There was no way I was going to pass through Mississippi without hanging with my Tapioca Fairy. We’d met in 1990 when she and her then-fiancé Daron came to visit our congregation and we had them over that summer evening for a good, long talk over dinner in the backyard. Six years later we were elated when they moved our way as husband and wife allowing Ericka and I to spend over two decades enjoying our unique friendship.
It’s remarkable how every friendship seems entirely different than all the others. Much more girly-girl than myself, Ericka was my “Miss Manners” friend. I could walk past her in an awkward social situation and mumble in her ear, “Now what do I do?” and she’d whisper back her etiquette wisdom into my ear of how to save face this time. That’s handy.
One night after a meeting at the police precinct, I arrived home and was putting some things away in my bedroom and began to hear something like the sound of two elves giggling from the far side of my bed. Up pops Ericka and our mutual friend, Sarah, who were there to kidnap me to take me out on the town for a customized birthday night. Needless to say, the whole evening was 100% rated G, but even so, it somehow included a 365-degree turn, essentially cutting a cookie in the middle of some downtown Portland, Oregon street while screaming in terror and laughing hysterically trying to figure out which way was the “one-way” we were supposed to be going. I still can’t hear the 80s Hall & Oates song, “I Can't Go For That” without that gleeful memory because it was that very fitting song that was blaring at that moment. (Ya, “I can’t go for” heading into oncoming traffic. It’s just not my thing, I guess).
Most importantly, Ericka was the girl when my heart lay shattered on the floor, with whom I felt like I could share all my deep down feels and she’d show up the next day with a warm container of her made-from-scratch tapioca pudding. The first time she did this, I put some costume wings on her and asked her to pose for a picture, dubbing her my Tapioca Fairy.
About six months after Ericka and Daron moved from Oregon to Amory, Mississippi and just two weeks before our visit, an EF-3 tornado tore through the south killing more than 20 people and decimating towns including much of Amory. And although their sweet cottage home stood unscathed, roads were blocked and some neighbors lost almost everything. These kinds of events certainly bond neighbors together, and I got to meet the neighbor who invited Ericka and Daron into her storm shelter. It was with deep gratitude that I gifted her a copy of my book Your Fresh Start. When we drove with Daron and Ericka from their home in Amroy to Tupelo for worship, the path of destruction was so distinct and the broken trees along the way looked like match sticks snapped in half, as crews were still filling dumpsters with the debris.
After warm greetings by this friendly congregation, the preacher, Trey Haskett on this Lord’s Day, took a unique approach with his sermon I had never heard before, an approach that touched my heart and moved me deeply. It’s an alternative that likely requires a measure of natural ability, much discretion and is best used sparingly among those very familiar with the scriptures. To prepare the congregation for his sermon, he sent out an email saying, “The resurrection is the finale to the greatest story ever told. It is the climactic moment in the plan of God. It is the thing that gives everything else meaning, both past, present, and future. It is why we are Christians. Please read Luke 22-24 and John 20-21 for Sunday morning. As you read, try to put yourself in the shoes of the disciples. Stand where they stood, walk where they walked, feel what they felt. Let us reflect on the greatest story ever lived.” The approach that Trey had in mind was one that would have been used much more frequently in the centuries preceding the printing press when truths were shared through spoken words, and was essentially “telling the story of Jesus” from the perspective of Peter, spoken in the first person point of view. What follows is in part Trey’s words that made me feel for a few moments as if I had been transported to the first century and was in the presence of Peter just after the resurrection of Jesus:
“I’m usually slow to think, quick to speak. And I have all the words to say but at this moment it’s just silence. And I look across the dimly lit room, and I see the shadows cast on the wall from the flame that licks the air. And in one corner, I can see Nathaniel. And from my perspective, I can see James and John, and gloom is across their face. And then I look over and I see Andrew and the anguish, and the agony that he's in, and the pain, because of all the hope that he had and it's dashed and it's gone. And it turns my stomach to know my brother is feeling the same pain that I am. There's a servant girl, and she's walking around the room with some bread and some people partake, but most just turn their hand up. As I see the bread as it comes to me, I think, “How can I partake of this now, how could I eat this bread?” Because all it does is remind me of that meal, that last precious meal I had with my Lord. My Rabboni. And oh, what I would give to be in His presence again to share the table, to break bread with Him once more. He's gone. The moments pass like an eternity and eventually, people start to squirm and they get uncomfortable. We don't know what to do. And I hear that cruel fowl, that obnoxious bird greeting the dawn with its crowing and all it does is remind me of the words that I said on that fateful night three times, “I do not know the man”.
And I think back as I hear the crow of the rooster. I think back to that moment where I looked across the courtyard and they were leading Him out and our eyes, they met, and I knew, I remembered, I felt …after my bold and foolish declaration, “I will follow you even to death. I am willing to die for you.” I was even willing to pick up the sword… but Jesus said, “You will deny Me three times”. As I looked across the courtyard, our eyes met, and that bird, now it reminds me of that.
There's a little bit more stirring and suddenly the door opens. And it slams… And there she was. I remember the first time that I saw her. I had seen her before, I knew her figure, I knew her form, I had seen her long black hair but I remember the first moment that I really saw her… she would croak can moan in agony. She spoke, but the voice was not hers. You see, she was demon-possessed. But I remember when I first saw Mary, with the corners of her mouth turned up, stretching towards her ears with a smile radiant and glowing like someone who had known freedom, liberation, release, and joy. And yet before me stood, hunched over panting. A woman haggard, hair matted. Maybe she was demon-possessed once more, she looked up and she uttered, “He's not there! He's not there! He's gone. The stone is rolled away. Jesus is gone!” Had the demons overtaken her once again? Why was she speaking this? How could Jesus not be in the tomb anymore? I could not believe it. All the rest echoed my thoughts and they said my sentiments, but she kept persisting, “He's not there! They've taken him!”
I'm so I, from some compulsion that I did not understand, I suddenly found myself running — sprinting as fast as my legs would take me — not as fast as John, but as fast as I could run ー running to the place where they laid Him. I didn't know what I would find. Why? Why would somebody take His body? Why would somebody desecrate my Lord, my Master? The Messiah. Or who I thought was the Messiah. The man who I had called “Rabboni” so many times. Why would somebody do that?
When I get there, I find the stone. It's been rolled away. How could it have been without a garrison of men to roll the stone, I don't know. This must have been some really large band of thieves that had come to take in His body. But when I stoop inside the cave in which He lay I noticed there's something sitting there on the rock. It is white, it's folded; it's a linen garment. It seems to be one of His linen garments. I'm confused and perplexed. Why would you steal a body ostensibly, presumably in haste trying to make their way out and stop to fold this linen rag and place it on the stone? What could this mean?
Again, perplexed, confused, and confounded, I begin to walk back towards that room in Jerusalem…and I was going to report to the rest what I had seen or what, rather, I had not seen. There was nobody there. And as I'm walking back towards Jerusalem, I see a light and it appears to me. “That's strange”, I think. Could that be the sun? No, I am looking West and the sun, is East at this time. Who is that? Or what is that? I see a figure coming from the light. He appears to be glowing and as I draw closer to Him the light gets brighter and brighter. Who is this Figure adorned in brilliance?
He speaks to me with a voice I know so well. And He says, “Simon! Simon!” and suddenly I know Who it is. I still cannot see Him because of the radiance. I know it is Jesus that is speaking to me [Luke 24:34] just like Moses who once heard the voice of God coming out of the heat and the warmth of the light and fire of the bush, so now I hear my Lord speaking to me in a bright brilliance calling me by name. And then He is gone. Was it a ghost? Was it a vision? Was I dreaming from the lack of sleep? Am I hallucinating? Perplexed and confused I make my way back to that upper room, and I begin to tell the rest, “It is, as Mary said: the tomb is empty! The stone is rolled away! And when I went in, there was the linen garment that they had around His head, but yet it was folded and placed on the stone. And moreover, as I was walking back to report this to you, I see a figure coming to me out of the light. “You’ve seen a ghost!” Nathaniel says. James says, “You're just tired. You're hallucinating.” Andrew from his corner speaks up and he says, “Simon, you are grieving and this is the grief talking. You saw nothing.” And I protest, “I saw something! I know I did!” But they wouldn't hear it. They wouldn't listen.
Just then, there's a knocking on the door and they kept knocking, and two of our brothers say, James, let us in! So James, he went over and he opens the door and these men now come in and they're bowed over and they’re panting. “We've seen Jesus! We were walking on the road, and we were going back to Emmaus because all our hope was lost and so we thought “We'll just return home. We don't know what to do”, and we saw there was a Man. He began to walk with us and talk with us, and He asked us …“Why are you grieving? Why are you sad?” And in awe, we replied “Don't, you know? Don't you know what's happened?” The One that we thought was the Messiah, they put Him up on a cross, they hung up Him on a tree, and they laid Him in a tomb. Everybody in Jerusalem knows it.”
As we walked and we talked further, He began to unfold scripture to us and … He revealed to us who He was. It was Jesus, though we could not see Him at first. Jesus is risen! We saw Him! And He has appeared to Peter, as Peter has said.” The disciples, most of them, begin to scoff. They don't understand it. They can't explain how Mary has seen Jesus, how Simon and these other two have seen Jesus, but they know that it cannot be true because they saw him hanging there. They saw the holes in His hands. They saw the wound in His side, and so one begins to say, “I will not believe unless I see Him for myself and I touch the holes in His hands and feel the wound in His side.”
James had locked the door behind the two that had come in, for we didn't know whether we were too going to be arrested and thrown into the streets or maybe carded off to be crucified like Jesus was, and so we were careful to lock the door.
But suddenly, believe you me, I could not explain it, but there was Jesus standing there before us. And He spoke to us in that still, comforting voice that we had grown so accustomed to hearing, yearning for really, after these three years of being with Him.
He said, “I am not a ghost. Do not be afraid. See the holes in my hands and the wound on my side.” For a few moments that felt like hours that we wished would last for an eternity, Jesus was there with us, and then almost as suddenly as He appeared, He was gone. But not before, telling us. I will be back. I will return…” [For a video of Trey’s sermon in its entirety click here: https://www.facebook.com/tupelochurchofchrist/videos/237234478886115].
No other event has ever or will ever change the course of human history than the resurrection of Jesus Christ because it was no less than the grand finale of all the hundreds of fulfilled prophecies confirming the teachings of Christianity to most certainly be of God. The resurrection implies that there is indeed life after death and if God can raise Christ, then He can most certainly raise you and I. The resurrection is also the only event powerful enough to make into one happy family of people from entirely different backgrounds, cultures, and ideologies.
Nothing has been more life-changing in every soul at this Northeast Church in Tupelo than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus lives, Jim Allen, an elder at the Tupelo congregation, is spending the sunset of his life taking this good news to Africa, and now is also zooming several times each week Bible classes in Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. This has opened the opportunity to preach to over 31,000 people so that these souls can learn to live their lives to God’s glory with an unshakable hope, meaningful purpose, and renewed joy. In 2009 he formed a 501(c)(3) called A Helping Hand for Africa, Inc. The individuals that help support this effort are assured their donated funds are getting to the right people because Jim not only knows well the preachers he works with, but after medicine, food, clothing, bibles, or funds for hospital bills, etc. are delivered to needy brethren there, they happily provide receipts and photos to verify that good stewardship ㅡ a step that must not be overlooked no matter where such benevolence happens, in order to avoid inadvertently doing more harm than good.
Because Jesus lives, Trey Haskett is aiming to do what he can to save every young soul within his congregation and has thus implemented a system whereby each 7th-12th grader in this church family receives opportunities to be mentored by a loving volunteer from within the congregation. Because He lives, the Johnson family not only invited us strangers to join them for a special extended family dinner, but also another visiting stranger, an older woman from the community who had been displaced by the tornado. Because Jesus lives, I even get to have a special “Tapioca Fairy” named Ericka to grace my life as a spiritual sister whether it’s a time to dance, or to laugh or to weep (Ecclesiastes 3).
Northeast Church of Christ
1558 Hamm St.
Tupelo, MS, 38804