From Golgotha to the Grave

SepulcroIt’s a long walk from Golgotha to the grave. Not in terms of footsteps or roads or the hours, minutes and seconds that make up a day. Not in terms of anything that is measurable.

It’s a long walk from Golgotha to the grave. In footsteps that drag with grief gone wild. On a road that still recalls the stirring whirring dust devils created by a crowd wanting to see the latest spectacle. In the hours, minutes and seconds when the sky turned black and it seemed the devil had his day.

Bitterness consumes and eats away at joy until it is no longer to be found. Sadness is an anchor that drags a soul under turbulent waters until it is difficult to breathe. Hatred burns away flesh and humanity until nothing is left but unfeeling and uncaring bone. Fear crouches in the shadows of the mind until freedom is mired in the mud.

It’s a long walk from Golgotha to the grave, and a lifetime is lived in the word “until.”

But joy grows in the soul until it blossoms as it finds meaning in sorrow. Faith provides strength and courage until it is no longer needed because its object has become Reality. Hope stirs in the cold heart until bitterness and regret are vanquished. Grace is the wings that hide a wounded soul, heals the brokenhearted, opens the eyes of the blind and makes the lame to walk until all things are made new.

It’s a long walk from Golgotha to the grave, and a lifetime is lived, crucified, dead and buried in the word “until.”

Love overcomes hatred and fear until death itself is no longer the final word. Love burns bright in the darkness until a stone is rolled away. Love destroys barriers until an empty tomb is revealed. Love consumes. Love burns. Love blossoms. Love stirs. Love heals. Love is crucified. Love dies and love is buried. Love frees. Love redeems. Love resurrects. Love dies until all men are drawn to Himself, to LOVE.

It’s a long walk from Golgotha to the grave, and a lifetime is embraced and loved in the word “until.”

Why do you look for the living among the dead? See? The stone itself has been rolled away.

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.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus—In Glory

Happy Easter

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Mary, the Mother of Jesus—In Glory

He died while I stood at his feet. And when they took him down, I held him – my baby, my son – in my arms one last time. I followed with the others as they wrapped him in burial cloths, and I remembered wrapping him in swaddling clothes when he was born. I laid him in the manger; they buried him in the tomb. And when they rolled the stone in front of the tomb, my heart was encased in a stone every bit as heavy.

That Saturday was the longest day I have ever lived through. I remembered the words that generations would call me blessed. How God? How?

My throat was ravaged raw with the tears I had already shed, the agony of wails that felt ripped from my soul. My heart ached, and I wanted to pray, yet no prayers would come. I went into the room that John the Disciple had set aside for me. He was a sweet young man and had taken Jesus’ words from the cross seriously. He would take care of me for as long as I needed. And maybe I could take care of him too. Maybe in some way he could help fill the aching hole that only grieving mothers know. Surely that was what my son had intended.

My son. My son …

The sleep I fell into was deep and dreamless, feeling more like my mind was trying to escape the pain rather than rest.

I don’t know what time it was when I woke, but it was still dark. I could hear rustlings outside as though the birds were starting to stir. Dawn wasn’t far off. My muscles felt heavy and my eyelids dragged downward. I should go to the tomb.

And with the thought came a feeling deep in my belly, like the birth of something great, something wondrous. I remembered how Aunt Elizabeth had said that her baby John had leapt in her womb when he recognized my son Jesus. I felt that way now. Something inside me had leapt. I laid my hand over my stomach.

What could be happening? Could it just be a part of the grief? And yet, there was no denying the little spark that wasn’t grief. I couldn’t explain it.

I could hear commotion downstairs. I walked to the top of the stairs but paused before going down. This wasn’t my house, and I didn’t want to interrupt. I could hear Mary of Magdalene talking excitedly to John. I heard Peter’s voice too. I listened closely for the words. The stone had been rolled away. The tomb was empty. I staggered against the wall and put my hand again on my stomach as I heard her words. The spark roared through me. The tomb was empty.

I turned back to my room, and there he was, shining with life, with the glory of heaven. He didn’t need to speak. My mother’s heart knew it. My son. My Jesus. He didn’t say anything, but he smiled at me and I knew a joy that surpassed everything, even the joy I felt the night he was born.

Simeon said a sword would pierce my soul. It had. I had treasured all these things in my heart. All of them. And it was true – generations would call me blessed. I am blessed.

He is no longer simply my son.

He is my King, my Savior. The Risen One.