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?

Lessons from the sick room

Sidelined. Alone. Fogged. Weak. Wanting. In the days and nights that ran into weeks, then months, as my body grew weaker instead of stronger, when no amount of trying would produce an alert mind to use “down time” for writing, it would have been easy to entertain self-pity. To give up. Or blame God. Wasn’t he listening? Didn’t he care?

When nothing else could stir my body or stimulate my brain, he woke me to pray for a warrior in danger on the other side of the world, or a single mother struggling to provide love and nourishment for her sons, or a young woman who lost her child to a brutal death, or for the one who wanted so desperately to mother a child. I prayed for friends whose mates suffered from physical or mental ailments, and whose hope was close to evaporating in the morning light. For struggling families, and for those alone. For widows, those who lost loved ones, young ones waiting for forever families, and for adoptive families climbing mountains.

As I lay in bed and prayed, following the urgency, I entered a rarely trod pathway of heart ache that held me with the Peace that passes understanding.

Odd, unexplainable, I often felt the pain of the one pictured before me. I agonized with that person and prayed as I felt encouraged to do. Then, as the compelling to pray lifted, I knew peace was restored to the one I was interceding for, that my work, for now, was done.

And I, too, was wrapped in that peace.

Phil 4 7
So, when friends wrote or called to encourage me from discouragement I was often surprised.

Somehow, not being physically healed was okay.

Sometimes we have work to do that does not involve mind and body. No hands. No feet.

Simply a willingness to listen and pray. Sometimes for minutes, at times hours. One session continued almost non-stop for a week, as I felt a dear life hung in the balance.

Certainly I missed participating in activities with my family and friends, and was sorry to have to pull back from church, leading Bible studies, from writer’s groups and social events.

But I was not alone.

Ever.

And the more I responded to the call to pray for others, the more my room filled with a holy presence, with sustaining grace.

It runs in the face of the Western way of life, especially for Americans. We must be active, work hard, try harder.

Some even see unrelenting illness as a sign of sin or lack of faith.

But, I’m sure if you go to Christian refuges from Syria or to persecuted Christians in Pakistan or Cambodia, they will tell you a different story.

This world is not our home.

We were created for eternity with God.

And anything in our lives that drives our hearts to Him is worth it.

Any. Thing.

Now that some functionality has been restored, every time I hear this song, I have to stop and listen.
Take it in.
And remember.


What has driven you closer to God?