Dark Saturday?

This long Lent is grinding to a close. The only triumphal processions last Sunday, Palm Sunday in the western church, were virtual. Some individuals placed palm fronds on their front doors. I didn’t even make it that far, though I intended to. That about sums up a lot since we’ve been sheltering in place. Way more intentions than actions, it seems, like old dreams, where my feet won’t move.

I hear from some who are bored. Others juggle full-time jobs while helping kids focus on tons of schoolwork passed on by remote meetings with teachers. Many have too much time and perhaps less energy, or no good way to dissipate it. Some are dealing with lost work and pay, others even lost businesses. Many are alone and isolated. A dear friend of mine whose husband is in skilled nursing care is only able to “visit” him on Facetime, whenever the staff has time to schedule her in. He is declining rapidly without her daily visits and her touch.

So much heartache.

No one close to me has lost a life to COVID-19, so far. But that guillotine blade hovers above us all, doesn’t it? Whether you or a loved one is a healthcare worker or first responder (thank you), we all feel the threat.

Even as we grieve the loss of plans, family time together, recreational facilities shut down, difficulty getting food and necessities then going through all the steps to decontaminate everything, we feel the ominous presence of disease and death. While I am glad to see neighbors I don’t know out riding bikes or walking, who are normally off and gone in their cars every day, I can’t help wondering who will still be here when it’s all over.

I’m getting pretty dark, not the way I usually go looking for glimpses of peace. But that is what I see outside the window I’m tired of looking through.

Today as I write this, it is the Saturday after Good Friday, when the Hope of all Hopes bleed and suffocated on the cross. When he died, the day turned as dark as night. He was laid in a cave grave by a few crushed but faithful followers – all their hopes dashed.

Most of his disciples had already scattered, off in complete despair to hide from the Roman soldiers, their only hope to avoid a similar death.

I wonder if his mother and the other women who stood at the foot of the cross and braved his brutal death sheltered together after they took his body down, weeping into each other’s arms as they mourned the loss of everything good in their lives.

Everything they had counted on. Trusted in. Planned on.

Do you feel that, too, as you erase events and plans from your calendar? As birthdays pass without parties? Celebrations for years of work are canceled? Trips put on a very long hold, or given up on altogether?

Does it feel like everything that orients your day has been pulled out from under your feet?

Some days, does the grief get heavier as the day drags on?

Even though Lent is ending, we are stuck in the in-between-time. All creation seems to be holding its breath. (We can’t even get a good rain here in usually very wet Florida!)

Our feet are trapped in a time when normal life is a fading memory and we can’t begin to guess what tomorrow is.

No certainty.

No sunlight on the horizon.

But wait. There’s more. (Did you ever think you’d want to read these words from those annoying commercials?)

There is always more when I stop looking at my feet and worrying about why they won’t move.

I will try one more step, this time looking up.

This time, I will recall the truth I know, and use my imagination to let the light in.

On Easter morning, when the women went at dawn to anoint the dead body of Dashed Hopes, they found what they never expected.

Life beyond anything they’d ever experienced.

So much more than a stable home and income, possessions, even more than family.

They could draw in deeper breaths of life than they’d ever known before. They could sing notes they’d never heard before. They could dance steps they never conceived of. They could love with abandon in a fullness they’d never dared to dream.

And they had the certainty that His plans are good!
https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/JER.29.11/23013?version=116

Ever since He left that grave, He has been bringing life and light to anyone who will look up. Anyone who will respond when he calls their name.

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it in abundance to the full, till it overflows. John 10:10 AMP 
I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in, adheres to, trusts in, relies on Me as Savior will live even if he dies; and everyone who lives and believes in Me as Savior will never die. Do you believe this?” JOHN 11:25 AMP 
“Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.   Rev 1:18

Dear reader, I am praying for you, that you will be strengthened as you need it.

Would you like to share what is bringing the light for you?

From dust thou art

On the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, I watched rows of people go up to the altar and return with ashes on their foreheads. I pondered the power of that corporate act, all of us in effect proclaiming together that we desperately need redemption, and we know where to find it. I also noticed that the black smudges on each forehead were distinctly different, varied by who was applying it, whether the recipient wore glasses or had bangs, stayed still or moved, probably even the shape of their foreheads. No two ash crosses were the same. While Lent began with a significant gathering, shared by many throughout the western Christian church, it is also very individual, experienced distinctly by every Christian, depending on our interaction with God as well as the details of our lives, histories, and personalities.

Now, suddenly, with the abrupt shutting down of so much of the world to try to contain the spread of COVID-19, we are thrust into a singular observance of Lent, whether we wanted it or not.

We have an opportunity to see it not so much as enforced isolation, but as an invitation to shalom, and a call to a deep time of Sabbath rest.

God the Creator called the first Sabbath, resting after the work of creation. He took time to stop and delight in all He had made. Then he handed the world to the people he made in his image to carry on, to create and care for his world. The Hebrew nation received the Ten Commandments from God to Moses while out in the wilderness, wandering around after God miraculously freed them from bitter slavery and eliminated their enemies. Among the rules that gave identity, structure, and safety to their lives, God encouraged them to establish the rhythm of their lives by setting one day a week apart from their normal activities, a holy day. A day of rest.

During this pandemic, we have the opportunity to get off the merry-go-round busyness of modern life, to stop even the good things that usually fill our days.

We can turn off the news and reject worry or fear (or stockpiling goods).

We are welcomed to let go of the good and seek the best.

This is our chance to really spend time reading the Bible, asking God to speak, just as he did in the cool of the garden with Adam and Eve, to Moses from the burning bush, through prophets and priests and all kinds of people whose words or stories are recorded for us, for our time.

It is an inducement to pray, and to listen.

What is he preparing you for, in such a time as this?

What might your Creator have to say to you, personally?

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?