Easter morning started on a dark pathway

Early on Easter morning I heard children calling to each other in a family Easter egg hunt. Then I focused on morning prayers for those on my heart. As I brought these dear ones before the Lord, I wondered how many of those struggling with cancer, chronic health problems, some without even a diagnosis, others with painful relationships, some still in the pall of the death of their loved one – how many were coming to Easter morning, which is supposed to be joyful, only in dread, or duty?

How many felt like the women trudging to the tomb before the dawn light, hearts heavy, hope gauged away? Carrying spices and the weight of the world, everything in their lives spun off into terrible disaster.

Venice Beach by Jack H Thompson, Jr

As I lifted them to the Lord, I asked for the same, lightning clarity for them that Mary experienced.

That they might hear the risen Jesus call their name.

That they might find so much more than they are seeking.

Ibis and reflection by Jack H Thompson Jr

In truth, we all find more than we are seeking, though we aren’t always aware of it.

ducklings by Jack H Thompson, Jr

In a service during Holy Week, I thought about the Last Supper and the scene in the garden afterwards, when one of the twelve who’d walked with Jesus, seen him heal and cleanse and raise the dead, betrayed him with a kiss.
(Read the whole story here.)

Immediately, a painful scene from early in my life flashed into my mind, distracting me. I tore my focus back to the covered cross before me.
(In our tradition, the cross which hangs over the altar is covered during Lent.)

Church of the Redeemer, Sarasota, FL
photo by Fred Sieger

In that moment, I sensed a profound truth.

Though draped and obscured much of the time in my younger years, the cross has always been there in my life. Jesus was with me, loving me and dying for me every time I sinned,

Every time another sinned against me.

Every. single. time.

Since I was conceived, the cross has been there, redeeming me. Redeeming my life from the pit.

There were times when that redemption worked to prevent greater evil.

Other times, it worked to turn what the enemy meant for evil into good.

Every. single. time

Long before I could say the word, the Lord was there, redeeming me.

Long before I gave the mental assent and welcomed him as Lord, he was winding his love throughout my life.

Long before I studied the Bible and committed verses to memory he was writing on my heart with a nail-scared hand.

It is a great mystery, but it was the greatest truth I have ever discovered, that I have never been abandoned. Never neglected. Never hurt without being comforted. Never wounded without a healer at work. Never alone.

Not. one. time.

God is not limited by time or space. He is not linear as we are, with yesterdays, todays and tomorrows.

So he can be present in all things.

And he is.

For me, and for you.

sunrise by Jack H Thompson, Jrwater landing by Jack H Thompson Jr
Venice Beach sunlight from a cloud by Jack H Thompson, Jr

If this Easter was less than joyful, my wish for you is that you, too will hear him call your name,

Be alerted to the presence of the Living One, who is life itself,

Find a new and fresh vision this Easter season, tunneling into the swirling reality of God-With-Us.

Emmanuel.

flowers by Jack H Thompson, Jr

God’s wisdom is something mysterious that goes deep into the interior of his purposes. You don’t find it lying around on the surface. It’s not the latest message, but more like the oldest—what God determined as the way to bring out his best in us, long before we ever arrived on the scene….
No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, Never so much as imagined anything quite like it— What God has arranged for those who love him. But you’ve seen and heard it because God by his Spirit has brought it all out into the open before you. The Spirit, not content to flit around on the surface, dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along….We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.

1 Corinthians 2:6‭-‬10 MSG

Halloween? No thanks.

I won’t be home for Halloween, and I must admit, I don’t mind. Unlike my youngest daughter, who has turned it into a warm neighborhood event, the best I have mustered is handing out stickers instead of candy. (I don’t use sugar, so can’t see giving it to children.) However, my feelings about Halloween go much deeper. It’s the darkness.darkness

Sure, a lot of people make cute costumes and have fun parties. I did that as a child and loved it. I enjoyed trick-or-treating with my brothers, gathering the haul of sweets that had to last us until Christmas. Bobbing for apples, carving Jack-o-lanterns and eating an apple on a string were great fun, too.

Back then, I didn’t recognize darkness. At least, not conceptually. I certainly felt it. And more, I lived in more darkness than I realized.

As an adult, when I learned what my father had been involved in, and the important part Halloween plays in the gruesome practices, I wanted to ban the celebration entirely.

I certainly never dressed up as a witch again. Give me animals or fairy tale characters any day.

What concerns me about Halloween, for our culture at large, is the growing, blatant familiarity with, and for some, preference for darkness.

Have you noticed, there is a trend toward more elaborate decorations for Halloween than for Christmas?

I know the darkness cannot overpower the light. I’ve read the last chapter.

It isn’t ghoulish rubber masks or pointed hats and brooms that bother me, so much as what they represent. It’s not all fantasy.

I am well acquainted with the way darkness can twist lives, damage children, tear families apart, even drive some to take their own lives, or other’s.

Evil is real.

In our world full of discord, public and personal ugliness, polarization on every side, selfishness, addictions of all kinds, and with an astounding market for child sex slaves and “private” porn, I don’t want to even play with the shadows.

I’ve seen what happens in my life when I’ve shifted my focus from what has harmed me to what blesses me. Have you?

I’ll chose the light, every time.

It does matter what we celebrate and honor, where we focus.

When Paul was in prison in Rome, and eventually died there, he wrote what some have called the Book of Joy to the Philippians. He could have looked at the moss on the cold stone walls, the chains, the guards, and the whispers of his eminent death, and gone into major depression.
Instead, he writes:

…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable — if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise — dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

Empty tomb and empty nets

So the stone is rolled away. The tomb is vacant. But my nets are empty. I have been struck with these scenes, after the long dark night was supposed to be over, snippets I glimpse at times in my life. The huge stone is not a problem. But the empty tomb is so dark. How many times do I sit in the gloom rather than run to the blinding light?

stone in Maui by Jack H Thompson, Jr

How many times have I heard the voice outside my tomb — outside my pain, my regret, my yearning for what has never come true, dreams crushed or fading – and didn’t recognize the Voice of everything I really need.

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How often have I walked through life, intense and searching, not knowing my Companion has all the answers?

So many times I’ve gone on my way—the boot-strap thing.

Thrown my nets back into the waters of my comfort, only to come up empty.

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Who is that calling to me across the waters?

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Across the waves I sometimes struggle to keep my head above?

A voice so familiar. Yet, I’m never really sure.

Until I am close.
Until I see the hands.
Until I see the provision.

And hear the words of forgiveness.

Then, I can begin, again.

This side of the tomb.

Breathe deep.

Spirit deep into all the cracks, into the open wounds and into the scars, into the soft vulnerable places and into the hard, walled-off places.

Until the Wind dries my cheeks and the nail-scarred Hand lifts my chin.

And I can finally look into the Light.