I recently read a poem that I couldn’t forget. Now I cannot even remember where I saw it, even though I’ve read it every day. The poet, Wilbur Rees, only published one book of verse in his whole life and he’s not necessarily a poet that you would have heard anywhere else.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
— Wilbur Rees
Three dollars worth of God. I am not saying that this necessarily applies to anyone here, but there’s something about this poem that kind of gets me in the gut. How much is $3 worth of God?
The poem is from 1971. That’s not that long ago at all, but there’s inflation. We might say we’d like $20 of God. What would that even look like? According to the poet, he wants to buy enough of God’s grace to feel better about himself, but not enough to be pressured into any kind of service or response to God’s action. Three dollars worth of God for Rees, twenty dollars for us, is comforting and comfortable, but that’s about it.
What does $3 worth of God look like on Easter morning? Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty- that’s about $3 worth right there. She believes someone has stolen Christ’s body, but an empty tomb. Even if they never knew for sure what happened, they were in proximity to a miracle. $3 worth of God gets you close to something amazing.
Peter and the beloved disciples see the empty tomb. They remember and trust Jesus’ words, but they haven’t put all the Hebrew Scriptures together in their mind, yet to fully comprehend what happened. We’re still at $3.
Mary Magdalene stays in the garden. She looks again in the tomb and see angels. What’s that worth? At least five dollars, right? That lets her know that something has happened. She sees heavenly messengers and they speak to her. Definitely $5 worth of God-experience by then.
Then Jesus speaks to her. Even though she doesn’t know who he is, he does speak to her. Do I hear a bid for that? Can I get $10? $15? Fifteen dollars to hear the voice of Christ, of God, even if you don’t know who he is.
Then he calls her by name. Mary. Price that. To hear God say your name. To hear the voice that you have loved with your whole being, speak to you individually. Anyone? Should we make a big jump? Can you afford it? Would you give an organ? Your liver? A kidney? Heart?
Jesus speaks to Mary and she knows who he is. He gives her a task, telling her to go and tell the disciples that he is risen. The disciples, in John, are not just the 11 remaining apostles, but anyone who has followed Jesus and believed that God was revealed in him. Mary is charged with telling these disciples that Jesus has called them “brothers” and that he has referred to God as his own Father and theirs. What a message.
What’s it worth to be given work to do, to be transformed into something more than you ever thought you could be, to realize that resurrection isn’t something for someday, but is for right now? How much is it worth to be known, embraced, and loved for who you are? To be forgiven for where you have fallen short and for your wanderings? What is the price tag we could put on being beloved of God?
You know. And I know. It is priceless. Or, more precisely, there was a cost, but we have never received a bill. The cost of resurrection was born in God’s desire and willingness to live among us, to breathe as one of us, to eat, sleep, love, and learn, to heal, teach, and suffer. To die as one of us. And then God said… that is not enough.
God is nothing, if not extravagant. So resurrection. Not resuscitation. Not just a dead body, breathing again. But a transformation, something more than was before. A shape that is remembered, that recalls what was, but is brought into new possibility, new hope, and new life.
When we think that Easter is just for today, we are limiting ourselves to $3 worth of God. If we believe that transformation happens, but only to other people- that’s $3 worth of God. If we believe we are beyond forgiveness or change- God, I’ll take just $3. If we do not believe that resurrection will have a real and tangible effect on our lives, $3 worth of God.
When we have listened and bought in- hook, line, and sinker- to what the world may well say about us, about our past, about our family, about our race, about our gifts, about our hobbies, about the creation, about the poor… we have accepted only $3 worth of God.
Three dollars gets you an empty tomb. But God is SO MUCH more than that. Grace is more than that. Mercy is more than that. The risen body of Christ, in and among us right now, is beyond pricing. The cost of resurrection has already been paid. It wasn’t a down payment. It wasn’t layaway until we could take over. It’s done. And we are invited into the feast of transformation, of renewed hope, of change lives and possibility, which bring us into new relationships with God and with one another.
God does not limit the availability of resurrection, the opportunity, or the recipients. Do not limit yourself to a taste, to a faint whiff, to one listen. God does not hold back- hasn’t ever and has promised never to do so. We have seen that promise fulfilled in the risen Savior. So trusting in that, we dare to say with Mary Magdalene- “We have seen the Lord”. All around us… and not just $3 worth.