I was walking along Monument Avenue during the annual “Easter on Parade” event—smiling at the dogs wearing bunny ears and the parents pushing strollers—when suddenly there he was, standing with six or seven other guys in black T-shirts. At first I mistook him for a bishop, but he said, “No, man. I’m the Pope!” He pointed to his hat as evidence. It did look something like the Pope’s hat. It was the right size and shape. But it was made out of some kind of padded polyester material and I’m guessing the Pope’s hat is not. “Where did you get it?” I asked. “Costume store,” he answered. But he told me how much fun he’d had wearing it to the bar where he’s a bouncer. “I see a couple of Catholic priests sitting at a booth and I say, ‘Hey, you two! Get back to work!’ And they almost jump out of their skin.”
I laughed at that, but it was odd coming from a guy pretending to be the Pope while wearing a T-shirt that said, “Jesus Hates You.” In fact, all these guys were wearing T-shirts with atheist and anti-Christian slogans on them, including one that said, “Thank God I’m an Atheist!” I remembered last year’s Easter on Parade, when there was a street preacher screaming at people, telling them they were going to Hell if they didn’t accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. I wondered if there was any connection between that kind of aggressive evangelism and this kind of in-your-face backlash. I also wondered what Jesus would make of all this, Jesus—who died for atheists, street preachers, and the Pope. Wouldn’t he put an arm around the guy in the black T-shirt and say, “You’ve got it wrong, friend. I don’t hate anybody“? And wouldn’t he put an arm around the street preacher and say, “Stop screaming, friend. I came because God loves the world”?
I tried to keep that in mind as I strolled on down Monument Avenue. I had just come from a worship service where I had preached the good news that “Christ is risen!” and the choir had closed things out by singing the “Hallelujah” chorus. It was one of those days when a few guys in black T-shirts weren’t going to spoil my mood, when I was sure that in the end the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
“And he shall reign forever and ever.”