Remember: Why Good Friday Matters as Much as Resurrection Sunday

“On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more.
On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call “ambivalent.” It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.”

~C.S. Lewis,  Miracles

Bury a child and suddenly the death of Christ becomes oh, so personal. The image of Mary at the foot of the cross is too hard to bear.

I trusted Jesus at an early age and I have lived my life beneath the shadow of the wings of the Almighty God.

But I never-not really-grasped the horror of the crucifixion until I watched as my own son’s body was lowered in the ground.

Death. is. awful.

We should hate it-we should long for the day when its black arms no longer claim victims. It reminds us that this world is not what it was created to be.

But one death is also beautiful.

Jesus.

Yeshua-“The LORD saves”.

The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.  

Jesus’ willing obedience to suffer in my place made Him the one and only perfect sacrifice, sufficient for eternity to make relationship possible with His Holy Father.  I can come boldly before the heavenly throne, because I come by His blood.

Good Friday–“good” because now we know that Jesus didn’t stay dead. Good because we know that through His death, burial and resurrection, those who trust in Him have everlasting life.  Good because Christ’s death conquered the power of death.

Don’t rush past this remembrance of the price paid for our rebellion.

Don’t tick off the hours and neglect to embrace the cost of Christ’s compassion.

Don’t fail to linger at the foot of the cross, looking up into the eyes of Love.

Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Psalm 85:10 KJV

 

 

 

 

Maundy Thursday

Today is the day on the church calendar when we pause and reflect on the Last Supper, and the last words of Jesus to His disciples.

A year’s worth of sermons is contained in John 13-17 but this week I have been drawn to just one verse:

[Jesus said] “Now I am giving you a new command—love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, because you have such love for one another.”  John 13:34 PHILLIPS

The Israelites were given circumcision as the sign of the covenant.  The shedding of blood as the mark of belonging.

But Jesus knew His blood would be the final and complete sacrifice required for sin. He knew the debt would be fully paid. And blood would no longer be required.

So a new mark is given, a new seal is declared:  LOVE will be the designation by which others know who belongs to the Father through Christ, His Son.

I look around, and see how far we have fallen from the example and standard Jesus set for those of us who follow Him.

How we are known, not for our love for one another, not for our service to one another, not for our care for one another– but for our divisiveness, our competitive nature, our exclusion, our anger.

Jesus died to make us free from the penalty of sin and death.  But He LIVED to give us an example for LIFE.

Jesus washed the disciples’ feet-He took on a task that was considered the lowest, the most degrading household job and did it with love.

If this is how my Master served, what job can be too menial for me?  What task can be too humbling for me?

The One in Whom all is held together, held the dirty feet of dirty men, who in just a few hours would desert Him.

I look forward to Heaven every day because part of my heart already lives there.

But as long as I am left on this earth, I want to live in love.

I want to reach out with the same heart that my Master has for the lost and hurting and lonely and outcast.

I want it to be obvious to Whom I belong.  

love brother

 

 

Some Days are Like That

I am better able to face the morning than I was in the first days and weeks after Dominic’s death.  I am more adept at laying aside the overwhelming sorrow and focusing on what needs to be done.  I can flash a smile, make small talk, act “normal” and participate in daily activities.

But there are still days….

Days when I cannot think of anything but the fact that he’s gone. Moments when sadness invades my heart and fills my soul. Hours when I just want to find a way to forget that every tomorrow will include the absence of Dominic’s presence and the fullness of joy I once knew before my world included burying a child.

And on those days and in those moments, a quiet word of encouragement can send a piercing ray of hope like a silver light into my heart.  A smile, a nod, a hug or a note can be the thread I hold onto as I struggle to pull myself up from the depths of despair.

I’m not the only one walking around with wounds.  I am not alone in the darkness of pain and heartbreak.

Jesus came to offer hope to the hopeless.  To lift up the downtrodden. To free the captives and open the eyes of the blind:

  The Spirit of the Almighty Lord is with me
    because the Lord has anointed me
        to deliver good news to humble people.
    He has sent me
        to heal those who are brokenhearted,
        to announce that captives will be set free
            and prisoners will be released.

Isaiah 61:1-2 GW

Our Savior walked tenderly among us and did not crush even the most wounded:

“A broken reed He will not break [off]
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish [He will not harm those who are weak and suffering];
He will faithfully bring forth justice.”

Isaiah 42:3 AMP

As we move toward the celebration of life over death, victory over defeat, hope over despair, may each of us be a beacon of light to someone walking in darkness.

May our hands reach out to help, our lips speak mercy and grace and may our hearts be so full of love that it spills out onto everyone we meet.  

Some of us tend to do away with things that are slightly damaged….When we dismiss people out of hand because of their apparent woundedness, we stunt their lives by ignoring their gifts, which are often buried in their wounds.

We all are bruised reeds, whether our bruises are visible or not. The compassionate life is the life in which we believe that strength is hidden in weakness and that true community is a fellowship of the weak.

– Henri J. M. Nouwen

 

Choosing Transparency

I’ve had two conversations in as many days that revolved around how hard it is to be transparent in relationships.

And it seems that the difficulty lies not only in our own desire to present ourselves in a way that casts a positive light on our actions, thoughts and feelings but also because of an unspoken rule in social transactions that demands (and I don’t think “demand”is too strong a word) we conform to the “I’m doing just fine” standard that is prevalent everywhere you turn.

All around me, people are faking life.

They are acting as if there are no hurdles, no burdens, no wounded places in their own hearts.  They run around proclaiming, “this is my best life now!” somehow convinced that if they say it loud enough and long enough it will be true.

But everyone sees what we think we are hiding.

Many know what we think we’re not saying.

And we all walk around, seeing and knowing but never acknowledging the truth:  we are not as strong or as perfect as we wish we were.

All this fake life is costly.  It’s costly to us who try so very hard to keep up appearances-it robs our lives of energy that would be better used in loving and serving others.  It is costly to the people around us because as long as we play the game, they feel like they must play along too.

And everywhere, hurting people hurt alone.  Scared people remain isolated in their fear.

That is not the life Jesus came to give us.  That is not the way to build true community among His called-out ones.  That is not the way to teach our children how to lean into and hold onto the strength and hope that Christ died to bring.

When I lost Dominic, many feelings overwhelmed me-sorrow, pain, disbelief-and, to my surprise, humility.

For the first time in my life it made sense to me why in many cultures bereaved people sit in the dirt and tear their clothes.  Because I remember saying over and over, “I am cast to the ground, and ashes are my food.”

And while that feeling is no longer as strong as it once was, it still echoes in my heart and mind.  I carry it with me wherever I go.  It has freed me from the game of “let’s pretend” that held me hostage to other people’s expectations of how I should act or what I should hide from public view.

Let’s just STOP.

Let’s be honest.

Let’s refuse to hide our scars, our tears, our fears and our failures.

If those of us who love Jesus refuse to acknowledge our weakness, how do we expect others to acknowledge their need for a Savior?

“The Christian often tries to forget his weakness; God wants us to remember it, to feel it deeply. The Christian wants to conquer his weakness and to be freed from it; God wants us to rest and even rejoice in it. The Christian mourns over his weakness; Christ teaches His servant to say, ‘I take pleasure in infirmities. Most gladly …will I…glory in my infirmities’ (2 Cor. 12:9)’ The Christian thinks his weaknesses are his greatest hindrance in the life and service of God; God tells us that it is the secret of strength and success. It is our weakness, heartily accepted and continually realized, that gives our claim and access to the strength of Him who has said, ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness”

― Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ

Making Space for Brokenness at the Table of the LORD

As we enter the week on the Christian calendar when most churches celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I am reminded that often we race past the road that lead to Calvary and linger at the empty tomb.

But to understand the beauty of forgiveness and the blessing of redemption, we MUST acknowledge the sorrow of sin and the burden of brokenness.

When our sacred spaces draw boundaries around what we can bring to the Lord’s Table, we exclude the very ones who are desperate for the bread and cup.  When we treat the path as unimportant and only acknowledge the destination, we discourage those that are struggling to keep up.  When we welcome only the triumphant, we exclude those that are trying.

Let’s throw open the doors to the church and

Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness [remove the obstacles]; Make straight and smooth in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3 AMP)

Let’s invite the outcasts, the limping, the hurting and the broken to the table.

Let’s declare to the wounded that in Christ there is healing!

As I’ve written before: “The truth is that none of us escape hardship in life.  All of us have hidden heartache.  We all have cracks in our polished persona.”

Read more:  Beautiful Broken

 

 

Defining Moments

I recently read a young bereaved mother’s blog post and it saddened me.  She had suffered two pre-term losses and in addition to bearing that pain, she had been pressured to dismiss her babies’ deaths as unimportant.

This grieving mama was told that she was “not defined by her tragedies” and encouraged to “rise above them” and to “move on”.

Along with the natural questions about God that arise in the wake of loss, her believing friends didn’t offer the support she needed to persevere in faith.  She now defines herself as “faith-less”.

I told her I was so very sorry that this was her experience.  And that we ARE defined by our tragedies, just as we are defined by our joyful moments, our exciting moments and our fearful moments.

Only people who have never suffered a great and deeply scarring loss can afford to say something as flippant as that.

I am a wife.  I wasn’t always a wife.

But one day I went into the church in a white dress and walked out of the church a wife. No one would argue that the moment my husband and I stood before God and witnesses didn’t redefine both of us in ways we wouldn’t fully comprehend for years.

I am a mother.  I wasn’t always a mother.

But one day a little life began growing inside me and nine months later, my daughter was in my arms.  Three sons followed soon after. Even though they are all grown and one son lives in heaven, I AM STILL A MOTHER.

I am a college graduate, a Southerner, a shepherd, a follower of Christ–all parts of who I am that were declared in a moment, that define who I am today and will continue to shape who I am tomorrow.

So when my son died suddenly in an accident and a deputy came to my door to give me the news,  it changed me.  It modified who I am and who I will be.

Bereavement became part of the fabric of my life, altered the color of the threads and changed the pattern of the weave. It is impossible to pull out that thread without unravelling the whole cloth.

I can make choices about HOW tragedy will define me, but I can’t pretend it didn’t happen or that it doesn’t affect my very soul.

It’s easier to acknowledge pleasant milestones and moments because they affirm our hope that life will be joyful and happy.  We wear symbols to remind us of them–wedding rings, school rings, crosses–and invite people to share how life has changed because of choices made.

It’s much harder to offer hospitality to the hurting heart.  It takes more energy to listen to the tragic tale.  It requires more understanding to allow a broken soul into our living room and bear witness to the pain.

But the most beautiful art is defined by contrast between light and dark. The most moving music contains major and minor keys.  The most compelling story includes tragedy and triumph.

There are many things that define me and bereavement is only one of them.  But it IS one of them. My life can only be understood by including them all.

SCHeart1-main

 

 

 

 

Brave

I grew up reading and hearing tales of bravery, of one person risking their life for another, of people standing for their convictions and dying because of it.

The first time I read The Hiding Place,  a book about Corrie Ten Boom and her family’s commitment to hide Jews from the Nazis, I cried and cried.

It cost them everything to do the one thing God had called them to do.

As the years rolled by, I learned of personal stories of rushing into burning buildings to save children and of others standing between violence and its intended victim.

All of these people were brave.  All of them put aside fear of their own safety to do the right thing.

But I am here to tell you, some of the bravest people I know are mamas who have buried a child.

It’s one thing to act in an instant-when adrenaline rushes through your veins and pumps extraordinary strength to your muscles and grants clarity to your mind to gather all your nerve and power to jump in and DO SOMETHING.

It is quite another when, without aid of chemical courage, you wake each day to a long list of “to do” items knowing all the while you will be dragging the heavy weight of grief and sorrow everywhere you go.

Brave is the mama that still participates in her surviving children’s birthdays and school plays and graduations and weddings–all the while marking in her heart the child that IS NOT THERE.

Brave is the mama who gets up, gets dressed and walks out the door to work.  The one who manages to lay aside the overwhelming grief load and still get the job done.

Brave is the mama who boxes up what’s left of her child’s belongings, the things that speak of who he was and who he was going to be and lays them aside for another day, when the pain might be less and she can look  at them again.

Brave is the mama with the broken heart who keeps on keeping on-who shows up to church, who goes shopping, who cleans her house, who refuses to give in to the cloud of doom that threatens to undo her.

And the very bravest thing about these mamas is that they know, THEY KNOW, that this side of heaven, there will be no relief, there will be no respite and they have no idea how close they are to the finish line.

courage doesn't always roar

These brokenhearted warriors are committed to continue to love the child they lost and those around them by bravely facing each day as it comes, giving the best they have to give, and persevering until the end.