“The worst conceivable thing has happened, and it has been mended…All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” ~Julian of Norwich
I’m not sure when I first read this quote, but it came to my mind that awful morning. And I played it over and over in my head, reassuring my broken heart that indeed, the worst had already happened, and been mended.
Death had died.
Christ was risen-the firstfruits of many brethren.
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.’
We began this journey forty days ago with the idea “Decrease is only holy when its destination is love” (Alicia Britt Chole).
The aim of Lent or any other period of fasting or self-denial is not to thin our waists but to thin our self-reliance and our self-importance to make room for the power and sustaining grace of Jesus-to open our hearts and our souls to His love.
When I force myself to face my own helplessness to sweep away sin, sift through selfishness and sort out bad habits and unholy thoughts I realize how utterly dependent I am on the work Christ wrought on the cross.
Listen, I can’t explain my actions. Here’s why: I am not able to do the things I want; and at the same time, I do the things I despise. 16 If I am doing the things I have already decided not to do, I am agreeing with the law regarding what is good. 17 But now I am no longer the one acting—I’ve lost control—sin has taken up residence in me and is wreaking havoc.18 I know that in me, that is, in my fallen human nature, there is nothing good. I can will myself to do something good, but that does not help me carry it out. 19 I can determine that I am going to do good, but I don’t do it; instead, I end up living out the evil that I decided not to do.
Romans 7: 15-19 VOICE
So today I am celebrating the fact-the historical, spiritual and eternalFACT-that everything necessary for life and liberty and hope and eternal salvation has been accomplished.
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again.
Dominic is dead. His body lies a mile down the road and six feet under the earth.
But that’s not the end of his story.
His spirit is alive with Christ and one day his body will be resurrected in glory.
And one day-one glorious Day-“every sad thing will come untrue” (Child’s Storybook Bible).
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.
Once the stone was rolled in front of the tomb there was no more denying the fact that whatever the disciples thought Jesus was going to do was not at all what He did.
None of them thought the story was going to end like this and yet here they were having buried their Master and their dreams.
Most of us can relate to a time when we thought our dreams were God’s dreams and we were on the path to victory only to round the next bend and head straight to defeat-or worse.
The eternal weight of the space between Jesus’ death and resurrection will only be known on the other side of this life, for the scriptural references are filled with both majesty and mystery. Though Jesus’ full assignment in those days is beyond comprehension, the disciples’ disillusionment is not.
Alicia Britt Chole
It can be tempting to try to distract our hearts from the pain of failure, dashed dreams, death, rejection or other hard-to-process feelings.
But that’s not how to heal.
If we pay close attention to what the disciples did in the wake of Jesus’ death, we see modeled a better way:
They gave themselves permission to bury the dream. It’s important to acknowledge and commemorate loss. That’s one of the reasons we have societal rituals surrounding death. It’s not about hopelessness, it’s about accepting reality. A heart needs to mark these moments.
They returned home to rest. “Rest is essential-a need, not a luxury” (Chole, 204). So often we seek frantic activity when faced with loss. We move our bodies in hopes it will distract our minds. But it never works. We may be able to push off the pain for a time yet it won’t be ignored forever. It’s so much better to give our bodies and souls the rest they need so we can process pain from a place of relative strength rather than exhaustion.
They didn’t isolate themselves. The disciples remained in community with one another. They intentionally maintained relationships. It is so easy to look for the nearest corner where we can lick our individual wounds. But telling, retelling and sharing our sorrow creates space for mutual healing.
Most of us will not see the resurrection of our dreams within three days. In fact, some of our dreams are sown for future generations to reap. Even then, obedience is never a waste; it is an investment in a future we cannot see. When we dream with God, our dreams-even in burial-are not lost; they are planted. God never forgets the ‘kernel of wheat [that] falls to the ground and dies’ (John 12:24).
What grows from that painful planting is God’s business. But sowing in faith is ours and, like the early disciples, our faithfulness is never sown in vain.
Alicia Britt Chole
When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, part of me wanted to run away too. There were moments when I thought if I could just get started and keep going I’d reach someplace where the pain couldn’t reach me.
But that simply isn’t true.
I had to face the fact my son wasn’t coming home. I had to face the reality that I’d live the rest of my life in expectant hope, waiting for the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to redeem and restore.
Like that kernel of wheat, I had to choose to plant my dreams in the soil of God’s faithful love, extravagant grace and abundant mercy, trusting Him to make them grow.
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.