When Grief and Easter Collide

easter pic 3

I shared the news of my father’s death with you three weeks ago.

My 95-year-old Dad’s health began to change rather quickly right after Christmas. We did our best to navigate through the ups-and-downs, and we put our heads together and we figured-out what to do every time life threw us another curve.  But three weeks ago, right in the middle of Lent, everything took a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse and my father died. I shared my tribute with you on the next day: “When Your Dad Dies”

The days that followed my Dad’s death were both busy and numbing. We needed to call the funeral home and give them some time to prepare my Dad’s body for the visitation. My sisters and I hosted a short visitation three days after our father died; and then, we had a short service, and a private burial on a cold and bitter afternoon. My Dad’s body was lowered into the ground right after I performed a short committal at the cemetery; and, right after that, my family and I faced what I’d call a “pregnant moment.” There’s that “pregnant moment” of silence when you’re standing at the edge of a grave and you realize that there’s nothing else that you can do. And, as much as you’d like to stay there a little longer, you know in your heart that it’s time to walk away. And then, you hop into your car and just drive….

One of the things that I’ve learned through all of this is that when people that we love fall into a raging river there’s not a whole lot that we can do. And so,  I returned to work and  continued to prepare for Easter. I wrote a short sermon about love for Maundy Thursday. I prepared a short series of meditations focused upon the “Stations of the Cross” for Good Friday and used those meditations to share some things I have learned about care-giving, compassion, forgiveness, and facing the moment of a loved-one’s death as I’ve shared my Dad’s final journey with him. But, I was still left in that “pregnant moment” where we all find ourselves right after we bury someone that we’ve loved and need to walk away. And then, right in the middle of Holy Week, it hit me….

This year’s Easter message, “When Grief and Easter Collide”, moves to the very core of hope in the Sacred Story that we share. Shortly after Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the very people who had shouted “Hosanna!” decided that He needed to die. In just a few short days, a man who appeared to be doing quite well was arrested and was put on trial. A man, who appeared to be doing quite well just a few days earlier, was swept into a raging river that led to a savage beating, crucifixion, and bloody death. And then, just a short time after Jesus died, His body was removed from the Cross and it was prepared for burial. The opening of the cold, dark Tomb was sealed as Jesus’ family and closest friends stood there in silence. And then they (just like myself and other members of my Dad’s remaining family) needed to walk away.

But, the Sacred Story tells us that the “pregnant moment” that occurs after someone is sealed in a grave isn’t the end. The women returned to the Tomb and discovered that the stone has been rolled away. A man dressed in dazzling white told them that Jesus – who once was dead – had been raised to new life. And in that moment, the Sacred Story takes us to that critical moment in life when faith and harsh realities collide. The Sacred Story is one that speaks a word of hope and peace “When Grief and Easter Collide.”

My journey from the sadness of Good Friday to the joyous celebration of Easter this year has, once again, reminded me that God takes care of us no matter what we face in life or in death. The Sacred Story has taught me that, sometimes, we need to slow down because God’s power can be experienced in new ways during pregnant moments filled with pain and loneliness. The Sacred Story that tells us about a glorious Day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes drew me to a place – to the Church – where people supported me and surrounded me and sang songs of great hope and faith that I’m not ready to sing yet. The Sacred Story drew me to a place – to the gathering of God’s faithful people – where I was reminded that I’m going to see my Dad again – in a place where we’re not going to have to worry about life throwing us curves, and in a place where we’ll finally find the peace and rest that we crave.

Easter is a special moment in time when life and eternity collide. Easter is a glorious day when we remember that when the raging waters of life sweep people that we love away from us, it’s not the end of the story!

Christ is risen! An empty Tomb bears witness to the fact that our tombs – and the tombs of the people that we love and have loved – will be empty someday, too. “When Grief and Easter Collide”, death and decay are swallowed-up in the victory of Christ!

The Great Liturgy of my brothers and sisters in the Orthodox tradition announces:

“Tonight, Hell groans: ‘My power has vanished. I received One who died as mortals die, but I could not hold Him. With Him and through Him, I lost those over which I ruled. I had held control over the dead since the world began; and lo, He raises them all up with Him to shine in glory.”

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

 

What Comes After Easter?

easter pic 2

What’s Next?

The Sacred Story of our faith has carried us through the Season of Lent and to another celebration of Easter. We’ve explored 5 Faith Practices that can strengthen our lives of faith, build-up our families, help us raise faith-filled children and grandchildren, and even strengthen our ministry as a church. We were challenged to reflect upon Christ’s call to love each other and to live-well with each other on Maundy Thursday, and we explored what it means to love and extend compassion as we gathered in the dark shadow of the Cross on Good Friday. And then, on Easter, we witnessed the dramatic collision of grief and hope, and we were reminded that we are the carriers of a Sacred Story that has the life-giving power to change people’s lives and to shape the future of our world.

And now, we find ourselves standing in a very different part of the Sacred Story.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint [the body of Jesus.] And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the Tomb.” (Mark 16:1-2) The women who went to the Tomb had heavy hearts and grave concerns about the future. Life hadn’t unfolded in the way that they had expected, and there were many reasons to be afraid. And, when they got to the Tomb, the women experienced the totally unexpected. Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead! The empty Tomb stood as a clear sign that our God doesn’t remain silent in a world where the raging rivers of life sweep people away. And we can still celebrate that fact on Easter. We can still celebrate the fact that we have a God who comes into the world to shatter the darkness and to bring life-giving Light once again.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome could have walked away from the Tomb and said nothing. They could have very easily said to each other, “Wow! What we just witnessed is incredible, and it’s something that fills our hearts with faith!” They could have returned to their homes and families, to their friends and acquaintances, and to the places where they lived and worked without saying a word. And the Sacred Story may have ended right then and there. One of the most important things that we need to remember in the days and weeks after Easter is that, if people hadn’t continued to share the Sacred Story with each other, Easter would probably be just another ordinary day of the year—much like any other day.

What’s Next?

We live in world where Easter just IS another ordinary day of the year for many people. Easter’s a day when little children hunt for Easter eggs and eat chocolate, and it’s a day when people peel foil-covered chocolate eggs and eat yellow peeps. We live in a world filled with people who rush to the Easter buffet to get ahead of the “Church crowd,” and where schools coincidentally schedule “Spring Break” at Easter. And in that same world, we’re stunned by violence and bullying. We continue to be shocked by incidents of road rage and to be stunned by the shooting of innocent students in our public schools. We don’t always speak to each other in helpful ways, and we often walk away from people who don’t think about life in the same ways that we do. And, ironically, the Sacred Story tells us that we shouldn’t be surprised by any of that…. The Sacred Story continues to point us toward the fact that mere human beings don’t have the power to transform our world into the place that God created it to be. Secular humanism has clearly failed – and humanity’s best route forward continues to be found in an ongoing process of death and resurrection.

We have a mighty task before us as carriers of the Sacred Story.

God continues to call us to live-well with each other, to encourage each other, to forgive each other, to build each other up, and to spur each other on. Christ continues to call us to interpret our lives through the lens of the story of God’s love, and Christ continues to draw us together into a community of love where He nourishes us. Christ continues to call us to share the Sacred Story of God’s welcome, love and warm embrace in a world where people continue to divide themselves into smaller and smaller groups. Christ is a Risen Lord who continues to call us to serve each other, to surround those who struggle with our warm embrace, to feed the hungry, to spend some time with the lonely, to help people who are struggling with illnesses that we don’t fully understand, and to be a voice for those who have no voice in a world that’s content to simply leave them in the dust.

What’s Next?

St. James once wrote: “Be doers of the word, and not just hearers only” (James 1:22); and, I believe, that that’s the great mission that’s set before those who see themselves as Easter people. The Sacred Story reminds us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome could have walked away from the Tomb and said nothing—but they didn’t do that because they knew that they had something important to share with the world. The women who came to the Tomb on that first Easter morning could have easily said, “Wow! What we just witnessed is incredible, and it’s something that fills our hearts with faith!” And then, they could have returned to their homes and families, to their friends and acquaintances, and to the places where they lived and worked without saying a word. And the Sacred Story may have ended right then and there.

How will you be changed by the Sacred Story’s proclamation of Christ’s victory?

We live in a world filled with little children who are being taught that hunting for colored eggs, eating chocolate, peeling foil-covered chocolate eggs and biting the heads off yellow peeps is what Easter is all about. We live in a world filled with children who are being taught that they need to rush to the Easter buffet, so that they can get ahead of the “Church crowd”—and we’re teaching those same little children that Easter is nothing more than an excuse for a “Spring Break.”

Will we, as God’s people, allow that trend to simply continue unchallenged, or will we continue to understand that we are the carriers of a Sacred Story that speaks of hope and new life in the face of life’s great unanswered questions?

What’s Next?

God’s Creating Something New!

Butterfly

The Biblical theme of “darkness” has always fascinated me.

The Bible tells us that God moved around in the darkness long before He ever said, “Let there be light.” (Genesis 1:3) God wrestled with Jacob in the darkness (Genesis 32:22-31), and Jacob saw a ladder reaching into Heaven in the darkness (Genesis 28:10-12). We read that God moved through the land of Egypt and “passed over” the homes of the Israelites (Exodus 12:12) in the darkness. We read that the tomb of Jesus was found empty “at early dawn” (Luke 24:1) because God had raised the Christ in the darkness.

It’s easy for us to be overcome by the darkness these days. North Korea has been rattling its nuclear swords; and, last week, we witnessed the strategic dropping of the “Mother of All Bombs.” We’ve heard about innocent people being killed by poisonous gas in Syria and about millions of people starving to death in Africa. People are dying, every day, from drug overdoses and churches need to carefully screen volunteers before allowing them to work with children. We live in a world where relationships are hard, where our marriages can crumble and fall apart, and where young people are being bullied while they attend school.

And yet, the God who has worked “in the darkness” through all of human history is hard at work today! God’s creating something new, and God’s restoring what has been broken and what needs to be healed!

In this week’s message, “God’s Creating Something New!”, we’re reminded that God is at work in our world and that the forces of good shall prevail. The message of Easter is one that reminds us that, when it’s all said and done, the forces of good and the forces of God will surely prevail! And that’s what we really need to know, isn’t it?

Easter reminds us that God shall triumph; but Easter, also, sends us back into the world as people with a mission. Every time we leave our homes and our churches, we return to a world where we’ll be surrounded by darkness and bad news. Every time we leave our homes and churches, we’re challenged to speak to others with a conviction that springs from Easter courage and Easter hope!

Jesus Christ is risen! All the forces of evil and pain and brokenness have crumbled before the power of a God who even raises the dead! And, today, we can live our lives knowing that all of us – all of the people we love – and all of the people in our world – are securely held in the hands of a God who continues to work “in the darkness” and Who has surely promised us that He’ll lift us up to a better and more glorious Day.

Alleluia!