We Have Been Made Welcome

There’s this salad I used to love to make for gatherings. It’s rad. I know because everyone told me so. People would email me for the recipe and I’d have to email them back like, “Look, I made it up out of my very own brain and so all my amounts are approximations, therefore I cannot guarantee that your salad will be equally as magical as the one I made.” Also, I am very humble.

One day I gave up making my favorite salad. It’s a very sad story. It goes like this:

So there I was, at my grocery store of choice (which is just a regular store…not a fancy Whole Foods, but not a Grocery Outlet), where I had stopped specifically to only buy ingredients for this super rad salad that I wholeheartedly loved. I had never before purchased these ingredients separate from an overall shopping trip also filled with regular grocery things like toiletries and meats and various vegetables. All my rad salad ingredients rolled down the conveyor belt and boop, boop, booped themselves across the price scanner lasers. Then they proceeded to pull the rug out from under me. I looked up at the total. It was $60. SIXTY. For a salad.

You guys, there wasn’t even steak in this salad. I was not making my own vinaigrette with specialty balsamic flown in from Italy. It wasn’t garnished with gold flakes. I thought about the party I was going to and my brain and heart said, “I love these people, but I do not SIXTY DOLLAR SALAD love these people.”

The salad and I parted ways. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth.

I am not going to give you the recipe. I don’t want you to go out  and make it and come back and say, “Erin, that salad only cost me $30. What is your problem?” because your tone sounds very judgy and I don’t have time for your sass. And also because $30 is still an expensive freaking salad.

Why was I making this salad in the first place? Why do people spend time, energy, and money preparing for guests? Because we want to make people feel welcome and at ease. Because we want to enjoy each other’s company and to do that we need to be comfortable (and stuffed full of rad salad).

Easter was just the other day (yesterday, actually, as I type this) and I can’t get over it. I loved every part of celebrating with God’s people. The music, the sermon, the hugs and hellos, the He-is-risens and He-is-risen-indeeds.

But I think I loved them all more for knowing the preparation that went into the day. For watching worship team leadership choose songs, lead choirs, and take risks crafting musical experiences we have never done. For knowing extra care was taken with the snacks (cinnamon rolls!) and that even though set-up was done Saturday, someone still showed up very early on Sunday to brew all that coffee. For knowing weeks ahead of time a team rehearsed and rehearsed to provide an engaging place for kids to experience the story of Easter. For knowing folks began arriving early Saturday morning for a 6:00 PM service to install a giant LED-backed cross and corrugated metal stage design they had worked to build in the weeks prior. For knowing greeters were prepped and ready.

And they did all this for you. For me. For everyone that walked in the door, so that we would each be welcomed and made comfortable. Each detail was thought about and worked over. What did we want people to see? What did we want people to hear? When they left our space, what did we want them to know deep in their hearts? And so what could we do as a choir, a hospitality table host, or a guy with tin snips to make that happen?

The day was prayed over, practiced, and anticipated.

On my own, I do not even sixty dollar salad love people I already know. But this weekend and the weeks leading up, tons of people sacrificially loved every stranger we prayed would walk through the door.  And why? Because Easter.

Easter celebrates the day we all were made welcome. Beyond a sixty dollar salad welcome, beyond fresh cinnamon rolls and handshakes and good music welcome, God went to great lengths to make sure we could walk into His kingdom. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ, the defeat of death, the covering and cleansing of all our sin and shame and everything that tells us we are on the outside. The moment Jesus died on the cross, the curtain that separated the temple, the place where the Holy Spirit dwelled, the only place where (before Jesus) a very select few could stand in the presence of God, was torn in two (Matthew 27:51). We were all welcomed in, right into His presence. And not just to sit and hang out, but adopted as His children (Romans 8:14-17) and welcomed into His family for eternity.

He had been preparing for this day. Since before the world began, from even before Adam and Eve stepped out of the garden, He has been working out this way to bring us all back to Him. The Old Testament stories of God’s people wandering and returning over and over were lived and written in preparation of this day. Isaiah was given his prophecy in preparation for this day hundreds of years before. Jesus’ birth was in preparation for this day. John the Baptist was the voice crying out in the wilderness in preparation for this day. And you cannot read the gospels and miss that Jesus Himself prepared for this day, from crying and praying and sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane to the last supper and naming His betrayer and to the trial and crucifixion, dragging that cross down the road, and extending grace to one last person in bondage before He died.

He went to hell and back so that we could sit with Him, hear from Him, and know Him, so that His saving grace could welcome us in. And so we celebrate Easter. We prepare and we make welcome in a way that is barely a shadow of the way He prepared and made us welcome.

A song we sang this weekend and several Sundays leading up has a line that sticks with me:

You didn’t want heaven without us, so, Jesus, you brought heaven down.

From What a Beautiful Name by Hillsong, it follows with, My sin was great, Your love was greater. What could separate us now?

He wants us with Him. Inseparable.

After 40 days Jesus ascended into heaven, but a bit of heaven stayed here. He left the Holy Spirit and He left His people.

Driving to work the Monday after Easter Sunday, I was grieving the weekend a little. It had all turned out so good. People had thrived in their giftings. Moments stressed about had gone off without a hitch. Folks were welcomed in. How do we do next Sunday when this one had been so awesome? What’s next? The hype has died down, the LED cross is packed up, so does everything just go back to normal?

Jesus is not done preparing us and preparing places for us, so I don’t think we get to be done preparing the way for people to get to Him. He is continuing to call and draw people near, and so we continue to make space, open doors, and ready our hearts to receive.

My small group is studying the Sermon on the Mount and so I have come across various scriptures that talk about our treasures and rewards being in heaven. Matthew 5:12 talks about rejoicing in the face of persecution because our rewards in heaven are great. Matthew 6:20 says to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

I got to thinking about heaven and treasure and what I would want waiting for me in heaven when I got there. I wondered, “When I look around heaven, what will break my heart if it is missing?”  I didn’t think about mansions or streets paved in gold. I thought about my people. If I get to heaven, and they are not all there with me, that will break my heart.

I don’t want heaven without them. Heaven has been brought down to us. If we know Jesus, we get to see the work of heaven on earth. That is the power of Easter. We hold heaven in our hearts, we are God’s kingdom on this earth, and we get to pass out invitations and welcome people in.  

That is what we do after Easter. Easter is not the end, it is our beginning. It is our cue to gather. It is our cue to go and prepare places for people to be welcomed into His presence.

That welcome can be at once holy and pragmatic. It can be magical and practical. It can look like excellent stage lights or simple meals. It can be prayers in solitude or strong statements from a stage. But it always first begins with Easter and that redeeming work, those preparations begun before time, that first made the way for us to be welcomed in.