Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Not so Fluffy Bunnies

Somewhere along the way – I’m not sure when – Easter has become about sweet little fluffy bunnies, brightly colored eggs, chocolate and springtime. And while some of those things probably have their roots in spiritual things….or we can at least derive spiritual meaning from them, they’re not what Easter is about.

Easter is gory and painful. It’s bloody and tragic. Easter is about questions and confusion. Easter is about loss and betrayal – about loneliness and heartache. Easter is sorrow and suffering.  And, then – only then – is it redemptive and glorious.

In our rush to get to the glory of the empty tomb, we sidestep the biggest piece of the story.

 Imagine the disciples fear as they watched as Jesus was arrested. Jesus, the one whom they’d followed, the one whom they’d left their livelihoods for – was dragged away by the Roman guards, at night time, with their one time friend, Judas, leading the way! What confusion! What fear!

Imagine the panic of Peter when he was connected to Jesus and the acrid taste of bitterness on his tongue when that rooster crowed.

Imagine the anguish of Mary Magdalene as she watched her Savior – the only one who’d seen her and not what she’d done – bloodied and beaten beyond all recognition.

Imagine the immense sorrow of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Yes, she’d known along who her son was. She knew what the prophets said and she knew this day was coming. Still – she was a mother and that man in agony was the baby that she’d felt move with in her. He’d nursed at her breast. He was the one who she drilled the Torah into at the dinner table. She’d calmed his fears, dried his tears, and held him close. And now, she watched in helpless horror as her boy was cruelly murdered.

Imagine Simon of Cyrene who was accosted and made to carry a criminal’s cross. When he looked into the eyes of Jesus, did he know that Jesus was no criminal? Was he haunted by that look of love? The one that said, “I’m doing this for you.”

Imagine Joseph – a “secret” disciple who gave his tomb for Jesus to be buried in. Did he wish he hadn’t been so secret? Did he live with the regret of “if only?”

And John. What about John? The beloved one. The one charged with the responsibility to take care of Mary. Did he feel guilt that his Savior was dying in his place? Did he wish he’d had more time to learn from the Master?

And, those are just some of the major players that we know about. I wonder if the brothers of Jesus felt guilt because they’d refused to believe their brother’s claims. I wonder about all the people that Jesus had healed who knew that was every bit the God he claimed to be. Think about all the people at the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000. How many of them felt that hope and light was dying right along with Jesus?

Then came Saturday. For Jesus’ family, friends, and followers it was the first time he’d ever be silent in their lives. I’ve been there – the day after someone you love dearly dies and has been buried. You wake up and for the first millisecond, you don’t remember the horror or tragedy or loss. Your brain lets you believe that it’s all a bad dream – for a split second in time. Then you look around, realize it’s not a bad dream and the sad settles into every part of your soul. You long for the power to change the past, to rewind, to not feel. Grief is a trap that you can’t break free from; a panic that gropes for the breath within you.

Some of them probably thought it was over for good and Jesus was gone. Others probably replayed conversations in their mind about death, resurrection, temples and all the other times that it seemed that Jesus was talking in riddles. Could it be that he wouldn’t stay in the tomb? But, with every passing hour he stayed in that grave hope slipped away and people that loved Jesus and whom he dearly loved grew more desperate for answers.

Have you been there, my friend? Are you there? Is it Friday when the tragedy, the sorrow has settled into every part of your soul? Is it Saturday when the waiting is agonizing and you really don’t think you can breathe – or wait – one more second? I have been stuck on Friday for many long dark nights. Even now, I’m in the Saturday of my soul, waiting for the answers I long for. Asking, if please, You could just fix this thing and make it better.

Friday and Saturday are miserable. There’s no doubt about it. But, here’s the thing; the sorrow of those two days make the glory of Sunday so much more sweet! Without Friday and Saturday, they never would have seen Jesus has the resurrected Son of God. Without Peter’s anguish and redemption, the church would have never been birthed. Without Friday and Saturday, Jesus would have just been a guy who told some really good stories and did some pretty cool stuff. Victory without defeat is not possible!

Yes, my friend, Friday and Saturday are long, horrible days. But Sunday is coming!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

When His Way Leads to the Sea

Thy way was in the sea, and Thy paths in the mighty waters – and Thy footprints may not be known.” Psalm 77:19

           That verse is both comforting and unfathomable in the same sentence. It is comforting in that His way for the children of Israel (and for us, for that matter) was always in the sea. He didn’t lead them to the Red Sea with the mighty Egyptian army charging behind them and think, “Oh, crap! Now what am I gonna do?”

            He, in His infinite wisdom, led them to the sea. He led them to the place where the wind picked up and thrust the sea into two ominous walls of water. That was His way. His choice. That is unfathomable to me because He could have chosen a path that didn’t lead to the Red Sea. After years of hardship, slavery, and the wrath of Pharaoh it would seem that His children had suffered enough. One would think that God would have been content to whisk them away from the slavery of Egypt right into the promised land.

            But, instead He led them to a place where the sea stretched out in front of them as far as the eye could see and the pursuing Egyptian army spread out behind them as far as the eye could see. You can almost sense their panic. Yes, Egypt and its hardships were awful, but in the moment where they surely thought they faced death in the most unpleasant way, it couldn’t have seemed so bad.

            But then, God tells Moses to stretch out his hand and divide the sea. And, Moses, chock full-of-faith, saw God in the burning bush, used my staff to usher in the ten plagues Moses, watches while God parts the sea and stares in amazement at the dry ground beneath his feet. That must have been an incredible moment, and I’m sure a moment that Moses, not in a million years, would want to rewrite. It was a stepping stone of his faith, it was a story that would be passed down to his sons, and their children, and their children. Down through the ages it would be a story of God’s glory showing up in a guy with a speech impediment and a pretty sturdy staff.

            It a great story. Really, it is.

            But it leaves me with a lot of questions.

            Why did He need to take them through the sea? I mean, let’s be honest. While walking through the sea had to been pretty awesome, it also had to be scary. I’m going to tell you right now that at least once – maybe even twice – I would have thought about what would happen if that water came crashing in around me.

            Why did they have to go to the sea at all? Surely 400 plus years of captivity and abusive slavery had been enough trials for one set of people. After all their years of their slave song and crying out for God to send some one rescue them, He sets them free from the grip of Pharaoh…….and sends them to the sea? Seems to me they’d had enough of God testing their faith. In Exodus 3, God tells Moses that He has heard the cries of His children for help. He says He knows all about their suffering and that He has come to rescue them. Then He tells Moses all about a land flowing with milk and honey. I’m willing to bet as Moses stood there at the sea with the Egyptians hot on their tails, Moses must have thought, “What was that about a land flowing with milk and honey, Lord?”

            Yes, what about that? Why does it seem that the path to the promise is always filled with more heartache, hardship, and dashed hopes than we think we are capable of bearing?

            Oh, yes – it’s because we were never meant to bear it on our own.  It says so in that verse you learned before you were old enough to remember learning it, Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Through Christ who gives me strength.

            His paths lead in the water because without them, we’d have this crazy idea that the grace, mercy, and goodness He bestows upon us has something to do with us. It doesn’t. His paths lead to the swirling seas with fear chasing us because that is where we find just how big our God is. Sometimes we don’t see His footprints because we are too focused on our own and whether or not the path is leading the way we think it should.

            Yes, His way leads to the sea and very often into the wilderness and sometimes I can not trace His footprints in the sand even though I try. But, what more proof do I need that I can follow Him? He did, after all, part the Red Sea.