I am doing something this morning that I have not done in twenty-five years. I am preaching an Easter sunrise service. Some of my readers who know me well are shocked. You see, I have a “conviction” that sunrise services are for women. It’s biblical. Look it up. On that first Easter morning, the women went to the tomb at early dawn and then went back and told the men about what they had found (Luke 24:1ff). Everywhere I have served we have joked about this “conviction.”
When I became the pastor of First Baptist Church in Luling, Louisiana I was told that the newest pastor in town had the responsibility to preach the community-wide Easter sunrise service on the levee of the Mississippi River. I told them I didn’t think it was biblical for men to attend sunrise services, let alone preach. I had only been in town for a month before Easter. People kept telling me they were looking forward to the service, and I kept telling them that sunrise services were for women. The joking back and forth went on all month.
On the Saturday night before Easter, Melanie and I prepared Easter baskets for our children and made sure their clothes were ready for Sunday morning. I set my alarm clock to wake me up at 5:30. The next morning I awoke before the alarm went off. I figured it was still night so I turned over to go back to sleep, but when I turned over I realized there was sunlight coming through our bedroom window. I grabbed the clock and realized I had made a terrible mistake. I had mistakenly set the alarm to go off at 5:30… Wait for it… PM. I had overslept. It was 6:25, and the service was scheduled to start at 6:30!
Remember, I was the new pastor in town. This was going to be my first impression with most of the citizens of our community. My church was full of CEOs and others who lived highly responsible lives. This was not good.
I jumped out of bed and landed in the shower, furiously lathering and rinsing. There was no time to repeat! That’s when the phone rang. Keep in mind this was in the early 1990s and very few people had cell phones. Melanie answered the phone. It was the Saint Charles Parish sheriff’s dispatch asking where I was. Our associate pastor, Tim Little, had flagged down a deputy who had radioed dispatch, and dispatch had called our house. Although my effort had been valiant, at that point I knew I had failed. It would take me twenty minutes to finish getting ready and drive across town.
Accepting the reality of defeat I asked Melanie to tell the dispatcher: “Ma’am, Rob is not going to make it. Would you please radio the deputy and ask him to find Tim Little. Rob says to tell Tim to wing it and make him look good.” An hour later I walked into the church fellowship hall where people from all over our community had gathered for breakfast after the sunrise service. It was a humbling experience! I took quite a bit of good-natured ribbing. The fact that I had joked about not believing sunrise services were biblical made it that much worse. I deserved everything I got!
The good news was that Tim Little did wing it, and while I don’t think it was possible to make me look good in that moment, he absolutely made Jesus look good. As followers of the resurrected Jesus we are called to make him look good. We are to glorify him in all that we do. To glorify means to live up to his reputation. Every time I step into the pulpit, my prayer is that I make much of Jesus. I want to live up to his reputation. I want to glorify him. I want to make Jesus look good.
The following Easter the local ministerial alliance gave me an “opportunity” to redeem myself. They “asked” me to preach the sunrise service. This time, I made it. In fact, I’m pretty sure that was the last sunrise service I have been a part of until today. Speaking of today’s sunrise service, I better go before I get a call from the sheriff’s office. Happy Easter. He is risen!