“The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” Matthew 28:5-6
He. Is. Risen. Christ is Risen, indeed, alleluia!
I hope you are celebrating this wondrous feast day!
In addition to all the festive contemporary and traditional hymns to honor this day of days, here are a couple of my personal Easter favorites from Keith Green:
Over the years I have meditated on the events of Holy week, which begins today — it is the week above all weeks — the week when the followers of Jesus end the 40-day season of Lent and enter into the most significant event in human history: God’s saving work through Jesus. The week is now here and I am keenly aware of how the mood shifts quickly to “a full week of emotional highs and lows and the reconciliation of many terrible contradictions.” (Peter Giersch) Jesus in triumph and Jesus in agony is a compelling contrast that reduces me to silence.
Today is Palm Sunday and recalls Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The atmosphere is anything but silent. Loud Hosannas. Palm branches strewn along the way for the Son of David. In worship today the words of Matt. 21.1-11 were read. The words of v. 10 captured my attention: “And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying ‘Who is this?’ WHO IS THIS. I will not be silent here! This is my Jesus! “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest “Matt. 21.9.
Since this morning’s jubilant worship, the reality of a tragic week in my Savior’s life is settling in. I am quieted. I wonder . . .
Do you remember a painful event in your life when you were silenced? When your world came to a deafening hush? Or do you remember receiving tragic news that left you speechless? Emotions were stirred; angst, confusion, disorientation, sorrow, and grief. And yet, the words would not come. Even if you wanted to protest and cry out, you couldn’t because disbelief and powerlessness were stuck in your throat.
This describes how Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Holy week impact me.
The ancient church, for hundreds of years has observed these three days to be the final events of Jesus’ life. On Thursday night Jesus launched The Lord’s Supper, washed the feet of his disciples, gave the new commandment of love, and was arrested. Friday, or “Good Friday,” Jesus suffered a gruesome crucifixion and death. Saturday, we identify with our dear friend lying in the tomb meditating on His death and descent into hell to defeat Satan. “In ancient times, Christians would read from the Old Testament stories of salvation history all night long, and then celebrate resurrection with the dawn.” (Peter Giersch)
I have a tradition on Good Friday morning to stay in bed for several minutes. I lay there considering and meditating on the fact that by the time my alarm goes off, Jesus had been awake the entire night facing betrayal, mockery, and brutal scourging. “I offered my back to those who beat me and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from mockery and spitting.” (Is. 50.6) He was bounced from court to court moving Him closer to His death. I feel a queasy pit in my gut. I feel the angst and shock that this would have to happen to my Lord. Even knowing that He was submitting to the Father’s will, and what the Easter resurrection would bring — I am disquieted. “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.” (Is. 53.10) All this for you – for me. I’m silenced.
What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
(“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded“ by Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676)
“Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Habakkuk 2:20
Honestly, it would be easier for me to dismiss everything I have just shared with you. But I have learned that it is a right response to be offended and shocked speechless by the reality of the cross. I will turn away from pretending these days are the same as any other carrying on with my usual chatter and small talk conversation. To be silenced by the events of the coming week may be one of the Christian’s deepest acknowledgments of God’s complete story of love and sacrifice. My soul needs quiet reserve before fully celebrating the glorious redemption at the end of these dreadful days.
I urge you to do the same, dear reader and enter once again into the meaning of it all. Do not be afraid to think on such outrageous and scandalous events born out of a radical love for you and I. Take time to reflect on the Father’s mighty act of salvation through Jesus, His only Son. The Father had a beautiful purpose in giving up His Son. You. Me. God. Forever.
Francisco de Zurbarn (1598-1664), “Agnus Dei” (1635-40)
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.
—Madeleine L’Engle, , The Irrational Season, New York, Seabury Press, 1977, p.27.
Two thousand years ago a young girl bore a child as helpless as any child, a child who would show us the greatest majesty in weakness, a child whose growing up was then, and always will be, out of tune with the tenor of the times.
—Madeleine L’Engle, , The Irrational Season, New York, Seabury Press, 1977, p.26.
Painting: “Be It Unto Me” (Mary, mother of Jesus)
Liz Lemon Swindle.
The sun had just begun to set
And Joseph’s face, filled with regret
Appeared again. “We’ll find a place,”
Said Mary, full of hope and grace.
“I know we will,” she touched his chin
And bravely smiled, “Who needs an inn?
The sky is clear, the blankets thick
And warm; there’s still good light to pick
A place among the rocks we passed.
God’s first and best is often last.”
More times than he preferred to think
Poor Joseph’s faith would start to sink
And darkness gather like a foe
‘Til Mary’s hopeful heart would glow.
It wasn’t that he feared the night,
Nor prowling beasts nor thieves to fight.
In fact, it wasn’t fear at all
That made the tears begin to fall.
“It’s all right, Joseph, I don’t mind.
I’m sure it won’t be hard to find.”
“My God, you’re pregnant, woman, look!
What kind of husband ever took
His wife to sleep among the rocks?
I’m not a shepherd with some flocks;
I am a man and you’re my wife
With child.” She hugged him to the Life
Within her womb and said no more.
Wise woman, she had learned before:
Sometimes you leave a man alone
To bear his load of love, and groan.
She’d kept it to herself all day
And every time they came she’d pray
“Not yet, O God, not on the road;
Your handmaid bears as big a load
As she can take. O Lord, please wait;
Please let the child, your child, come late.”
She never burdened Joseph down,
Not even when they got to town,
Not even at the setting sun,
But only when the search was done.
He helped her down among the cocks
And hens. She smiled, “It sure beats rocks,
Especially for a night-time birth.”
“I’m in no mood for silly mirth.”
“Nor I.” “How long have you known this?”
“No anger now, my love, let’s kiss
The hour and kiss the ways of God.
Remember that his staff and rod
Are comfort, father David said.”
She winced and quickly shaped her bed.
“I helped to make your day’s load light;
Please, Joseph, carry me tonight.”
“I’ll get a midwife from the place…”
“Don’t leave me here without your face.
My mother showed me what to do
And what I need right now is you.”
Between the pains she tried to lie
In peace and stare into the sky,
And think of how she’d been prepared.
And then she said, “Joseph, I’m scared.”
And he with steady eye and calm
Recalled for her the angel’s psalm.
“He is the shoot of Jesse’s rod;
He shall be called the Son of God;
His Kingdom shall not ever end.
Will not God then his birth attend?”
But Mary’s face remained so grim:
“The promises are sure for him.
You know I never doubt God’s word,
But, Joseph, I have never heard
A promise for myself but this:
‘Some sword my own soul will not miss.'”
Again his eyes were steady, bright
Reflecting heaven’s grace and light.
“Our book is full of promises;
Remember that one where it says,
No good thing does the Lord withhold
From those whose cares on him are rolled.
And: when your worries multiply
God’s consolation hovers nigh.
And: steadfast love surrounds the girl
For whom Jehovah is her pearl.
And: God’s a stronghold for the weak,
How happy those who his help seek.”
Each time the birthing pangs withdrew
He gave her joyful words and true.
He carried Mary with the Word
And she delivered what she heard:
God’s Yes to every ancient oath.
And now with lifted hands they both
Were filled with distant prophecy:
“To God alone all praises be,
And let the world a candle light
To celebrate this awesome night.”
“The shipwrecked at the stable are the poor in spirit who feel lost in the cosmos, adrift on an open sea, clinging with a life-and-death grip to one solitary plank. Finally they are washed ashore and make their way to the stable, stripped of the old spirit of possessiveness in regard to anything…They have been saved, rescued, delivered from the waters of death, set free for a new shot at life. At the stable in a blinding moment of truth, they make the stunning discovery that Jesus is the plank of salvation they have been clinging to without knowing it! All the time they were battered by wind and rain, buffeted by raging seas, they were being held even when they didn’t know who was holding them. Their exposure to spiritual, emotional, and physical deprivation has weaned them from themselves and made them re-examine all they once thought important. The shipwrecked come to the stable seeking not to possess, but to be possessed, wanting not peace or a religious high, but Jesus Christ.”
From “Lion and Lamb” by Brennan Manning
Master of both the
light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon
our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do
seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look
forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways
long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy
seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people,
walking in darkness,
yet seeking the light.
To you we say,
“Come Lord Jesus!”
I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night, i.e. getting a full eight hours or so of uninterrupted sleep yielding a morning feeling refreshed and rested. It’s a toss up whether it will be a slow, drawn out falling asleep or waking up later in the night. Anxious thoughts stream like a ticker tape at the bottom of a news broadcast keeping me from falling asleep for several hours. At other times I may wake up later in the night and can’t get back to sleep – ticker tape still running. Kids, parents, marriage, friends near and far, clients, the church, our world–words, sentences, and images run together recycling over and over.
What can quiet an anxious and wakeful mind during the night hours? Beyond remedies–medical and homegrown–I have experienced a surprising diversion.
Six years ago, I spent a few days at a friend’s cabin, miles from a small town, light confined to candles or oil-lights. When those lights were extinguished, the dark was remarkably overwhelming. I felt afraid. I dreaded bedtime even more. The solace of a glowing wristband held close to my eyes quickly faded. Darkness. Anxious prayers. Sleeplessness. Wakefulness. “This is crazy, God. I think I may be truly ‘sore afraid.’” A curtainless window beside my bed drew my tired eyes to the sky. No moon. But there were stars. Millions of twinkling luminaries. I was awed and stilled by this sight. In fact, a wonderful peace covered me, maybe like a warm blanket. And as simple as it may sound it was profound. I lay there, in the pitch of night, star-gazing . . . and smiling. It was an extraordinary experience.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (Ps. 121:4).
When you lie down, you will not be afraid; When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. (Prov. 3:24)
“Daughter, peace be with you. Do not be afraid. I am awake and watching over everything I have made including you! I, your God, am with you. I am in control. Rest. I will hold your anxiety.”
God’s starry heavens delighted and calmed me. Drowsy and tired, I now fought to stay awake!
The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world (Psalm 19: 1-4).
The night sky is wondrous. The earth rotates and star constellations move deliberately and with purpose.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, . . . (Psalm 8:3)
Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? (Job 38:31-32)
The anxiety that drives my insomnia still hounds me. Maybe it hounds you, too. In times of wakefulness, in the deep night stillness when the ticker –tape rushes at me, I now look for these God-shaped night lights. The Milky Way is 104,000 light-years across and contains over 100 billion stars. To count them one by one would take a person over 3,000 years. And there are hundreds of billions more galaxies in God’s universe! They are gifts of God’s tenderness and care. Next time the 2 a.m. ticker tape wakes you from sleep, look out a window or step outside and delight in God’s night lights. He created them all and calls each one by name. He remembers you and calls you by name, too. Rest well.
He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. (Psalm 147:4).
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:26).