Looking for Easter

Looking for Easter

 

“Calvary is Judo. The enemy’s own power is used to defeat him. Satan’s craftily orchestrated plot, rolled along according to plan by his agents Judas, Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas, culminated in the death of God. And this very event, Satan’s conclusion, was God’s premise. Satan’s end was God’s means. “

Peter Kreeft, 1986

I am on my second Lenten season of reading through Bread and Wine, an incredible collection of writings by ancient and modern Christian writers, philosophers, activists, theologians, and leaders.  I am in love with my mornings of directed readings.  The book is broken up into six sections:  Invitation,  Temptation, Passion,  Crucifixion, Resurrection, and New Life.  It has 72 articles, and I am slightly behind because I usually marinate on one article a day.  72>40, so I need to step it up, but I feel that I am drinking from a fire hydrant as I soak up the wisdom of those who know a heck of a lot more than I do.

The quote is an excerpt from today’s reading, and I have always found something wonderfully exhilarating about what Kreeft terms “Christian Judo.”  Jesus remarkably used the enemy’s power against him, in that he willingly stepped in as the passover Lamb, wielding the keys to the kingdom.  This is the hope that surfaces when it seems that all hope is lost.  This is the shift that I had the privilege of experiencing in the heart of my three-year-old as we watched Aslan willingly lie down on the stone table as the ice queen slaughtered him in the Disney rendition of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.   I told my daughter ahead of time not to worry, that Aslan would come back to life and “save the day.”  She can watch any movie as long as she knows that the good guy will save the day in the end.  Can’t we all?

In the depth of the dark night of Aslan’s slaughter, as Lucy and Susan were weeping into the shaved, cooling skin of their murdered beloved Aslan,  Lily sought reassurance. “Mommy, you said that he would save the day.  When will he? Are you sure?”

I responded, “Wait for the sun to rise, sweetie.  The stone table will break, and he will be alive again to save the day.”

Her anticipation was palpable.  My daughter was longing for Aslan to cancel out the evil magic that had rendered him the lamb to be slaughtered on Edmund’s behalf.

We both exhaled sighs of elation and relief as we saw Aslan’s profile rise over the stone tablet with the rising sun.  This was Lily’s first portrait of kingdom judo.  And this is the beginning of perfect love casting out fear for my three-year-old.

The enemy’s power is used to defeat him. Not only is the enemy defeated, but his own efforts to destroy us are thrown back in his face as the means by which our redemption is made possible.   Only God can do that. It is the greatest twist in the history of time. The death that the enemy thought would undo all of God’s plan was actually the death that opened up the opportunity for death to be crushed and turned on it’s head. This is the fragrant essence of hope. This is why we hope. In our seasons of death, we rejoice, because we know kingdom Judo. God’s secret weapon, His trump card, is always safe in His hand, and He will play it when the enemy is finished with all of his moves and thinks arrogantly that he has won the game.

This sickness, these shortcomings, and these areas of brokenness are indeed the undoing of me. And in this undoing, I am made whole because the ends becomes the means to God’s redemptive, overarching stunning plan of life destroying death. We don’t have all the answers, but we have the final answer. Life wins. Death dies. The love that surrenders to death actually releases the power that dethrones death. No fear is needed. Fear is negated and made obsolete.

We can exhale the fear of death’s finality when we see the cresting of our King on Sunday morning as He pulls out His trump card,  His deeper magic, and says, “See?  I hold the keys to life and death.  Why were you afraid, beloved?”

And I sigh with my daughter, able to freely take a deep breath for the first time, releasing it in trust of a Lord who breathes life into death, into me.

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Longing For Sunday

I write from my bed in a dark room flat on my back. I write on Good Friday, and I beg my husband to tell me why in the world Jesus had to be in the grave for so long. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week feel interminable. Jesus, what did you do for all of that time in the grave? My husband says he thinks that it is so no one would question the fact that He was indeed dead. He wasn’t just partly dead or mostly dead. But still…

Is that not what suffering feels like? Never-ending. Why does the night stretch on and on and on, Lord? Where is the light of the morning you promised? Will it ever come? Will light ever shine again? Is there hope? And yet….there’s hope in the questioning.  

Please hasten, Sunday. Please don’t ache so agonizingly, Friday and Saturday.  But you come, and you linger, every year. 24-hour segments strung together, like a pain that no anesthesia can quell. 

At this point, 2000 years later, I am so glad that it is simply a symbolic darkness, that really, He is risen and has been, and death knows its fate. He’s not in that grave. And yet it still stings, doesn’t it? The remembrance; The silence and solemn nature of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. Oh, we long for comfort, joy, resurrection. We are meant to. We were created with the longing. These are the three days of the year when the longing is most profound, and when I torture my husband with unanswerable questions regarding Jesus’ battle with death and time in the grave. 

Jesus, I’m so sorry. I’m so desperately sorry that you suffered and died. I’m so much more sorry that within your heart you took on the brokenness, sorrow, and falleness of humanity. I cannot fathom the bone-crushing weight of the sin of the world. Or the knowledge that you would have to carry it to the most dehumanizing and agonizing death. 

I rest in your love and grace as I grieve your death today. And I long for Sunday. 

Awakened for Easter

Stepping into the Lenten Season nearly 40 days ago, I had no idea that I was in for the spiritual ride of my life. An awakening. Somehow this year, a new life has sprung forth into my liturgical calendar. I started Lent as I usually do, with a Facebook fast, making a bit more space for God in my fringe moments when both babies are napping, or nursing the littlest one, or preparing to drift off into my own much-coveted sleep. Somehow, this Facebook fast (partial fast) opened up doors for massive healing (disruption and excruciating pain). I look back on this season of Lent, and instead of seeing about 6 weeks, I feel like I am peering back at 16 long months. I guess that it started with increased reading (not really writing, which was the plan all along). I read fictions for fun, Spiritual development, The Book of Common Prayer, Memoirs, and Devotionals. I got acquainted with the practice of Examen, a Jesuit tradition, started by Saint Ignatius, which rocked my world. I took time out for a prayer retreat for women in our church, which turned out to be a trauma-stirring trigger-fest that was ironically exactly what I needed. I was challenged with my anorexia recovery, which is evidently not as strong as I blindly believed it to be. I gained a new wonderful Spiritual big sister, who is willing to walk beside me on my emotional and spiritual healing path. Finally, I broke off ties with my parents. Note: This last one is the most life-changing.
What in the world is God up to? This really all happens when you clear out a little space for him in your down time? He has been here all along, prodding, talking, comforting, opening up doors, but I have been walking along with blinders.
God, give me the discipline to continue to be open to your Spirit every day of my life. You are so heavily entwined in the mundane tasks of life. You have been here all along, and I have missed you. Help me not to miss you as I drive my children to play group, or lay in bed next to my husband, or push the double-stroller over the bumpy cement of the park, or sit in my dietician’s office, or participate in the Lord’s Supper tonight at our Maundy Thursday service at Church. Each moment drips with the richness of your Spirit. Please allow me the discipline to soak it up.
As we come to the table tonight to commemorate the Lord’s last supper with His disciples, I don’t want to simply go through the motions. I want to anticipate His presence because I know for a fact that He will be there, and He IS there, waiting for me. He is washing our feet, our KING stoops down to wash our feet. I want to really truly show up for Him.

Ash Wednesday

I drop the kids off at the nursery. Miraculously, the toddler is distracted long enough for me to slip out. The baby loves the nursery, so there is no push-back from him. My husband, the pastor, is dressed in purple. This morning, he was debating between black and purple. I helped him choose purple, because the poor man’s black pants were too faded for his new black shirt. Ash Wednesday. This is my first experience of having the ashes placed on my head. This is my husband’s first experience of administering the ashes. I enter the sanctuary alone, a bit lost without tots in my arms or clinging to my legs. Being a pastor’s wife, you get used to sitting alone during the services. A girl in the mom’s group makes room for me to slide in beside her. “This is my first Ash Wednesday service,” she says. “Mine too,” I respond with a bit of an internal sigh. Maybe I’m not entirely alone. A third friend slides in beside us. We smile apologetically to the other occupants of the pew who are having to shift again. I feel a sense of sisterhood. This is a first since my husband and I moved to this state three years ago. Three years is a long time to be lonely.
I see my husband up front. I appreciate our decision on the purple shirt. He looks very “Eastery.” Black would have been too somber. But, then again, it is Ash Wednesday. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” It would have also been appropriate. I reflect on the beheading of the 21 Egyptian Christians. Interestingly enough, I finished reading The Book Thief last night also. This has been a week of extreme awareness of mortality. Still, I go into the service blindly. I am told that this is the senior pastor’s least favorite service. I can’t seem to understand why. It is important to come face-to-face with our own sinfulness, right? To see that we are only mortal, in need of a Savior. He must just be a little too optimistic, I assume. Too feel-good.
I am not sure at what point I am blind-sided by the power of the awareness of death, but it hits me like a two-by-four over the head. I stare at the stain glass image of Christ above the altar. My eyes swim as my heart sinks. I will die. My children will die. My husband will die. One day, every single soul in this sanctuary will be taken from these bodies. My children, both under the age of two, will face death because of this stupid broken, fallen world that we live in. Eventually, this planet will cycle through its current population of humans to host a new population, who think, like we do, that they are invincible.
We stand up to sing a hymn. Dang it, where are the tissues in this sanctuary? We sing “What Wondrous Love is This,” one of my favorites. My spirit hovers over the line that says, “And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.” I am perplexed by this word choice. Obviously, the writer is speaking of eternity after death, but he refers to this as freedom from death. And then my heart leaps with epiphany at this realization: In death, and only in death, we are to be liberated from death. And this is the work of the Cross. The Cross, that in 40 days we will celebrate, will open up the opportunity for us to find freedom from the death that we face tonight, this Ash Wednesday. I am terrified of death. Terrified to the point that it can become a preoccupation, an obsession. But within this gem of a hymn, I find a grounds for liberation from this fear. I can find freedom from my fear of death within death itself, for death is what will usher me into eternity. It is there, that I will indeed sing on, unfettered by the earthly power of death. My mom-companions and I approach the front of the church for the ashes. I am horrified at myself, the pastor’s wife, ugly-crying all the way up the main aisle of the sanctuary. I allow the youth pastor to rub the ashes on my forehead, my first ashy cross, and I make my way to my seat. My companions dab their eyes, and I ask for a tissue. We sit there, ugly-crying together, taking in this strange ceremony that holds up a magnifying glass to something that no one really wants to think about. But it is not simply for the sake of making us look willy-nilly at the fact that we will all die and that we all sin. No, we will go from dust to dust, but from dust, we will ascend to glory, where we will no longer be haunted by the shadowy fingers of the grave. We come to this service with the awareness of the victory that has been won, and in hope of the ultimate victory to come. Death will meet its demise, and we will sing on of His Wondrous love. I look up to my husband and smile, once again glad that we opted for the purple over the black.