend in Galveston and stop by.
I’d love to see y’all!