What We Really Need

The world is a loud place right now. Opinions are flying quick, defenses are up, and everyone is out to get their point across to everyone else. People are mourning, people are hurting, violence continues because of hatred– and, in the midst of it all, the Body of Christ in our nation seems to be awakening to what it means to be in but not of this world. It has been a change-in-the-making for generations but we have been slow to understand the reality of it: what we believe does not align with the actions of our government and culture around us.

And in the realm of personal circumstances…I woke up last week with a scratch on my cornea. My eyeball was bright red and sensitive to movement, light, and being closed. My eyelid was swollen and pain radiated all around my eye. According to the doctor, the scratch was small and the responding inflammation was causing most of the pain.

Oddly enough, even though it causes discomfort – acute inflammation is meant to be a good thing. It’s part of our innate immunity, the body’s reaction to injury or infection. It’s the “body’s attempt at self-protection; the aim being to remove harmful stimuli, including damaged cells, irritants, or pathogens, and begin the healing process.[i]” Without inflammation, our tissue would not heal but continue in distress until dying.

It’s an immediate response – whatever the injury might be, the body responds with redness, swelling, heat, and sensitivity to touch. “Inflammation primarily causes pain because the swelling pushes against the sensitive nerve endings, which send pain signals to the brain. Nerve endings send pain signals to the brain all day long; however, it learns to ignore most of them, unless pressure against the nerve endings increases.”

So inflammation is recognition of a problem and an immediate reaction to fix it.

On the other hand, inflammation can also become the problem. If the root cause not fixed, the inflammation itself can turn into a chronic issue that can bring serious problems to the entire body.

It seems, to me, like we – as a whole – have learned to ignore the pain signals our world has been sending our way for a long time. The violence, the fear, the suffering, the abortions, the sex trafficking, division, the hatred, the pornography, the ‘increase of wickedness[ii]’…it has been happening all along, but – for the most part – we have co-existed with it all.

But we felt the decision of the Supreme Court. This was the scratch that brought a reaction. This was pressure on sensitive nerve-endings…this was the church’s realization that our government does not have to base their decisions upon God’s definitions for mankind. We have learned to ignore much of what has slowly changed around us, but this moment was one we could not tune out. And voices are swooping in loud…the church is standing guard over this injury to examine how it happened, sensitive to every word and every touch, hoping to push out the irritant.

But let us be so careful to understand what the irritant actually is…let us be so careful to recognize where our healing is found….

Because the Church is not here to be represented by a government or by our culture – no, we are here to represent the reigning, unshakeable, eternal Kingdom of God.

**************

Here’s what I know for sure and this is where we find our hope: “…the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.” (Psalm 33:11)

This is not the first time the church has been in an age of darkness…and hasn’t lighting up that darkness been the reason we are here all along?

When Jesus returned to heaven after His resurrection, the disciples were living in a place and a time that condemned and despised them. Rome was a nation that reveled in open sexuality, the worship of many gods, and violent entertainment. The Jewish leaders, too, persecuted Christians – they were told to be quiet, they were put in prison, they were killed.

Yet – the disciples knew that Jesus was alive. They knew the Holy Spirit was guiding and empowering them to obey the commands of Christ – even in that kind of oppression….even when they had no ‘rights’ in the land.

They were commissioned to speak the gospel of Jesus Christ.

They were empowered to build the Kingdom of God. They were loving as they had first been loved, sharing the truth that Jesus had died on the cross to forgive sins and to bring about a new, holy life.

They were not offended when called offensive. They were not surprised to suffer. They did not feel betrayed by a worldly kingdom that did not support them and they did not lash out at those who hated them. As they lived, so should we live as a people “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer…blessing those who persecute us… not overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good.[iii]

Our battle is not with people who are bound by sin…therefore arguing our point and calling out what we see as ‘unfair’ attitudes toward the church is not our calling here…for “the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.”(Gal. 5:17)

Can we remember how we were once living to “gratify the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts[iv]”? We cannot expect a people who have not been transformed by the grace of God and the Holy Spirit to live as though they are…for “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

There is a Righteous Judge. And, one day, He will set things right…and one day, every knee shall bow and every tongue proclaim that He is Lord. (Isaiah 45:23)

And in the mean-time, before that day comes? “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.[v]

No matter our differences, no matter our own emotions, whatever the circumstances are – we can’t make it about ‘us.’ We cannot turn our message into ‘us’ versus ‘them’ because “what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.[vi]” The cry of our hearts, motivated by the purposes of God, will be: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.[vii]

We have the opportunity to hold out the same hope we have been given – “because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.[viii]

So, having the mind of Christ, we humble ourselves. We love even when we are not loved in return – and love does not mean condoning sin, but speaking the truth of repentance and forgiveness. “Opponents must be gently instructed,” Paul says, “in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.[ix]

When dealing with events that are hostile to the church and contrary to the Word of God, we must see clearly that “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” If we put our eyes only on the events and the people around us, getting caught up in debate, we lose sight of what we need to do – which is live daily in the armor of God and with prayer[x]. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…[xi]

If this ‘injury’ – if this ‘scratch’ and the resulting ‘inflammation’ in the body of Christ results in an awakening to our calling to pray and intercede – fighting with the ‘weapons of God’ against the darkness so that people will be set free from sin – then what was meant for evil will be used for good.

In this vein, I think it pretty interesting that the term inflammation comes from the latin word “inflammo”, which means ‘I set alight. I ignite.’

This makes me think of the One who refines His people, the One who brings us through the fire of testing and trial to produce endurance, patience, character, and hope.

****************

I have to wonder – are we, as the people of God, in a pivotal moment between inflammation as a healing process – a time of awakening and refining — or allowing the inflammation to continue and become a harmful condition?

We have a choice. We can settle into this inflammation….we can focus on the pain, the indignation, and coming to our own defense in our own power…we can try revising the Word in order to appease and pacify…but not one of those options leads to the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Not one of those options aligns with our knowledge that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus Christ or our commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.[xii]

In this place and in this moment, I can hear the words of Jesus – once spoken to a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years…–“Will you be made whole? …Do you want to get well?[xiii]

Will we choose to say yes? Will we turn our attention from the symptoms and allow God to examine our hearts?

Here is where healing begins: at the throne of God, remembering who He is and who we are. It begins with us – honestly asking God to search within…have we loved like He first loved us? Have we been numbed to the sin in our own lives? Have compromise and complacency found a place in our hearts and in our churches?

Healing is repentance and returning to our first love…we cannot forget that it is His love and mercy that have changed us. We cannot forget that His sacrifice on the cross saved us. We cannot forget that the death and resurrection of Jesus brings salvation and life for all who will believe. “He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace.” (2 Tim.1:9)

Healing comes with our surrender to God. Healing comes with our obedience. Healing comes when we know our purpose as a follower of Jesus and, together, as the body of Christ…putting our trust in Him.

Isn’t this the moment? Isn’t now the time to wake up and ask for this healing?

For such a time as this, may we rise, take up our beds, and walk![xiv]

We are here to be the Kingdom of God, to be His people and His body. We do not find our security in the laws of the land. We do not place our trust in man. We do not expect to be lauded by culture. We are not frantic or anxious, because we place our confidence in Him.

We are here to be the salt and the light – we are not to hide away because of fear. We are peacemakers.

We are here to declare the hope of the nations is Jesus Christ…we are here to work in a ministry of reconciliation, to feed the hungry, to care for those in need, to shine into the darkness, to reach out to the lonely, to love one another.

We are here to stand and declare the gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who will believe[xv] – and because our foundation is the Rock that is Higher, we will not be moved. For Jesus Himself established this body – “upon this rock,” He said in Matthew 16, “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

No matter what happens, His Word endures. No matter what happens – in life, in death, in tribulation — we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.

Through it all, we will not be separated from the love of Jesus. Through it all, He is with us. There is an eternal purpose unfolding and through it all, He is God.

“…now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” -Romans 13:12


____________________

[i] Quotes from Medical News Today [ii] Matt. 24:12 [iii] Romans 12:12, 14, 21 [iv] Eph. 2:3 [v] Gal. 5:20 [vi] 2 Cor. 4:4-5 [vii] 2 Cor. 5:20 [viii] Eph. 2:4-5 [ix] 2 Tim.2:25-26 [x] Eph. 6 [xi] 2 Cor. 10: 3-6 [xii] Matt. 28:18-20 [xiii] John 5:5-6 [xiv] John 5:8    [xv] Romans 1:16

Advertisements

Love Leads Us Home {following Christ to Calvary}, Day 28: Scripture-Reading…Golgotha

Today, we turn our eyes to the last moments of Jesus’ life as God-in-flesh on earth.

I have done my best to compile a narrative, using all four Gospel accounts, of the trial, crucifixion, and burial of our Savior (references are at the end of each section).

 ________________________________________________________

Then the entire council took Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor. His accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover. So Pilate, the governor, went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this man?”

“We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted.

“Then take him away and judge him by your own law,” Pilate told them.

“Only the Romans are permitted to execute someone,” the Jewish leaders replied. (This fulfilled Jesus’ prediction about the way he would die.)

They began to state their case: “This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.”

So Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”

Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”

Pilate said, “So you are a king?”

Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

Pilate turned to the leading priests and to the crowd and said, “I find nothing wrong with this man!”

(But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise.

Then they became insistent. “But he is causing riots by his teaching wherever he goes—all over Judea, from Galilee to Jerusalem!”

“Oh, is he a Galilean?” Pilate asked.

When they said that he was, Pilate sent him to Herod Antipas, because Galilee was under Herod’s jurisdiction, and Herod happened to be in Jerusalem at the time.

(Matthew 27: 12-14/Luke 23:5-7/John 18:28-31, 34-38)

________________________________________

Herod was delighted at the opportunity to see Jesus, because he had heard about him and had been hoping for a long time to see him perform a miracle. He asked Jesus question after question, but Jesus refused to answer.

Meanwhile, the leading priests and the teachers of religious law stood there shouting their accusations. Then Herod and his soldiers began mocking and ridiculing Jesus. Finally, they put a royal robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. (Herod and Pilate, who had been enemies before, became friends that day.) (Luke 23: 1-12)

__________________________________________

Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd—anyone they wanted. This year there was a notorious prisoner, a man named Barabbas.

As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.)

“Barabbas,” they answered.

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

(The Jewish leaders replied, “By our law he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was more frightened than ever. He took Jesus back into the headquarters again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer.

“Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”

Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”

Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders shouted, “If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.’ Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”

When they said this, Pilate brought Jesus out to them again. Then Pilate sat down on the judgment seat on the platform that is called the Stone Pavement (in Hebrew, Gabbatha). It was now about noon on the day of preparation for the Passover.

Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.”

Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death.

Then Pilate called together the leading priests and other religious leaders, along with the people, and he announced his verdict. “You brought this man to me, accusing him of leading a revolt. I have examined him thoroughly on this point in your presence and find him innocent. Herod came to the same conclusion and sent him back to us. Nothing this man has done calls for the death penalty. So I will have him flogged, and then I will release him.”

Then a mighty roar rose from the crowd, and with one voice they shouted, “Kill him, and release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas was in prison for taking part in an insurrection in Jerusalem against the government, and for murder.) Pilate argued with them, because he wanted to release Jesus. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

“Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”

But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”

Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”

And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for his death—we and our children!”

So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

(Matthew 27:21-26/Luke 23:13-21/John 18:7-14)

__________________________________________

Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

(Matt. 27:27-31)

______________________________________________

As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd trailed behind, including many grief-stricken women.

But Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’ For if these things are done when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. When they came to a place called Golgotha (The Skull), they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.

And Pilate posted a sign on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that many people could read it.

Then the leading priests objected and said to Pilate, “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He said, I am King of the Jews.’”

Pilate replied, “No, what I have written, I have written.”

The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”… One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.

(Matthew 27: 39-43/Mark 15:25/Luke 23: 26-34, 36-42/John 19:19-22, 25-27)

_____________________________________

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah.

Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!”…Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”

And with those words he breathed his last.

At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.

The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

And many women who had come from Galilee with Jesus to care for him were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), and the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was the Passover). So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe. These things happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures that say, “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and “They will look on the one they pierced.”

(Luke 23:46/Matthew 27: 45-56/John 19:28-37)

________________________________________

As evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea (who had been a secret disciple of Jesus {because he feared the Jewish leaders}) took a risk and went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. (Joseph was an honored member of the high council {but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders}, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.)

Pilate couldn’t believe that Jesus was already dead, so he called for the Roman officer and asked if he had died yet. The officer confirmed that Jesus was dead, so Pilate told Joseph he could have the body.

When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover[s] and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb and watching.

Then they went home and prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body. But by the time they were finished the Sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law.

(Matthew 27: 60-61/Mark 15: 42-45/Luke 23:51, 56/John 19: 38-42)

{Last year, I imagined what the disciples might have felt after watching Jesus crucified and buried…Eulogy, Part One and Eulogy, Part Two.}

Song for the Living (Part Three)

There is a Light that outshines the sun. There is a Morning that comes and sends Night rushing back, a shadow – a memory – a dream.

You, you who wait with us across the ages – you, who look up at him on the cross and see more than man wearing a crown of thorns, more than a man with nail-pierced hands – follow us into the beginning of all beginnings, the scales slipping from eyes, the Light coming into darkness and the darkness not overcoming it.

Brothers and sisters, this is our story and it is your story. It is the song of the stars, the testimony of all creation. It is His story and He brings us into the fullness of everything – yes, everything – made beautiful in His time.

See sunrise, this first day of the week – the women, carrying their spices and their grief, unsure of how they will even reach their beloved to properly tend to his body. The stone, blocking the tomb’s entrance, is too heavy for them. They will not be able to roll it away, not on their own.

But the stone has already been moved. The heavy lifting has already been done. But by whose hand?

They rush into the tomb, fearing the worst – those enemies, have they not had enough victory here?

His body should be here – right here – wrapped in linen by the hands of those who loved him.

But he is not here.

Who has taken his body? What do they want to accomplish that has not already been done?

And just as the angel said to Mary those many years before, an angel says to the women who love him now – Do not fear!

They tremble, anyway, because the angels gleam like lightning and their Lord is lost again, anew.

But the angels – are they smiling? – ask the question that puts their feet in motion and sets those tiny flickers of hope into full-blown flames.

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!

Go, tell His disciples, He is risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee! There, you will see him!

This, this is Spring bursting forth in one swift moment – they are filled with joy, but still afraid. And the Teacher who always took the time to tell another story, to heal another wounded body, to speak love into another empty heart – He, Himself, calls out to them. He makes Himself known – standing there, those arms open, His pain is no more – and what can stop them now? He is alive! When He says go, they go.

Oh, the pounding on the door and their voices crying out snaps us out of our dread-full stupor – we wonder if death has arrived for us, but they carry a message far from it –

I have seen the Lord! And Mary’s face is beaming with delight, clouded no longer.

Two of us throw off fear, backs aching from its too-long hold, and we run to the tomb – we must see for ourselves – yes, empty but for the grave-clothes. What – what can this mean?

And despite our disbelief, despite our shame, despite our failures – our Lord comes to us, just as He promised. Our Teacher and our Leader – the Son of Man – He comes and we are scared and bewildered and desperate to believe. At the right time, we hear those words again – It is I – and the grief gives way to amazement. He is patient, even as we see the miracle of miracles before our very eyes and somehow doubt still – and stretches out His pierced hands to remove all mystery.

He is no longer captive in the grave. He is no longer lost to us. He is no longer conquered by death –
no, He is here. He is beyond the reach of the priests and the Romans. He is beyond the reach of the Evil One.

Truly – truly – this is the Son of God!

And, even in this, after everything He endured – such kindness! How He opens our minds – it is like hearing for the first time when He speaks the fulfillment of our prophets – we wonder how we could have been so slow to understand, so deaf to His Truth. He breaks bread with us, walks with us, waits on the shore of Galilee and fills our nets with fish. He invites us to breakfast, fish and bread by the fire, and invites us into the new Life He gained for us.

This is where we call out to you again, sister and brother. This is where we raise our voices in a shout of victory that breaks the hold of satan on our souls – because from the first, the Father promised it – satan’s head would be crushed. From the first, the Father established it – a covenant, a people who would dwell with their God. His plans stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations- and our Messiah – Jesus, Emmanuel — was chosen before the creation of the world to take our guilt on His own blameless shoulders.

This same Jesus, whose compassion astounded and whose kingdom we yearned to see – He took up our pain and bore our suffering…He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brings us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.

He chose to save us from an eternity of mourning, a forever of fear – even though the price was His own life. Even though we were faithless to Him, He has always – always – always been wholly faithful to us. If He kept a record of sins, who could stand? But with Him there is forgiveness, with Him is full redemption. He Himself has redeemed us!

‘So, what shall we say then? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things!? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life…who shall separate us from the love of Christ?…In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

This is how it feels to be set free from fear. This is how it feels to know that His perfect love casts out darkness and nothing has a hold on us any longer – nothing and no one except for Him.

‘For we are convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ And so we do not lose heart, not this time, when we must say goodbye. We know it is only for a moment. As He returns to the Father, He promises the Holy Spirit- Comforter, Teacher, the Spirit of Truth –  will come in His name – and this time, because He has given us His righteousness, brought us near to God again – the very Spirit of the Living God will dwell within us. Always, He will be with us now –  in all of His power and in all of His authority, we abide.

Yes, He is with us, the fishermen and the doctors, the tax collectors and the carpenters, the tent-makers and the mothers, the teachers and the farmers. With you, the preachers and the managers, the housewives and the lawyers, the secretaries and the mechanics. Rich, poor, Jew, Gentile, man, woman – all of us, all of us, we dwell in Christ Jesus and He dwells in us.

And you, you who are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses – throw off everything, everything, that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles! Run with perseverance, fixing your eyes on Jesus – the pioneer and perfecter of faith!

For just as He went away, He will come one last and forever time, and He will bring His kingdom that will not be shaken. The Redeemer will come to Zion and the earth will tremble, the darkness swallowed up at last and for all time.

He will blaze like fire and the sun will fade away to shadow – and still, His words to His people are this:

Do not be afraid.

I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

What will our song be but one of whole-heart thankfulness and awe? If not for Him, we would still be locked in our rooms of defeat, devastated and broken, chained to our sin and to death.

But He came. He changed our ending. He set us free, He gave us life – life overflowing and eternal. And to the Lamb, to the Savior, to the God who came to rescue us—

Be blessing and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!

Yes, worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was and is and is to come!

He will be our light – night will be no more, our weeping will be no more! – and He will be eternal joy – all will be made new – and, still, He will know us by name. Still, we will be engraved on the palms of His hands.

This is the truth that flows from the beginning and always will be – our God reigns in glory, in majesty, in power, in love that endures forever.

Friend, morning comes.

For our Redeemer lives.

Eulogy, Part Two

Sabbath day and we are afraid, exhausted and unmoored.

Someone finally said it – what if we are next? Will they come for us like they came for him?

Wasn’t it one of our first thoughts?

The shame of it fills us, how we worried about our own selves when the torches filled the night and the eyes of the accusers scanned the crowd. How quickly we forgot all we had learned from him.

Three years we walked with him. Three years of conversations resound from memory. He said to the lame – pick up your mat and walk – and they did. He said to the blind – what do you see? And their darkness was no more. He said to the priests – my Father’s house shall be called a house of prayer and he overturned their pride, their profit. He said of Jairus’ daughter – she is only sleeping – and death flew from her body.

But then – how they sneered into his face, how they battered him, how they pushed thorns into his skin – and he did not protest. He did not fight back and he could have, he could have spoken and his words would have changed it all.

It feels like we are right back where we started, sea-sick and tossed by the storm, and we ask it again -“What manner of man is this?”

Don’t you know Me, even after I have been among you such a long time? I know what others say – but what about you? Even now, who do you say I am?

In the dry ache of grief, in the kind of hindsight that haunts – we admit that he warned us. This was no surprise to him, this was no unexpected disaster. Didn’t he say that one of us would betray him? Didn’t he say that he would be handed over to the priests and the Gentiles?

Who could accept such hard words from the one whose face shone like the sun? We heard the voice from heaven call him loved – the voice of the Father, pleased with His Son! Wouldn’t the Father intervene in such madness, any evil that would rise up against him?

But still he said it: the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified. He must suffer and he must die.

We didn’t want to hear those words , not from him. Never, we said. This shall never happen to our Lord.

This very night you will all fall away on account of me, he said. And we were brave, then, behind those closed doors – ready to promise anything. Even if we have to die with you, we said, we will never disown you.

But he knew already, didn’t he, how we would fail him? And, still, he wanted us close. Still, he said he loved us.

Still, he served us the Passover cup with those words that ring even now in our ears – this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Drink from it, all of you.

And now that we saw his blood streaming like tears down his face, flowing like water from his side – we look at each other in wonder – did he choose to let his life-blood drain away for us?

I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends… I am the Good Shepherd…and I lay down my life for the sheep…No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of my own accord.

He asked us to keep watch with him. There, in the garden, he wanted us to pray.

For all our promises, for all our intentions – we could not do what he asked, with that sorrow we could not understand etched in his eyes. Twice he pleaded – watch and pray.

We were worn with worry, confusion usurping our passion. We did not watch and pray. We slept.

And after they came, we ran.

Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name!…And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

It seems like his cry will ever echo – my God, my God, why have You forsaken me? The same voice that calmed our fears with a simple – It is I – the same voice that could lift our spirits in an instant with a simple phrase – take heart!…that voice was colored by the darkest despair. Will we ever forget the ragged rasp of it? Will we ever understand – oh, Father God – did You forsake him?

Have You forsaken us?

Will we all end up in that tomb?

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. I have brought You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began.

Hesitant, carefully – we speak of the spark to the kindling of the high priest’s anger. An answer, he wanted, to the question – didn’t this Jesus say he could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days? A confession, he wanted, to this charge – tell them clearly – do you say that you are the Son of God?

You have said so. But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.

And what of this? What of his scandalous, outrageous, extraordinary promises?

I am the resurrection and the life. I am the way, the truth, the life. I am the Living Water and I am the bread of life.
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again…I have the authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.

And it is like we collectively draw in a new breath and hold it in our lungs like a mustard seed, like a fresh wind, like a flickering flame.

Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy…I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

It is the sound of our hearts daring to beat again, the pulse of something like hope in the sound of it – on the third day, on the third day, on the third day…

and, together, we wait for dawn.

Eulogy, Part One

Silence fills the space between us.

We are paralyzed, stunned. Grief has shoveled every bit of life from within and we are empty, hollowed. We have nothing.

Our lives were newly defined by his words. Our every-day was only what he spoke, what he did, where he went.

Everything from before him, it was left behind. Everything after him – he was the middle of it all, the reason for it all.

And now he is gone.

Right before our eyes – the hands that gently blessed children, the hands that broke bread for us, the hands that tenderly washed the dirt from our feet – those hands were torn by their nails. We couldn’t stop them. Our words meant nothing to them. He meant nothing to them.

We couldn’t help him. We, who have been rescued by his words, could not save him.

And maybe it is worse that he didn’t save himself.

We watched these men – these power-grubbing, self-righteous men– accuse him of blasphemy, of treason – and he didn’t do anything to prove them wrong. After what we saw – after the sea and the winds yielding to his voice, after Lazarus walking out of his grave – how could he let those weaker men, men he had outsmarted and outshone so many times before – slap him, insult him, lay a whip across his back?

We thought we would see him deliver this city into our hands. We thought the priests and the people, the soldiers and the kings – we thought they would all bow to his wisdom. We thought we would see him reign.

But we watched him die.

It was not supposed to be like this.

And this is what we are all thinking, this is the question stifling us in silence – what if everything we believed was wrong?

It is suffocating, this thought of him lying dead. It is the end of us.

But we sit here, we sit here together, because who else can understand what we feel? Who else knows the sound of his voice, the mysterious and marvelous wonder of all he was?

One other is missing from this group, one we called brother. It is too much to think about, how he kissed that cheek in the moonlight and ripped us to pieces. Despair and anger, they are weights on our shoulders. Where did it go so wrong?

What will we do now?

It is too late to go backwards, isn’t it, into the lives we used to lead?

We have hands full of these memories, of these visions – we are changed – but how do we go on without him? What does any of it mean without him?

Our teacher, our friend – no one ever listened like he listened. He heard every word that came from our mouths – but at the same time, he heard the language of our souls, all those words underneath what we spoke. He knew what we wanted to hide and those secret hopes of what we might become. He knew what would bring a smile to our faces – and, oh, he loved a from-the-heart smile. Even more, he loved laughter that bubbled up from good and true joys.

He knew our lives, he knew this place – the fishing boats, the seeds and the harvest, the weddings, the temple, the feasts. He knew the sick. It didn’t matter if they were sick in body, heart, or mind – he knew them and he never drew away from their needs. No, he reached out and pulled them close. He healed them, somehow and some way. He changed them.

That was the thing about him – he didn’t shy away from the hard things. When we would want to avoid the hungry, get away from the pleading for one more touch, one more word, one more please – he would have such compassion – and he would give, and give again. He left nothing the way he found it.

We didn’t always understand him. We didn’t always trust him, not enough. But then the demons would flee, the storms would cease, the bread would multiply until we had enough – more than enough.

And he didn’t give up on us, even then. He forgave, again and again, our sin that we could suddenly see so clearly. He forgave, over and over again, the dark places in people who came to him. Never did he reject or shame, never did he turn away those who sought him out in faith. He was patient and passionate, stronger than anyone we have ever known.

In his name, we found power. In his call, we heard a vision for a kingdom entirely different than the one we live in: a kingdom of peace, of the last becoming first, of loving each other more than we love ourselves. This was not a kingdom of our traditions, not a kingdom of those who thought they could make themselves holy – it was a kingdom of the Law fulfilled, the prophets’ voices ringing true, the Most High God dwelling with His people again.

He said he came to show us the God of our fathers. He said he was the Son of our God, the Son who had come to set us free. He said we would reach the Father through him. He said he would prepare a place for us, he said he would never leave us alone.

And yet – he is bound in grave-clothes, imprisoned in a tomb.

While we are here, still, and this darkness makes it hard to see anything but our pain.

*********

You weep, yes, you weep – because what you loved has been lost. You weep because you cannot see, you cannot yet see, that this ending is not The End.

But My children, My children – have you not learned by now?

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.