There is a fragrance in the air, a certain passage of a song, an old photograph falling out from the pages of a book, the sound of somebody’s voice in the hall that makes your heart leap and fills your eyes with tears. Who can say when or how it will be that something easters up out of the dimness to remind us of a time before we were born and after we will die?
God himself does not give answers. He gives himself. ~Frederick Buechner from Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale
All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born. ~William Butler Yeats from “Easter, 1916”
It has been a slow coming of spring, seeming in no hurry whatsoever. Snow remains in the foothills and the greening of the fields has only begun.
The flowering plum and cherry trees finally have burst into bloom despite a continued chill. It has felt like winter for over a year yet now the perfumed air of spring permeates the day. Such extreme variability is disorienting, much like standing blinded in a spotlight in a darkened room.
Yet this is exactly what eastering is like. It is awakening out of a restless sleep, opening a door to let in fresh air, and the stone that has locked us in the dark so long has been rolled back.
I see his blood upon the rose And in the stars the glory of his eyes, His body gleams amid eternal snows, His tears fall from the skies.
I see his face in every flower; The thunder and the singing of the birds Are but his voice-and carven by his power Rocks are his written words.
All pathways by his feet are worn, His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea, His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn, His cross is every tree. ~Joseph Plunkett “I See His Blood Upon the Rose”
…to break through earth and stone of the faithless world back to the cold sepulchre, tearstained stifling shroud; to break from them back into breath and heartbeat, and walk the world again, closed into days and weeks again, wounds of His anguish open, and Spirit streaming through every cell of flesh so that if mortal sight could bear to perceive it, it would be seen His mortal flesh was lit from within, now, and aching for home. He must return, first, In Divine patience, and know hunger again, and give to humble friends the joy of giving Him food – fish and a honeycomb. ~Denise Levertov “Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell” from A Door in the Hive
The Holy Saturday of our life must be the preparation for Easter, the persistent hope for the final glory of God. The virtue of our daily life is the hope which does what is possible and expects God to do the impossible. To express it somewhat paradoxically, but nevertheless seriously: the worst has actually already happened; we exist, and even death cannot deprive us of this. Now is the Holy Saturday of our ordinary life, but there will also be Easter, our true and eternal life. ~Karl Rahner “Holy Saturday” in The Great Church Year
This in-between day after all had gone so wrong: the rejection, the denials, the trumped-up charges, the beatings, the burden, the jeering, the thorns, the nails, the thirst, the despair of being forsaken.
This in-between day before all will go so right: the forgiveness and compassion, the grace and sacrifice, the debt paid in full, the immovable stone rolled away, our name on His lips, our hearts burning to hear His words.
What does it take to move the stone? When it is an effort to till the untillable, creating a place where simple seed can drop, be covered and sprout and thrive, it takes muscle and sweat and blisters and tears.
What does it take to move the stone? When it is a day when no one will speak out of fear, the silent will be moved to cry out the truth, heard and known and never forgotten.
What does it take to move the stone? When it is a day when all had given up, gone behind locked doors in grief. When two came to tend the dead, there would be no dead to tend.
Only a gaping hole left Only an empty tomb Only a weeping weary silence broken by Love calling our name and we turn to greet Him as if hearing it for the first time.
We cannot imagine what is to come in the dawn tomorrow as the stone lifted and rolled, giving way so our separation is bridged, darkness overwhelmed by light, the crushed and broken rising to dance, and inexplicably, from the waiting stillness He stirs and we, finding death emptied, greet Him with trembling and are forever moved, just like the stone.
How is faith to endure, O God, when you allow all this scraping and tearing on us? You have allowed rivers of blood to flow, mountains of suffering to pile up, sobs to become humanity’s song– all without lifting a finger that we could see. You have allowed bonds of love beyond number to be painfully snapped. If you have not abandoned us, explain yourself.
Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.
We strain to hear. But instead of hearing an answer we catch sight of God himself scraped and torn. Through our tears we see the tears of God. ~Nicholas Wolterstorffin Lament for a Son
“My God, My God,” goes the Psalm 22, “hear me, why have you forsaken me?”
This is the anguish all we of Godforsaken heart know well. But hear the revelation to which Christ directs us, further in the same psalm:
For He has not despised nor scorned the beggar’s supplication, Nor has He turned away His face from me; And when I cried out to Him, He heard me.“
He hears us, and he knows, because he has suffered as one Godforsaken. Which means that you and I, even in our darkest hours, are not forsaken. Though we may hear nothing, feel nothing, believe nothing, we are not forsaken, and so we need not despair.
And that is everything. That is Good Friday and it is hope, it is life in this darkened age, and it is the life of the world to come. ~Tony Woodlief from “We are Not Forsaken”
Scratch the surface of a human being and the demons of hate and revenge … and sheer destructiveness break forth.
The cross stands before us to remind us of this depth of ourselves so that we can never forget.
Again and again we read the stories of violence in our daily papers, of the mass murders and ethnic wars still occurring in numerous parts of our world. But how often do we say to ourselves: “What seizes people like that, even young people, to make them forget family and friends, and suddenly kill other human beings?” We don’t always ask the question in that manner. Sometimes we are likely to think, almost smugly: “How different those horrible creatures are from the rest of us. How fortunate I am that I could never kill or hurt other people like they did.”
I do not like to stop and, in the silence, look within, but when I do I hear a pounding on the floor of my soul. When I open the trap door into the deep darkness I see the monsters emerge for me to deal with. How painful it is to bear all this, but it is there to bear in all of us. If I do not deal with it, it deals with me. The cross reminds me of all this.
This inhumanity of human to human is tamed most of the time by law and order in most of our communities, but there are not laws strong enough to make men and women simply cease their cruelty and bitterness. This destructiveness within us can seldom be transformed until we squarely face it in ourselves. This confrontation often leads us into the pit.
The empty cross is planted there to remind us: suffering is real but not the end, victory still is possible… ~Morton Kelsey from “The Cross and the Cellar”
The whole of Christ’s life was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last.
His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day. From the creche to the cross is an inseparable line. Christmas only points forward to Good Friday and Easter. It can have no meaning apart from that, where the Son of God displayed his glory by his death. ~John Donne – hisopening words in his sermon on Christmas Day 1626
Anytime we assume God in heaven could not possibly understand the loneliness and rejection we feel the pain and discouragement we endure the hatred that taints our communities the suffering that is part of living inside these frail vessels, our bodies. Surely, we think — if there was a God, He would do something about it:
He reminds us today of all days He was scraped and torn – no scratching the surface, but gouged deep. He knows exactly what we endure because He wasn’t spared.
He took it all on Himself — our affliction became His.
May the power of your love, Lord Christ, fiery and sweet as honey, so absorb our hearts as to withdraw them from all that is under heaven. Grant that we may be ready to die for love of your love, as you died for love of our love. ~St. Francis of Assisi
Maundy Thursday is a day of letting go while still holding on.
If I am to see Jesus and know the power of His love, I must let go of this life and walk with Him with every step to the cross. I have only a tenuous grip on this world, utterly dependent on the Lord taking care of me.
This day, I am reminded of a few basics: No arguing over who is best. No hiding my dirty feet. No holding back on the most precious of gifts. No falling asleep. No selling out. No turning and running away. No covering my face in denial. No looking back. No clinging to the comforts of the world.
But of course I fail again and again. My heart resists leaving behind what I know.
Plucked from the crowd, I must grasp and carry His load (which is, of course, my load) alongside Him. Now is my turn to hold on and not let go, as if life depends on it. Which it does — requiring no nails.
The fire of His love leaves my sin in ashes. The food of His body nurtures my soul. From that soul and ashes rises new life. Love of His love of our love.
In a daring and beautiful creative reversal, God takes the worse we can do to Him and turns it into the very best He can do for us. ~Malcolm Guite from The Word in the Wilderness
See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him— his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness— 15 so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. Isaiah 52: 13-15
When I was wounded whether by God, the devil, or myself —I don’t know yet which— it was seeing the sparrows again and clumps of clover, after three days, that told me I hadn’t died. When I was young, all it took were those sparrows, those lush little leaves, for me to sing praises, dedicate operas to the Lord. But a dog who’s been beaten is slow to go back to barking and making a fuss over his owner —an animal, not a person like me who can ask: Why do you beat me? Which is why, despite the sparrows and the clover, a subtle shadow still hovers over my spirit. May whoever hurt me, forgive me. ~Adelia Prado “Divine Wrath” translated from BrazilianPortuguese by Ellen Doré Watson
Emmet Till’s mother speaking over the radio
She tells in a comforting voice what it was like to touch her dead boy’s face,
how she’d lingered and traced the broken jaw, the crushed eyes–
the face that badly beaten, disfigured— before confirming his identity.
And then she compares his face to the face of Jesus, dying on the cross.
This mother says no, she’d not recognize her Lord, for he was beaten far, far worse
than the son she loved with all her heart. For, she said, she could still discern her son’s curved earlobe,
A brief and unexpected Palm Sunday storm blew through yesterday afternoon with gusts of southerly winds, horizontal rain and noisy hale. I had left the north/south center aisle doors wide open after morning chores, so the storm also blew through the barn. Hay, empty buckets, horse halters and cat food were strewn about. The Haflinger horses stood wide-eyed and fretful in their stalls as the hail on the metal roof hammered away.
Once I got the doors closed and secured, all was soon made right. The horses relaxed and got back to their meals and things felt normal again.
Today, Holy Monday morning, all seems calm. The barn is still there, the roof still on, the horses where they belong and all seems to be as it was before the barnstorming wind. Or so it might appear.
This wind heralds another storm beginning this week that hits with such force that I’m knocked off my feet, blown away, and left bruised and breathless. No latches, locks, or barricades are strong enough to protect me from what will come over the next few days.
Yesterday he rode in on a donkey softly, humbly, and wept at what he knew must come.
Today, he overturns the tables in his fury.
Tomorrow he describes the destruction that is to happen, yet no one understands.
Wednesday, a woman boldly anoints him with precious oil, as preparation.
On Thursday, he kneels before his friends, pours water over their dusty feet, presides over a simple meal, and later, abandoned, sweats blood in agonized prayer.
By Friday, all culminates in a most perfect storm, transforming everything in its path, leaving nothing untouched, the curtain torn, the veil removed.
The silence on Saturday is deafening.
Next Sunday, the Son rises, sheds his shroud and neatly folds was is no longer needed. He is nearly unrecognizable in his glory.
He calls my name, my heart burns within me at his words and I can never be the same again.
I am, once again, barnstormed to the depths of my soul. Doors flung open wide, my roof pulled off, everything of no consequence blown away and now replaced, renewed and reconciled.
May it be done this week as he has said, again and yet again, year after year, life after life.
1. Courage, my soul, and let us journey on, Tho’ the night is dark, it won’t be very long. Thanks be to God, the morning light appears, And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
Chorus: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! The storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
2. Billows rolling high, and thunder shakes the ground, Lightnings flash, and tempest all around, Jesus walks the sea and calms the angry waves, And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah! [Chorus]
3. The stars have disappeared, and distant lights are dim, My soul is filled with fears, the seas are breaking in. I hear the Master cry, “Be not afraid, ’tis I,” And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah! [Chorus]
4. Soon we shall reach the distant shining shore, Free from all the storms, we’ll rest forevermore. Safe within the veil, we’ll furl the riven sail, And the storm will all be over, Hallelujah! [Chorus]
On the outskirts of Jerusalem the donkey waited. Not especially brave, or filled with understanding, he stood and waited.
How horses, turned out into the meadow, leap with delight! How doves, released from their cages, clatter away, splashed with sunlight.
But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited. Then he let himself be led away. Then he let the stranger mount.
Never had he seen such crowds! And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen. Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.
I hope, finally, he felt brave. I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him, as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward. ~Mary Oliver “The Poet thinks about the donkey” from her book Thirst.
With monstrous head and sickening cry And ears like errant wings…
The tattered outlaw of the earth, Of ancient crooked will; Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour; One far fierce hour and sweet: There was a shout about my ears, And palms before my feet. G. K. Chesterton from “The Donkey”
Palm Sunday is a day of dissonance and dichotomy in the church year, very much like the donkey who figured as a central character that day. Sadly, a donkey gets no respect, then or now – for his plain and awkward looks, for his loud and inharmonious voice, for his apparent lack of strength — yet he was the chosen mode of transportation for a King riding to His death.
There was a motley parade to Jerusalem: cloaks and palms laid at the feet of the donkey bearing the Son of God, disorderly shouts of adoration and blessings, the rebuke of the Pharisees to quiet the people, His response that “even the stones will cry out” knowing what is to come.
But the welcoming crowd waving palm branches, shouting sweet hosannas and laying down their cloaks did not understand the fierce transformation to come, did not know within days they would be a mob shouting words of derision and rejection and condemnation.
The donkey knew because he had been derided, rejected and condemned himself, yet still kept serving. Just as he was given voice and understanding centuries before to protect Balaam from going the wrong way, he could have opened his mouth to tell them, suffering beatings for his effort. Instead, just as he bore the unborn Jesus to Bethlehem and stood over Him sleeping in the manger, just as he bore a mother and child all the way to Egypt to hide from Herod, the donkey would keep his secret well.
Who, after all, would ever listen to a mere donkey?
We would do well to pay attention to this braying wisdom.
The donkey knows.
He bears the burden we have shirked. He treads with heavy heart over the palms and cloaks we lay down as meaningless symbols of honor. He is the ultimate servant to the Servant.
A day of dichotomy — of honor and glory laid underfoot only to be stepped on of blessings and praise turning to curses of the beginning of the end becoming a new beginning for us all.
And so He wept, knowing all this. I suspect the donkey bearing Him wept as well, in his own simple, plain and honest way, and I’m quite sure he kept it as his special secret.
Take heart, my Friend, we’ll go together This uncertain road that lies ahead Our faithful God has always gone before us And He will lead the Way once again. Take heart, my Friend, we can walk together And if our burdens become too great We can hold up and help one another In God’s LOVE, in God’s Grace. Take heart my Friend, the Lord is with us As He has been all the days of our lives Our assurance every morning Our Defender in the Night. If we should falter when trouble surrounds us When the wind and the waves are wild and high We will look away to HIM who rules the waters; Who speaks His Peace into the angry tide. He is our Comfort, our Sustainer He is our Help in time of need When we wander, He is our Shepherd He who watches over us NEVER sleeps. Take heart my friend, the Lord is with us As He has been all the days of our lives Our Assurance every morning Our Defender every night. Amen. 🙂
Humble King You chose the road that led to suffering Nothing was spared to prove Your love for me Oh, the mystery That Your final breath became eternity What we had lost forever You redeemed, mmm
Hosanna, Hosanna In the highest forever Hosanna, Hosanna Hallelujah forever
Triumphant King The Lamb who was slain who rose in majesty There’s never a heart beyond Your victory You are the one that we are welcoming You are the one that we are welcoming, oh
Hosanna, Hosanna In the highest forever Hosanna, Hosanna Hallelujah forever Hosanna, Hosanna In the highest forever Hosanna, Hosanna Hallelujah forever
Ooh, forever We worship You forever, forever It’s all about You Blessed is He, blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord Oh, join now and sing, Jesus is King He reigns
From the place where we are right Flowers will never grow In the spring.
The place where we are right Is hard and trampled Like a yard.
But doubts and loves Dig up the world Like a mole, a plow. And a whisper will be heard in the place Where the ruined House once stood. ~Yehuda Amichai “The Place Where We Are RIght” from A Touch of Grace
Sometimes I am so certain I am right, remaining firm in my convictions no matter what. Yet when there is no movement, the ground beneath my feet hardens with my stubborn trampling. Nothing new can grow without my crushing it underfoot; any possibility becomes impossible.
Sometimes I harbor doubts and uncertainties, digging and churning up the ground upon which I stand. When things are turned over, again and again, new weeds and seeds will take root. Sorting them out becomes my challenge, determining what to nurture and what is worthless.
As I look ahead to this coming week, treading the familiar ground of the events of Holy Week, I cannot help but question and wonder: how can this impossible Love save those, who like me, feel dry and hard and devoid of possibility or who unwittingly allow weeds to proliferate?
Then I hear it, like a whisper. Yes, it is true. Loved despite sometimes being hard ground, or growing weeds or lying fallow as a rocky path.
I too will rise again from the ruins. I too will arise.
My Lord, my Lord, Long have I cried out to Thee In the heat of the sun, The cool of the moon, My screams searched the heavens for Thee. My God, When my blanket was nothing but dew, Rags and bones Were all I owned, I chanted Your name Just like Job.
Father, Father, My life give I gladly to Thee Deep rivers ahead High mountains above My soul wants only Your love But fears gather round like wolves in the dark. Have You forgotten my name? O Lord, come to Your child. O Lord, forget me not.
You said to lean on Your arm And I’m leaning You said to trust in Your love And I’m trusting You said to call on Your name And I’m calling I’m stepping out on Your word.
Into the alleys Into the byways Into the streets And the roads And the highways Past rumor mongers And midnight ramblers Past the liars and the cheaters and the gamblers. On Your word On Your word. On the wonderful word of the Son of God. I’m stepping out on Your word. ~Maya Angelou from “Just Like Job”
Once again — and again and again — bullets have been fired out of evil intent by disturbed and hate-filled men, striking down people who look (and are) just like us.
Weeping never needs translation or interpretation, no matter what color cheeks they moisten.
Distrust and fear continue to impact us daily, settling like a shroud over the most routine activities – going to school, going grocery shopping, going to church. It isn’t just a virus that threatens us; it is being targeted in someone’s gun sight.
In order to even walk out the door in the morning, we must fall back on what we are told, each and every day, in 365 different verses in God’s Word itself:
Do not be overwhelmed with evil but overcome evil with good.
We shall overcome despite evil and our fear of each other.
The goal of this life is to live for others, to live in such a way that death cannot erase the meaning and significance of a life. We are called to give up our selfish agendas in order to consider the dignity of others and their greater good. We are called to keep weapons out of the hands of those who would use them to harm themselves or others, which means better screening, longer waiting periods, improved tracking of ownership.
It is crystal clear from Christ’s example as we observe His journey to the cross over the next week: we are to cherish life, all lives, born and unborn, even unto death. Christ forgave those who hated and murdered Him.
Our only defense against the evil we witness is God’s offense. Only God can lead us to Tolkien’s “where everything sad will come untrue”, where we shall live in peace, walk hand in hand, no longer alone, no longer afraid, no longer shedding tears of grief and sorrow, but tears of relief and joy.
We shall all be free. We shall overcome because God does.
We shall overcome
We shall live in peace
We’ll walk hand in hand
We shall all be free
We are not afraid
We are not alone
God will see us through
We shall overcome
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe We shall overcome some day
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…. The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Strength to Love