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.
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.’
If you’ve ever woken in the night only to have every thing you’ve left undone or done poorly or done selfishly line up like pointing fingers across your eyelids then you know the power of shame.
If you, like me, have buried a child, you know the long hours between when you hear the news and can once again touch the earthly shell of your loved one drag on and are fertile ground for what ifs, should haves and could haves.
Shame is a powerful emotion. It declares me unworthy of love, affection and even consideration.
Shame is undoubtedly what drove Peter back to his old fishing habits having denied the Master he swore to love unto death.
And shame can keep me prisoner behind walls of self-protection that aren’t really effective at all.
But I don’t have to accept those feelings, I don’t have to listen to those voices and I don’t have to live behind a stone rolled in front of my past.
Christ died for this…He not only bore my sin but also my shame. He not only died to bear my punishment, He rose to declare the debt has been paid in full!
Jesus did not merely dust me off and iron out a few of the more stubborn wrinkles in my life. He saved me because I was in desperate need of saving. I am alive only because He lives.
Alicia Britt Chole
When the women went to the tomb only to find the stone rolled away and an angel declaring the Good News, their lives were changed in an instant. There was no longer any need to live in the despair of death and fear.
And when I receive the new life God offers me in Christ, I am changed in precisely the same way. It certainly isn’t as earth shattering (literally-there was an earthquake!) nor as dramatic (no angelic visitor here) but it is just as real.
The women didn’t feel like they needed to keep visiting that tomb repeatedly to prove to themselves Jesus had risen. It was fact and they lived in light of what they knew to be true from that moment forward.
I don’t need to keep revisiting my dead sinsand past mistakes either.
Jesus has carried them away.
I am free to live in the resurrected life I share with Him.
Is shame standing watch over any dead things in your life? Jesus died to forgive you-follow His example and forgive yourself. Fast guarding that tomb. Let an earthquake or an angel roll away the stone so that you can see that nothing is there anymore. It is empty. Jesus conquered it. Jesus removed it. All that is there now is light and hope.
If you haven’t watched the body of someone you love lowered into the ground while holding your breath and praying, praying, praying that somehow, some way this isn’t real then maybe you can’t imagine what it feels like not to be spared.
Me? It doesn’t take but a single breath to go from “everything is alright” to “my world is shattered”. I feel every. single. death. added to the tally coronavirus or mass shooting or tornado destruction leaves behind.
And this weekend I add my aunt-the last of my grandmother’s siblings, the last of a generation-to that number.
So what do we do if we aren’t rescued? What do we cling to if our family isn’t spared?
What if all the prayers lifted on behalf of ones I love don’t stop death from claiming them?
When Jesus entered Jerusalem He was hailed as a hero. But when He didn’t perform as expected He was cast aside.
Will I choose to believe even when it’s hard?
So what if I’m not rescued?
What if my family isn’t spared?
What if all the faithful prayers lifted on behalf of ones I love don’t stop death from claiming them?
Will I still believe?
Will I still trust that God is a loving Father who is in control and working all things together for His glory and my good?
We live in a noisy world. If we happen to be in a quiet place, we bring our noise boxes with us our pockets.
Does anyone go anywhere without their phone?
Connectivity invites us to constant interaction with others and only the rare, out of the way, unconnected corner leaves us to contemplate our own thoughts or our own feelings.
Yet we need to seek silence. We need to sit with our inner selves and reflect on the work of Christ in our hearts.
If the enemy forces us to give up quietness, we must not listen to him. For nothing is like quietness and abstinence from food. They combine to fight together against him. For they give keen insight to the inner eyes.
Abba Doulas, c. 3rd Century
Grief is brutal.
Dominic’s death and burial so closely following the pattern of Holy Week has led to superimposing my own experience on that of the disciples and Mary.
When Christ was declared truly dead, taken from the cross and laid in a borrowed grave it surely must have felt as if there was no hope. This Rabbi, this Miracle Worker, this Man of God who claimed to be the Son of God had not stopped evil men from wrongly accusing Him, wrongly convicting Him and wrongly putting Him to death.
I don’t have to imagine how that felt.
Dominic was killed late Friday night/early Saturday morning. Days of silent waiting filled the space between when I knew and when I could finally see his body.
If I could have filled that time with distracting noise I would have.
But there is no sound that can drown out grief.
I often imagine the company of those who loved Jesus sitting silent in a room together each with his or her own thoughts. What was there to say?
Today, Chole invites us to fast our voice-spoken and written-and to make space to hear our own thoughts as well as the still, small whisper of the Lord.
It’s no coincidence that communities honor the fallen with a moment of silence.
In that sacred silence we are drawn together and also forced to face our separate sense of loss, fear, hope-or lack of hope- and mortality. It is an exercise we frequently shun but should instead embrace.
Today I encourage you to sit in silence with your own loss, with the hope and light of the gospel, with the promise that every bad thing, every wicked thing, everything the enemy means for evil will one day be irrevocably and beautifully be undone and redeemed.
Have you ever been silenced by a painting, symphony or play? Have you ever been moved so deeply by an experience that words failed you and the only worthy offering was silence? In fasting our voice we are focusing-not remotely emptying-our minds to behold Jesus with love….Join the disciples today in beholding Jesus in His death.
I love, love, love the song “Reckless Love” but I have friends who find even the title offensive.
I tend not to get into debates with folks over things like that but this is one gauntlet I’m happy to bend down and pick up.
Because the word “reckless” has more than one meaning.
In this instance the lyrics don’t refer to crazy, undisciplined, random action but instead to abundant, overwhelming, extravagant action unrestrained by concern it may be rewarded in any way.
This is the love of God in Christ demonstrated by the cross and resurrection.
It was also the love shown by Joseph of Arimathea when he boldly petitioned Pilate for Jesus’ body, prepared it according to Jewish burial customs and placed it in his own (costly and newly hewn) tomb. By doing so he was declaring Jesus’ death an honorable one-an act that was akin to blasphemy or treason since Jesus had been labelled an enemy of God and of the Roman state.
It was totally reckless.
Joseph risked his reputation and possible his freedom to honor a dead man…Joseph of Arimathea gave Jesus his resting place. It was a treasured, costly space reserved for himself, but Joseph gifted it to Jesus. Further, Joseph gave this risk-laden treasure to Jesus at a time when Jesus could not-from Joseph’s perspective-do anything else for him.
Alicia Britt Chole
I’m ashamed to say that I often withhold love, help and encouragement from others because I deem them unworthy or I fear being taken advantage of.What if they can’t return the investment?
Without getting into a theological debate, Jesus’ sacrifice was and is sufficient for ALL sin. His blood was poured out without regard to merit (because for whom would He have then died?). His love IS reckless-abundant, overwhelming, extravagant-without concern for whether or not it will be reciprocated.
And this same love is poured out on me and can be poured out through me if I respond to the Spirit’s call.
So today’s fast is withholding.
What part of my heart or life am I withholding from the One who died to save me?
What gift has He extravagantly given that I am hoarding?
Where am I damming up His goodness, mercy, grace and love instead of pouring it out on others?
Joseph’s actions stir something within me: an ache possible too deep for words….Whatever part of me I have reserved for me-for my self-I long to give it away to Jesus. When we offer to Jesus the place we have reserved for ourselves, He surprises us by filling that space with His resurrected life. By offering his resting place to Jesus, Joseph transformed a tomb from a place of death for himself into a place of victory for his God.
Chole identifies several groups that were in proximity to Jesus as He was dying on the cross.
Perhaps two people were silenced by grief or gently sobbing.
The others were taunting Him, mocking Him and reveling in His [apparent] inability to save Himself or be rescued by the Father He claimed close connection to.
They had no idea that His death was a last act of willing submission and laying aside of His power, position and possible retribution against those who had put Him there.
Love held Him to the cross-not nails or impotence.
So today I fast criticism.
I will fast judging others based on half-truths or even whole ones that cast them into a role other than as an image-bearer of our God.
Every single person I meet is bearing up under some kind of burden. Every face I see has an untold story behind the smile, frown, scowl or tears.
And every single human being is known and loved by the God who made them and the Savior who died to redeem them.
Today, fast criticism. From the clerk moving slowly to the homeless vet on the streets, consider carefully that Jesus knows them by name. Today, seek to know more, assume less, and air prayers for Jesus’ ‘least of these’ boldly in the presence of your shared Father God.
Alicia Britt Chole
**As promised, I am sharing thoughts on 40 DAYS OF DECREASE (a Lenten journal/devotional). If you choose to get and use the book yourself, I’ll be a day behind in sharing so as not to influence anyone else’s experience. **
I’ll just be completely honest here-there are some sins I don’t have much trouble avoiding. I’m not tempted to shoplift or physically harm others.
However, like all of us I have some pet sins I not only don’t avoid but I actually feed from time to time.
And like most folks, I justify my sin as “small” compared to the “big” sins of headline worthy wars or crimes or dastardly actions by those in power over those beneath them.
Why linger in the pain so many centuries after Christ’s resurrection? Because it was real. Perhaps we would live differently if we remembered more frequently (and more accurately) what the cross cost.
Alicia Britt Chole
The thing is, any time I choose to willfully so something God has expressly forbidden I am sinning.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus enlarged our understanding of sin to include thoughts and intentions of the heart even when our outward actions appear above board.
By this standard I fall short very often-sometimes by slipping into inadvertent sin but also sometimes by actively choosing that which momentarily satisfies my flesh but dishonors my Savior.
After Dom ran ahead to Heaven it was very, very hard to justify to my heart the benefits of continuing to walk the narrow path.
I was focused on what I thought was unfair and unkind-the death of my son-and found it difficult to focus on what I knew to be true-that God was all-loving and good.
‘It’s God who ought to suffer, not you and me,’ say those who bear a grudge against God for the unfairness of life. The curse word expresses it well: God be damned. And on that day, God was damned. The cross that held Jesus’ body, naked and marked with scars, exposed all the violence and injustice of this world. At once, the Cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness, a God of sacrificial love.
Little by little, as I leaned heavily into His lovingkindness, mercy and grace, I once again could chooseWillful Obedience.
Today’s challenge is to fast from willful sin.
To lay down my tendency to arrange sin in categories ranging from “acceptable” to “hell-worthy” which makes some OK and excusable.
May I be more aware of the cost Christ paid and choose to honor that sacrifice in my daily life.
Jesus died for our sin. Why then do we work to keep it alive? What benefit do we perceive ourselves receiving? Does that benefit outweigh the cost Christ paid? This is not a simplistic call to stop sinning. No, this is a sincere call for us to start loving Jesus to a degree that compels us to walk away from sin where we can and get help where we can’t.