Contradictions and opposites

On February 14th this year we had what appeared a strange contradiction–a day full of sweets and greeting cards professing love with lots of big red hearts, but also a day featured by black cross-shaped smears on foreheads marking our humanity, a sober reminder that we will all someday die and return to ashes. Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day seem to be polar opposites. Actually, the ashes mark our need for the biggest heart, for a love that won’t let go, or let us go.

That day launched the Lenten Journey with the one walking toward death. Another contradiction? Rather than a downer, this journey can warm our hearts with sunlight that never ends.

This year, rather than focus on “giving up” for Lent, I felt drawn to “so much more.” Going in deeper. Spending more time with the one who hovers between both worlds and offers a hand to us who are mired in here and now.

Along the way, I spoke with a friend about the sense of holiness, the glimpse of eternity we may experience when we sit with a loved one in their last days. The line between this earthly life and eternity seems to blur as we usher them into the kingdom. When the end finally comes, it can be hard, even jarring, to leave behind the empty body and walk outside into the sunlight, drive into the traffic or stop at the grocery store, go back to “normal life.”

Eternity colliding with here and now, the opposites can physically shock us.

Palm Sunday, branches waving and hosannas bursting made me wonder if what we really want is jolly old St Nick to come riding in and give us everything on our wish list. (Good for us, he never does. In spite of another strange cultural juxtaposition on Christmas, Santa Claus and Jesus have nothing in common.)

As we leave the bright light of the procession, the Holy Week readings begin and we enter the gloom of betrayal.

Can you imagine a companion you have shared everything with for three years, day in and day out, going behind your back, taking a bribe and turning you over to enemies who want to kill you?

Can you imagine your closest friends falling asleep when you beg them to help you through your hardest time?

Can you imagine being lied about, tried without representation, spit upon, mocked, then suffering hours of beatings meant to kill you, all before the real torture begins—-for nothing you ever did, nothing you could ever deserve?

Where’s the justice in all that?

That leads to Good Friday. How can a day of death, especially an unjustified death, be good? How can we celebrate it year after year, and wear shiny crosses commemorating the worst form of execution?

In another strange contradiction, Jesus endures the horrendous in order to save us from the worst that we deserve.

And from ourselves.

Though we may work or love and care, serve or give, in spite of lovely and loving moments, we are always circumscribed by our selfishness. No matter what we face in our circumstances, isn’t our greatest enemy always within?
No matter how hard we try to do better, or how far we may run to escape, we are always contained by who we are.

When Jesus died, the reports says the sky turned black. The huge, heavy curtain in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies from the mass of worshippers was ripped open. From top to bottom.

The death of Jesus, God-Man tore apart the barrier that confined us within ourselves and our weaknesses. He opened the way for us to be the person we are truly created to be. To live as we were designed to live.

Then, sometime in the grave, all the molecules of that dead, human body were realigned, revitalized and given a new form. A resurrected body brought hope for us. Healing for us. New life now, and when we die as well.

This year, compounding the paradoxical days, Easter coincides with April Fools Day.

How grateful I am there is no rude surprise here, and that I don’t have to live the fool.

With the ultimate contradiction, death gives life.

This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived.
He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.
He never did one thing wrong, Not once said anything amiss.
They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right.
He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way.
His wounds became your healing.
You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going.
Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls
.

1 Peter 2:21‭-‬25 MSG

Where has your journey led you?

The long dark week of Lent

The long dark week of Lent

Many are in the midst of a time of hurt, loss, despair or death. Hanging on throughout the forever-three long days and nights of dark emptiness. Much of the Christian church begins the final week of Lent recalling Jesus’ seemingly triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday. How quickly the high of the disciples dissipated into betrayal, fear, and death.

Like the travelers in the airport in Brussels, life can change in an instant, the light blown out.

For others the journey is a slow crawl in a dark tunnel.

Last week, a dear sister laid her mother to rest from a form of dementia that makes Alzheimer’s seem benevolent. I know personally that the horror of the last years of her mother’s life don’t prevent heartache at losing her.

For all who feel like their own Lent will go on forever, that the darkness will never end, I want to share what she wrote on Facebook. (with permission – emphasis mine)

Cecelia Timberlake March 19 at 8:45 pm · A faith perspective of my mom’s death and LENT

This Lent has truly been a desert time for our family, for me, even when surrounded by others, a time without comfort knowing mom was so sick, a time for searching and praying for healing, and a time of preparation. This Lent saying goodbye to the woman who brought me into the world seemed impossible. I fought letting go of mom, resisting with all of my heart. This is my mother, our mother, grandmother, great grandmother and we all fought fiercely to keep her here.

The only way out of this desert is to let the love of Jesus be our guide. His Love dictated the path, the timing, the direction, and prepared the way. Mom was in the desert with us for a while. We ultimately had to let her go, surrender her to our Father.

This Lent I felt weaker than ever, but needed strength. I felt more alone than ever but needed support. I felt emptied of love but needed more love. I felt directionless but needed a compass.

This I know:
Jesus came out of the desert renewed, and He is my example. He tells us He will guide us, love us, strengthen us, quench our thirst, and give us guidance. He will show me and fill me with sustenance. He has great plans for us.

I imagine her walking forward, holding up her arms and smiling, seeing my dad and immediately feeling great joy. I can see him taking her hand and moving forward to greet her sisters Nita and Mildred, and brother Johnnie, I imagine the welcoming party of her mom and dad. Her son. Her friends. Her grandson. Oh, her joy.

THAT’S IT! THAT is the way out. Focus on mom being happy, being whole, enjoying being loved! Focus on her enthusiasm at having memories and the glory of Heaven. No more pain! No more imprisoned in her mind and body. Sometimes after a long dry wait, the rain comes and overnight the whole desert blooms in beautiful flowers. I think mom is in the midst of beauty now, Gods beauty.

Our church reenacts the final Passover Meal that Jesus ate with his friends and washed their feet. We read about his leading them to the garden to pray — he alone in agony when they all fell asleep. In that garden, before one of his friends betrayed him with a kiss, Jesus faced his own his brutal death and separation from God. Alone.

He knows the void of the desert. He knows what the long dark feels like. 

But there is more. So much more.

That night he suffered terrible abuse, cruelty, mockery and rejection, all on the way to “Good” Friday, his torturous death on a cross.

Then to his burial.

His tomb sealed with a stone that took at least ten men to roll in place, everything looked totally hopeless.

But there is more!

On the third day the brave ones found the tomb open, grave clothes undisturbed where they had laid his body. But he wasn’t there.

He arose! Jesus overcame death and darkness.

In this new life he made a way for us out of the wilderness.

Out of the darkness.

When it feels like all is lost, or not worth going forward, I do as Cecelia did. I recall what I know to be true. What God has done for me in the past. What I know of him. What he has promised. And recall that when I am weak, he is strong.

Then I throw myself into his love.

Wishing you the true Light, Joy and Peace.

 

 

 

 

Is this a Good Friday for you?

cross in dish by EZ
cross in dish by EZ

Isaiah 53:1-6 The Message

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.

But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.

We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.

But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!

He took the punishment, and that made us whole.

Through his bruises we get healed.

We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.

We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.

And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,on him, on him.

crosses in dish by EZ
crosses in dish by EZ