It is now the center of Holy Week. Every year the central message of Christ’s death and resurrection hits me in different ways. This year, I cannot help but think of those who have died, are dying, and those who surround them in their final days of this life.
Maybe it is the Lazarus Gospel from a couple of weeks ago. It seems so real: the funeral, the mourners, the family members, weird dynamics that come out, people’s questions and questioning, and the amazing sense of community that happens – not always, but so often, especially in the life of the church.
Yet the promise seems so surreal. Jesus promising that he is the “resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Jesus calls the dead man out of the grave: a promise that seems so foreign, and yet is the life you and I are called to take part in by Christ, however the mechanics of that promise may work.
Maybe it’s the Rob Bell book, Love Wins, that continues to get buzz. There is a Time Magazine article on Bell and his book this week.
Maybe it is the pastoral perspective of those I know whose loved ones are transitioning from the vibrancy of life to the unavoidable mortality we all face. Some have lots of life still in them, and will be home soon. Some are compromised and will not recover. Some have already crossed the threshold between life and death. Prayer and care and family and friendship are big parts of those transitions – at least I always hope they are.
Maybe it is the personal journey of knowing my grandmother probably has entered the “weeks” if not “days” countdown in her earthly life. At home we have already entered the remembering and sharing of stories, and helping the kids process what is happening. I can’t help but think on a daily basis of her character traits – both her flaws and things I admire, and smile.
But there is of course more to it than that. Jesus is raised from the dead. What an odd thing to believe and to know as truth in a world that would say knows otherwise. This central theme of our faith – that Christ knows our suffering and pain and even death is comforting that God “understands what we are going through” in times of trial, but the resurrection means more, so much more than that. It means that death not only is not the end of our identity and existence, but truly is the starting place by God’s own initiative.
That we are “buried with him by baptism into death so that just as Christ was raised by the glory of the Father so that we might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6: 4) is a good reason I think I keep remembering those who have died or are dying, those who care for them, and those who will get well and recover. Our faith is ultimately not about life and death, but about death and life – and God’s gift to us. It is about the promise of a new heaven and earth, where mourning and pain and sorrow are gone and God wipes the tears away from our eyes, so that we may truly live in and with him (Revelation 21:1-6). Not just a heaven in the distance, but a new life now. In faith we are given a life that just doesn’t fear death (or provide talking points so we say we don’t), but knows it is exactly the place where God is present in the world – where God is redeeming the world and making all things new. As the world looks at death as cold and empty and to be avoided at all costs, I have come to know and believe that it is a holy place. It is sacred space. It is hallowed ground.
It starts at Easter. It starts with the Angel, the messenger from God whose word to us who fear the worst and doubt the promise, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Go quickly and tell his disciples” (Matthew 28:5-7).
The story goes on in you: Do not be afraid. Jesus is risen. Tell the others. In the dead places, in the places of destruction and pain, in the places where God seems so absent to the casual observer, we have been given eyes to see. “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed when he touched the hands and feet of a risen Christ. You touch the hands and feet of Christ each day – in your life, with your loved ones, in the places you work, and serve and care for others. The places where you walk and stay and touch and speak and love and give are holy places, sacred spaces, hallowed ground, because the risen Christ has been there – ahead of you, beside you, and through you. Easter points outside of ourselves, to the Christ crucified and risen, and to the lives of those who have in the past, continue to do and will in the future reveal to you the risen Christ present in your own life.
This week is the center of time – where death and life meet, where betrayal and reconciliation meet, where God’s love for the world meets you. It is where the story of the Bible comes together, where we come together, where the church comes together, where heaven and earth sing in the midst of a world consumed by death the precious gift of resurrection. We are part of that story. Easter is the reminder that Jesus walks out tomb with folded grave clothes; and while he is still in the cemetery, he finds your gravestone and mine and shouts, “come out.”
Easter is just the beginning…
“See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, Let us be going.” (Matthew 26:45-46a)