Our weekly devotion by the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
“It’s the Big One!” If every other Sunday in the Church Year is a “Little Easter,” then this Sunday is the Big One! Redd Foxx, playing Sanford of Sanford and Son, got a lot of mileage out of the phrase, “It’s the Big One!” It was his standard ploy, in the series, to feign a heart attack whenever things were not going his way. He would even call out to his deceased wife, and tell her he was coming to join her. Like Sanford, many people try to devise ways to manipulate others around them. Some do their best to even manipulate God. Easter reminds us that God always has the last laugh, the last and best Word — the Big One!
A Sunday School teacher told her class that many Bible passages refer to Christ as the Cornerstone of the church. Then she asked if they knew what a cornerstone was. One little boy raised his hand immediately, waving it in the air almost frantically, making grunting sounds and other noises to get her attention. “Yes, Bobby,” she said, “what is a cornerstone?” He proudly answered, “It’s the big one.” In most circumstances, and especially today, his answer is correct. Cornerstones no longer serve the purpose they once had. Today, they are primarily markers, engraved with the name of the building and the date of construction. They are often hollow or have a cavity behind them into which memorabilia are placed. At the church I attend, the “cornerstone” is not even in the corner. We should call it the “centerstone.”
The original purpose of a cornerstone was to set the direction of the building. The succeeding stones were placed in line with it. In an old issue of Pulpit Resource, Glendon Harris shared a story about such a stone.
The setting is the construction site of a great edifice. A contractor inspects a load of quarried stone that has just been delivered. Some stones he approves; a few he rejects. Later in the day the architect arrives on the scene to survey the growing structure and sees a small heap of discarded stones piled on the edge of the site. One stone catches his attention, and he examines it closely. He has never seen anything so flawless. It will make the perfect cornerstone. Calling the contractor, he asks, “Why have you rejected this one?” The builder replies, “It doesn’t fit in with the others.” The architect says, “Then the others must be chiseled to fit in with this one.” Harris added, “So the stone which the builders refused is polished, inscribed and set in the place of honor. It becomes the head stone of the corner.”
One of the most frequently quoted statements of England’s famous man of letters, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, is that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, but found difficult and left untried. The author described in one short sentence the lives of many people. We so often try to make Christ fit in with our lives or our world, instead of making the world and our lives fit Him. Given the way things were, when Christ first came to the world, He didn’t fit. So, one Friday, the world rejected Him, and people thought they had changed Him. Then, on Sunday, God said, “Excuse Me! . . .” And at least part of the world hasn’t been the same ever since.
In a sermon last Easter, I said that I often wonder why, in all of His post resurrection appearances, Jesus didn’t show up at the homes of Pilate, Herod, or Caiaphas. Obviously, try as I may, I am not like God. I couldn’t have resisted the temptation to show up (with a twinge of fiendish delight) in the homes of these men as they were getting up from bed on Sunday morning. After all, they thought they had taken care of the “Jesus situation.” So, about the time they were fumbling around for whatever they used as their eye-opening cup of coffee, I’d have made a grand appearance. I wouldn’t have said much; just waved, and said, “Hi Pi,” “Mornin’ Herod,” “Hey Cai!” Jesus isn’t the kind to say, “I told you so.” He just tells us and leaves us to draw conclusions and make adjustments.
Many things in life are like playing golf — just about the time we think we have something figured out, we have to start figuring all over again. I believe that some of the people who made mocking comments at the foot of Jesus’ cross were still not sure how they should figure Him. When they said, “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross,” I think that partly in hope, and with a great deal of fear, some of them actually wondered if He would come down — down from the cross and down on them! After He died, they probably concluded that they had Him figured out after all. Then came the third day.
Speaking of the best laid plans of mice and women, Mark tells us that when the women went to the tomb on Sunday morning, they remembered the spices, ointments and wraps, but they forgot about the stone which had been used to seal the opening — it was a big one. On the way, they remembered it and wondered who would roll it away for them. When they arrived, they had a chance to remember something else. The Big One had been on the inside, not the outside! The Stone which the builders had rejected was establishing Himself at the corner or, as at my church, the center of their lives.
When those people at the foot of the cross wanted Jesus to behave like God, they could not imagine that He was already doing just that. The god of their sinful minds would have come down to save himself, and down on them like a ton of bricks! God doesn’t recreate Himself to our image. The fact that we cannot comprehend the scope of His love and mercy does not alter it in the slightest. A sign in front of a church says, “Love that lays no limits is not love.” I can only guess at the intentions of the creator of that message. Luther’s meaning of the Eighth Commandment requires that I guess it is intended as a piece of advice for parents. In which case, it should probably read, “Love that lays no limits does not make for good parental discipline.” Personally, during this Holy Week, I would love to sneak up there and change it to read, “Love that lays no limits is God’s love, laid bare on a cross for all the world to see.”
Neither the creator of that sign nor I can change that other Creator — The Big One — to conform to our image of what He or His love is or should be. We are to conform to Him, the Cornerstone of our faith. At every juncture where we find that He does not fit in with the way we think or the way we live, our thoughts and lives need to be changed. In the movie, The Life of Zola, there is a powerful courtroom scene. Zola was battling to reopen the Dreyfus affair, but his evidence was not admitted and his witnesses were not allowed to testify. The judge, firmly and with finality, declared that it was a closed case. As they were leaving the courtroom, Zola’s attorney pointed to a mural above the judge’s head. It was a painting of the Crucifixion. The lawyer said, “That, too, was once regarded as a closed case.”
The Judge — The Big One — reopened it. Caiaphas went to Pilate to get some soldiers to seal and guard the tomb. He figured the disciples might come and steal the body of Jesus. The soldiers sealed and guarded the tomb from any outside interference. Pilate, Caiaphas and the soldiers were not ready for the Surprise from within.
Let us not make their same mistake. The Christian life, like the Resurrection, is God’s surprise from within. It is not some external change we can make for ourselves, once we have the game figured out. Christ Himself is the Way, the Truth, the Resurrection and the Life. He has picked through the rock pile of our lives, forgiving and discarding forever that which displeases Him. The Holy Spirit still has work to do, however, to chisel away at us through the Word and Sacraments to build a faith and life that will most certainly not fit with the world, because they do align with our Chief Cornerstone — you know – – The Big One.