Easter Sunday is just a few weeks away – April 17. And I haven’t been to church since my Mother died – just months before the pandemic struck America and the world. I’ve made all kinds of excuses: I don’t want to get sick; there aren’t any churches where I feel comfortable; I’ve got too much work to do at home; I don’t want to leave my dogs by themselves all day during which they may tear up the house.
And I feel lousy, convicted and . . . alone.
Still, I don’t want to be like those folks that my family and I used to quietly whisper about when we thought no one was listening. You know how church people can be? We would criticize those who showed up once a year in their fancy hats, new suits and fabulous dresses – people who only attended church for the high days like Easter or Palm Sunday or Mother’s Day. Now, after being absent from the company of the “saints,” I feel like one of those once-a-year Christians, too.
But it’s not my fault!
The pandemic has been in our midst for over two years and my mom has been dead for nearly three. It hasn’t been a great time for me in many regards. I mean, I’ve weathered the storm – many storms in fact. So what’s the problem? Don’t I get a little credit?
A few nights ago, I found myself unable to sleep. That seems to happen often these days and I’ve come to realize that it’s because God nudged me from my slumber for a message meant just for me.
Remember that powerful scene from “The Color Purple” when Shug Avery and the rest of the folks from the speakeasy burst into her father’s church singing, “God is Trying to Tell You Something”? That’s how I’ve been receiving my “mail” in huge bundles since Momma died and the pandemic struck.
Anyway, unable to sleep, I turned on the television. One of my mother’s favorite Easter films had just started, “The Robe.” And while we often watched it together, I could not remember most of the details. So, I propped up my pillows at 4 a.m. and waited to understand why I needed to see this movie.
At the conclusion, as the two newly-converted Christians, Lady Diana and Marcellus, welcome death without fear rather than denying God in order to save their lives, I began to understand. Their faith had set them free. Their faith had empowered them. Their faith had sustained them.
I had become so consumed with the vicissitudes of life that I had slowly put my faith on the shelf where it had begun to gather dust, fulling expecting to pick it back up when the world had settled down and it was more convenient. But it doesn’t work that way – and I should have known better.
Very clearly, I got the message. I’ve grown comfortable with trying to “convince” God. I’ve allowed the trials of the world to impede my focus. And as “The Robe” concluded, and after soaking my pillow with tears of praise, I felt renewed. The sorrow of Good Friday in my soul had been replaced with the victory of Easter Sunday.
Let me share one more memory.
On April 7, 1979, I crossed the burning sands with seven other young Black men, most of us just freshmen, at the University of Michigan. We were officially brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. It’s hard to believe it’s been 43 years since we survived 93 days of pledging. But together, somehow, we did.
Old school pledging truly broke you down. But then, the brothers worked hard to build you back up again. One of the many things we were forced to memorize and repeat on command, was a poem entitled “Excuses.” While just a few sentences long, it helps me understand why it’s futile to attempt to “convince” God to answer your prayers, to remove obstacles, to help you stop crying or feeling depressed, to make all of your dreams come true.
After all, the Bible does remind us in James 2:26, “faith without works is dead.”
The brothers would ask us, whenever we made an excuse for failing to deliver on an assignment or task, “What are excuses?”
As the poem goes, and as we would respond, “Excuses are monuments of nothing which build bridges that lead to nowhere. Those who use these tools of incompetence are masters of nothing.”
And no one wants to be a master . . . of nothing!
God is the master of everything. And as a child of God, I, too, have the same power. God’s still telling me “something.” But this time, I’m listening.