Jesus, Take the Wheel!

I have a brother who is twelve years younger than me. He has always been outgoing and gregarious. He worked as an actor and was part of an improv troupe during his university and early work life.  He also appeared in many local television commercials in the Oklahoma City area. As you can imagine, he is very funny and spontaneously witty.

On the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday in 2019 I called him just to have a visit, but he said, “I can’t talk long. I am about to go into my church for Saturday evening Easter services.”  My brother and his family attend a large non-denominational church and they were celebrating with Easter services on both Saturday evening and Sunday morning.  I replied, “Well, I don’t see that it makes any difference whether we worship on Saturday night or Sunday morning. Christ is still risen!”

And then he said the funniest thing I have heard in a long time.  He said, “You know the way I figure it, around this time on Saturday night, Jesus was kickin’ass in the underworld and saying, ‘I’m taking the keys to hell; I am taking the keys to death; and I am taking the keys to the El Camino!’”

I was driving when he said this, and I had to pull my truck over to the side of the road! I had not laughed that hard in recent memory.  I immediately had this image of Christ tearing out of the underworld in a beautifully restored 1973 El Camino with a bittersweet orange paint job, mag wheels, and glass packs.

For weeks after Easter, I laughed every time I thought of that image.  I couldn’t forget it.  I could not get that vision out of my head!

Gradually, I began to think about what that could mean.  What does it mean that Christ took the keys to death and hell – and yes, the El Camino?  I began to think more deeply about what the life of Christ means for me as a believer.  What does the resurrection story symbolize?  What did the sacrifice of Christ mean?  What is the significance of the idea of Christ holding the keys to death and hell?

I believe that Jesus Christ came into the world to show humanity the unfailing and yearning love of the divine for all humanity.  For me, the mission of Christ was to change the thinking of humans about God, not to change the mind of God about humans.  Before the incarnation of Christ, men and women believed the only way to please God was through the law of Moses.  I believe Christ came to fulfill the spirit of that law, to challenge us with the great commandment that we love and show lovingkindness to all our fellow travelers.  For the first time in my life, I thought about what it would be like to live under the idea of the Torah or the law.  The Apostle Paul gives us a hint, from the book of Romans 7:5-6 (NRSV):

While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

I think that my brother provided me with a beautiful image.  Christ took the keys to death and hell, the car, the house, our jobs, and our lives!   Christ freed us from death by the law and opened for us the doors of grace.  Christ gave us the keys to our freedom in Him to live in the spirit of love for God and our fellow men and women.  Thanks be to God who gives us the victory! Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed!

Grace & Peace,

Ray Wheeler, Ph.D.