He Is Risen Indeed

IMG_6399If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:19

If Easter means nothing – if this is a day about only rabbits and chocolate and coloured eggs – then Christianity means nothing, our lives are momentary, a breath of air and gone. Then, as Paul says, we are indeed only objects of pity. Thank God that this is a day of victory. This is the day that changed everything. This is a day of great mystery and greater rejoicing. Praise God. He is risen indeed.

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

Matthew 28:1-10

 

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In the Valley

I’ve celebrated Easter my whole life. It is the pivotal week in the Christian calendar. Those three dark days when evil seemed to win. And then, sunrise service on Easter Sunday, coloured eggs in a basket, Jesus arose. Love wins. Good triumphs. God is not dead.

I’ve heard the story a hundred times. I’ve told it myself. To Sunday school classes, in Bible studies, to a friend in the middle of a Vaisakhi Parade.

Sometimes it is so hard to worship God. It is so hard to follow an unfathomable God. A God who chooses who lives and dies according to no criteria that makes sense to me. A God who seems to punish the undeserving. A God who makes me so angry and so hurt because I don’t understand. I don’t understand.

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”

Psalm 22:2

I have often taken comfort in God’s response to Job. His powerful reminder that we humans are only a speck, of how little we actually know.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth?” God asks Job. “Have you entered the storehouse of the snow, or seen the storehouses of the hail?”

God knows. He was there. He commands the morning and causes the dawn to know its place. The gates of death have been revealed to Him. (Job 38)

But sometimes, some days, that doesn’t comfort me. I don’t want the keeper of the dawn or the one who scatters the wind. I want someone to hold my hand, to let me cry, to change my story to a happier one. God feels very far away on those days.

Reading this week, of Jesus’ final days before His death, I was struck by His prayer in Gethsemane.

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”

Matthew 26: 39

Jesus’ last night, His last hours before His betrayal, and He prayed to be saved. He asked God to change His course, His story.

Jesus’ prayer wasn’t answered.

Jesus experienced every facet of what it is to be human. Including that devastating silence from God. And just as the psalmist cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cried out too, as He died on the cross. (Matthew 27:46)

Jesus didn’t end His prayer there though. His closing statement was a desire for God’s will to be fulfilled.

My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; neverthless, not as I will, but as You will.”

And the Psalmist still managed to worship God.

“Yet You are Holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”

Psalm 22:3

Even Job, before God made His response, worshipped God in the midst of his suffering.

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”

Job 13:15

So though we may pray for our circumstances to change, for God to save us from the path He leads us on, we also have to pray – at the same time, in the same breath – for the strength to walk that path. For the faith to know that God does lead us through the shadow of the valley of death.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Signs of Spring

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And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the Heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the Heavens to give light upon the Earth.” And it was so.

Genesis 1:14-15

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What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,

or where the east wind is scattered upon the Earth?

Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt,

to bring rain on a land where no man is,

on the desert in which there is no man,

to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass?

Job 38:24-27

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He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the Earth, the Lord is His name.

Amos 5:8

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The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out through all the Earth, and their words to the end of the world.

Psalm 19:1-4

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Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you?

Matthew 6:28-30

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You are the Lord, you alone. You have made Heaven, the Heaven of Heavens, with all their host, the Earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and You preserve all of them; and the host of Heaven worships you.

Nehemiah 9:6

Tetelestai!

Lately I’ve been reading the gospel of Matthew during my personal prayer and quiet time. I try to read a chapter a day (I’m not always good about that) and, because I don’t always pay as much attention as I should, I jot notes in my journal as I read. Questions I have, observations I make, prayers or what have you. Sometimes, once I’ve finished reading, I’ll read from a Bible commentary. One commentator I like is William Barclay, who wrote an accompanying book for each book in the New Testament. Barclay offers background and historical information, compares the various gospels, and offers his own thoughts and translations. I often find him very helpful.

I’m almost at the end of Matthew; today I read chapter 27, which is Jesus’ crucifixion. There is a passage there that I’ve always wondered about. It’s verse 46: And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As a Christian, this is a strange thing to read. I believe that Jesus was and is God. So how can He be forsaken by God? The thing is, Jesus was also a human man. He was unique in that He is the only person to ever live without sin. And in this moment, all the sin of the world, of every person who had ever lived, was alive, or would live, came down on Him. Sin separates us from God. It’s possible that in this verse we see the first time Jesus was ever separated from God the Father. (This is all part of the mystery that is the Trinity and that really needs a whole other post. Possibly from a trained theologian.)

Barclay offers this up as a possible explanation and it’s something that I’ve heard in various forms before. But he also offers another suggestion, which led me to write this post today. I’ll try and summarize it here: Part of what makes Christianity unique is that we believe in a God who is all powerful. At the same time, we also believe in a God who gave that up for a time to live a human life. This is Jesus, who was born on earth as a baby and lived as a man. He went through puberty, he had brothers and sisters, he had a job. He experienced all the ups and downs of human life. He also lived without sinning. Sometimes I find it hard to even imagine what a human life would look like without sin, but Jesus actually lived that. The Bible tells us that Jesus was tempted (Luke 4:1-12), just as we are tempted in our lives. Basically, whatever we may experience or feel, whatever joy or despair, Jesus knows it. He felt it too.

Barclay suggests that part of the human experience is feeling separated from God. He writes: It seems to me that Jesus would not be Jesus unless He had plumbed the uttermost and ultimate depths of human experience. Barclay tells us (and I believe this to be true from my own experience) that in life, often when tragedy comes, we will feel that God has forgotten us, forsaken us. I think that the majority of Christians, if they are being honest, will admit that they have experienced this at some point in their lives. As a man, Jesus also experienced this so that, as Barclay says, there might be no place where we have to go where He has not been before.

The really cool thing though, and the thing that got me excited, was that the story doesn’t end here. Jesus doesn’t cry out about being forsaken and then die. Matthew 27:50 says: And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit. (Bold letters added by me.) I never paid much attention that that but Barclay taught me something. Each gospel mentions this second cry but it’s the gospel of John that gives us more information. He said, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:30) Barclay explains that in Greek (the language of the New Testament) and in Aramaic (the language that Jesus spoke) “It is finished” would be one word – tetelestai. Let me just quote to you what Barclay has to say about that last word.

Tetelestai is the victor’s shout; it is the cry of the man who has completed his task; it is the cry of the man who has won through the struggle; it is the cry of the man who has come out of the dark into the glory of the light, and who has grasped the crown. So, then, Jesus died a victor and a conqueror with a shout of triumph on His lips.

I can’t tell you how that makes my heart feel. I already knew, and have known for a while, that Jesus was victorious. That His death was not final but instead He conquered death and rose again. Jesus died victorious and He rose victorious.

Jesus felt far away from God, just as any one of us might feel far away from God. Somedays, the presence of God is so powerful, like something I can taste on the air or feel in a room. Somedays, nothing. That says more about my circumstances and my heart than God Himself. I know that God is always present, but some days I have a hard time believing it. Knowing that Jesus too experienced that and overcame it gives me comfort. We have a God who knows that we will doubt Him, that we will feel alone and abandoned. We have a God who knows what that feels like. Through the Bible, He’s shared with us His own experience and we can take comfort in Him.