Easter Devotion

ImageThere is a saying I’ve seen a few times on Facebook: “If life doesn’t break you today, don’t worry. It will try again tomorrow.” And in the end, it seems, brokenness wins. Like a contagious disease, it has visited all of us. Like a thief, it robs us of peace, of joy, of life. For some of us, it has visited very recently, and we turn our tear-stained faces to heaven and hold our empty hands to God and ask why.

Jesus has been dead for three days. The “problem,” according to the religious leaders, has been taken care of. Jesus has been dead for three days. It was expedient for them for Jesus to die. It was necessary. In fact, it was necessary for US as well for Jesus to die. And Jesus has been dead for three days.

Brokenness. We talk about brokenness and what that means, of what we can expect from brokenness, of what beautiful stories, strong faith and dependence on God may come through the anguish of brokenness. And we have found that we are not alone. Our Lord was broken.

Like all of us, Jesus suffered and endured brokenness. Isaiah tells us in a prophecy about Jesus that he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, that he was smitten and afflicted, pierced and crushed. He endured what St. John of the Cross called the dark night of the soul. Have you felt like that? Have you felt plunged into a darkness that will never end? Do you long to cry out, but your mouth is filled with sand?

Jesus has been dead for three days.

And so we join Mary on an early morning journey to the tomb. We know what it feels like to walk that road with Mary. Her heartbreak is universal. The reality of brokenness, despair, and grief are as near as the loss of loved ones, the heartache of children with disabilities, the failure of our marriages, the sinking feeling of never quite measuring up to our own expectations, and the deep grief of death. Mary’s sorrowful walk that Sunday morning is our walk on many a morning.

But whatever else is to be said, it is clear that the grave is not the end, that the tomb does not have the final say.

A shaft of light breaks through the darkness. Mary struggles to believe, not knowing what to make of the empty tomb, of a message that brings hope to her aching heart, of her Most Loved One calling her name. Mary!

We are so like her that at times it is painful. We believe, and yet we are overwhelmed with grief and loss. We believe, and yet we mourn at how awful the world is and how pointless some things seem. We believe … and yet we are not sure.

Our path of faith is similar to Mary’s as well. At the tombs of our life the risen Lord calls our names. Lift your head when brokenness, despair, and deep grief settle in and defeat seems sure. Look for the victory of Christ. It is at hand. You are His, you are engraved on the palm of His nail-scarred hand, and He will never let you go.

Death is defeated. Brokenness is defeated. Oh, to be sure, they are real. But they are not the end. The story is not finished. Through the victory of Christ who was broken FOR US, we are not alone.

On Friday, Jesus said, “It is finished,” and the temple curtain that separated sinful man from his holy God was torn in two.

On Sunday, the stone at the tomb was rolled away and He calls our names. It is the beginning.


Between Celebrations

crown of thornsWe just finished Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem and the beginning of Holy Week. Next Sunday, we celebrate Easter, commemorating of course Jesus’ resurrection. But between the two celebrations are days of incredible pain, heavy sorrow, nerve-wracking fear and almost unbearable grief.

They huddle in a dark room, this small band of brothers who have lost their beloved leader, teacher, Master and friend. They don’t dare light candles to chase away the shadows, and they start in fear at every footfall outside. Have they been discovered? Are the soldiers coming for them? Tension fills the air and sometimes breaks out in whispered accusations. Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you say something? Gazes drop in shame. Why didn’t I say something? Why did I run away?

Where is Judas? They have heard rumors that he killed himself. Good! some of them think. I’m glad he’s dead, that thieving, scheming betrayer. And yet he is missed. He had been one of them. He had been a brother. And yet because of his actions, their friend is dead, their friend who taught them to call Jehovah Daddy, who had multiplied the loaves and fishes, who had healed limbs and calmed the storm.

One of them remembers the taunts at the cross. “He saved others but he can’t save himself!” and he tries hard to push the hate-filled voice out of his head and yet like the serpent in the garden, it slithers into his soul and lodges there. “He saved others but he can’t save himself!” The words are joined by another mournful wail, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” He knows he is the only one here who heard that cry, and yet he can’t tell anyone that. So in this roomful of brothers, he sits and mourns and feels more alone than he has ever felt in his life.

Where is hope? Where. Is. Hope. To him, to the other 10 in the room, it seems that hope died when Jesus did.

Shadows deepen. Life is dark. Even today, we huddle together and face the dark. “In this world you will have trials and tribulations, but take heart,” He said. “I have overcome the world.” But at times, those seem like hollow words. “I will never leave you or forsake you.” But at times, we feel alone and and we feel forsaken. We fumble in the dark for a hand to hold, to somehow believe that we are not alone, that our grief will be comforted, that our tears will be wiped away. And so we gather up the tatters of our faith again like an old woman gathers up yarn to knit a blanket.

We live in the shadow of hope, we dwell in the shadow of the cross. Today, it’s Friday. It’s filled with pain, with overwhelming grief, with fearful doubt and crushing sorrow.

Today, it’s Friday. But Sunday is on the way.

An Enemy

Jesus in the Garden, from The Passion of the ChristThink of the miracles of Jesus. What is the first miracle that comes to your mind? Put yourself in that miracle. Picture yourself as the one witnessing that miracle. Jesus walking on the water. Turning water into wine. Calming a storm. Healing the man born blind. Raising Lazarus. Picture yourself as the one receiving the miracle. Eating the bread that Jesus multiplied. Having your disease healed. Sailing on a sea that is suddenly calm.

There are 37 miracles of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, all but one of them occurring before the crucifixion. 37 miracles. In the miracles of healing, Jesus was almost always responding to someone asking for healing. The Centurion asked Jesus to heal his daughter. Peter asked Jesus to heal his mother-in-law. A mother asked Jesus to cast demons out of her son.

But there is one miracle that doesn’t generally come to our minds. It is the last miracle Jesus performed before the crucifixion. Put yourself in this miracle.

You are the servant of a well-respected religious leader, the high priest. You have grown up knowing the laws, following them, respecting and obeying those who teach the laws. But lately you have been hearing about a rebellion beginning. It surrounds a man named Jesus from Nazareth. The leaders you have always respected, served and obeyed fear him. And hate him. This man, this Jesus is an enemy to all you hold dear and everything you have known. He breaks laws, including the most sacred Sabbath laws, and he encourages others to do the same.

And now the high priest and other religious leaders have found a way to trap this man, this Jesus. You are one of the first to volunteer to go with the authorities and have him arrested. As you march through the streets, you feel the righteousness in you build. You are doing right; you are not only the servant of the high priest, but the servant of God.

It is in the Garden of Gethsemane that you find him and a few of his upstart followers. Vaguely you are aware of the betrayer greeting Jesus, and you nominally hear Jesus say, “Must you betray me with a kiss?” This fades into the background for you, because you are focused on the small band of men and the confusion and the shouts and the anger and the fear and the fact that one of them has drawn a sword and a sudden blaze of speed and you hear the air whooshing by your ear before you hear nothing at all and the agony streams from the right side of your head and the shrieks you hear seem to come from far away but it is you who is screaming as your own sword drops and you clap your hand to where your ear had been and it comes away sticky with the wetness of the blood that looks black in the dark and once-peaceful garden.

“Put your sword away!” Jesus’ command to his disciple comes buzzing through the blur of pain and blood. And Jesus reaches out and touches your ear. The bleeding stops as bone grows and skin stretches over cartilage. Pain, which had been so mind-numbingly intense and real, is now only a memory, already fading. You are healed. But you are his enemy! You as much as your master want him dead. And yet, he touched you. He healed YOU, his enemy. Words that this man, this Jesus had said come back to your mind: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” and “Whenever you stand praying, forgive.”

This man, this Jesus, is practicing what he has so often said. He is forgiving his enemies. He is forgiving YOU.

This was the last miracle of Jesus before He was crucified and hung on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, the forgiveness of OUR sins. His last miracle was a miracle of not only healing but of love, of forgiveness, of reaching out to love and forgive an enemy. We place ourselves in that enemy’s place, knowing that all of us do in fact stand in the place of the man whose ear Jesus healed, for we have been enemies of God, and we have been forgiven. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”