You can sense a difference in the air when it’s nearly spring.
The birds are awake and singing from the trees earlier in the morning. The sun feels brighter as it slips through the curtains. The sky has turned to soft hues to welcome each new day.
When the winds stop blowing, and winter finally surrenders its grip, it’s almost as though there is a peaceful stillness in the air that rests just at the tip of your nose.
The birds know. The trees know. The Earth knows.
It’s time to awaken.
Every winter, when I spend my nights listening to the wind slam against the side of the house and howl through glass windows, it always feels as though time has slowed. It feels like we are stuck there, in a seemingly barren place.
The days drag on and bring with them ice and gray, clouds and darkness. The Earth lays dormant, the splendor of nature gone.
Though death is an unwelcome part of life, the fact remains that it is necessary. It is vital.
It is the stillness of winter that the Earth quietly prepares for the spring. The mighty oaks know. The animals know. The bulbs and seeds laying hidden beneath a crust of frozen dirt know. Long before the end of winter nears, the work has already begun.
They all know are preparing to live.
Because hope is planted deep.
As we broke the bread and drank from the cup on Sunday, the man standing in front of our congregation reminded us that though Christ was prepared to die, prepared for the Father’s ultimate task that lay before Him and for glory afterwards, He had also prepared to live.
He indeed had come to die, but He had just as surely come to live.
When I think of what it is that I prepare for in my life, I find that I am normally readying myself for an onslaught.
I am waiting for things to go bad. I am waiting for wrinkles and for time to do its unforgiving work to my body. I am waiting for the next best thing, hoping that there really is a next thing.
I am looking for the bread crumbs of a mediocre, successful life. And while I am, I silently grieve over my misfortune of being mortal and doomed to fade away.
I grieve the pain because I do not know any better. I grieve the pain because sometimes, I believe that this is all there is. I grieve the pain because I foolishly believe that the greatest sum of all of Jesus’ earthly work was to make everything okay for me.
I grieve because though I worry if I will live up to the righteousness lavished upon me by God’s only son, I silently wish that life would just work out the way that I have planned, and cannot understand why it always doesn’t.
I haphazardly gloss over the richness of what it means to actually live for Jesus, not just to remain protected by Him in my bubble until I die.
As we mark Easter Sunday, the question we must again ask ourselves, like Jesus asked Peter: Who is it that you think Jesus is?
Because how we face our life, our death, and how we live will be colored by who we believe He is.
In His life and death are a tapestry of truths, and hidden behind them are even more truths. We must seek them to find meaning.
Jesus spent His years preparing for ministry, carefully placing His disciples around him, reaching out and touching the outcasts of society, and it came to a head when He was nailed to the haggard cross he had borne to the top of calvary Himself.
Those who mocked Him believed that His power could be displayed had He unhinged Himself from that cross and come down; had He shown might instead of meekness and submission. He had served Himself. No one would have blamed Him if He did indeed save Himself. We hardly ever fault the person who does what they must in order to preserve themselves from torment, especially if we believe that person to be a king of kings.
We humans live to shelter ourselves from anguish. We believe that to endure suffering is the opposite of what it means to really live.
We forget that through suffering, we were saved. And by loving those who suffer, we might display the riches of God’s grace and mercy. We forget that it is through suffering that we might taste God.
His followers and disciples could not fathom what was happening. Their king was sentenced to die, maliciously executed at the hands of Rome and this was not the way it was supposed to be.
They believed that they had hope, and now, that hope was plucked from their hands. Ripped apart. His blood soaking into the wood as breath escaped His body and He relinquished Himself to the father.
They believed that it was over. They believed that all of their work and their faith had culminated in nothing. They believed that their lives were ultimately marked by death and that there was no escape from it. It seemed not even for the Son of God.
What hope is there left for us, then? But to rely on death as the only means to set us free from the chains of the flesh. The ultimate purification.
So, the apostles waited. Unsure of what to do next, scattered like sheep.
And so we wait. We wait for something else to happen. We wait for the storm to pass. We wait for a sense of meaning and purpose behind every dark cloud, every puncture wound from pain in our lives. We wait and wonder “why us?” We decide to just endure instead of thrive.
What the disciples could never have foreseen is that what they were actually waiting for was Sunday.
On Sunday, as the sun broke across the horizon, the savior stirred.
And the message was changed forever.
Before Jesus, death was ultimately our only hope for sanctification.
And after Jesus, death became our only hope for really living.
I see myself as the person I want to be. I see a person whose hand is reached out toward others in love. Who smiles at strangers. I see a person who is the hand of God in all that she does. In how she loves her babies. In how she loves her husband. In how she serves those around her, and sacrificially loves those whose lives she touches.
The truth is far less romantic. The truth is that I am selfish. I am waiting for the next best thing for me. I am waiting for things to become easy. As the weight of life piles on my shoulders, I ask when it will be my turn.
I ponder the meaning of it all.
How many proverbial tombs do I have in my life? How many tombs of what I thought were dead and hopeless, and yet Jesus rolled away the stone and gave me life?? He awakens parts of me day after day, year after year.
He awakens them to something greater. My greatest shame He redeems.
I am but an heart filled with empty stone tombs, with a savior who lies sleeping in glory inside. Waiting for Sunday. For on Sunday, when He will roll away the stone and reveal that there is nothing dead inside any longer, and lets the light in.
I am awakened and it is like the first time.
As we die to ourselves, we find that we aren’t really losing anything.
Because belief in God means not really dying.
And dying to self means really living.
Jesus showed that in death there could be beauty, and in death there can be triumph. Our greatest fear, the journey we must all make in the end, is as effortless as a three day slumber.
The pain that we will face in life is a catalyst hurtling us towards the greater meaning of why we are here in the first place.
Loving Jesus means dying to self.
And dying to self means really living.
Embracing our suffering, and the suffering of others means rolling away the stones in our hearts and letting the light flood in. Embracing our suffering as a catalyst towards greater faith and meaning means that though we are dying to self, something within us is silently preparing to live in glory.
We choose life when we choose faith in our suffering.
I can’t imagine having found that tomb empty. Though Jesus essentially told them what would happen, I still have to think that they found it all hard to believe. Hard to fathom. Even though the truth was spelled out in front of them all along.
He showed them what He had been telling them all along.
Prepare to see the kingdom of God.
Prepare to see His mighty works.