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?