Sunday, March 27, 2016

EASTER for the Downtrodden, Despairing, & Hopeless

"NOW ON THE FIRST DAY of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb [...] Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my LORD, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" (John 20:1, 11-15a)
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The First Easter Morning didn't start out with nothing but triumph and trumpet calls of victory. When Mary Magdalene stood facing the empty tomb of Jesus that blessed Easter Morning, she burst into tears of hopelessness and sorrow. Jesus wasn't there. She'd watched Him die in the most brutal way imaginable only three days earlier, totally powerless to help Him as He was tortured and finally murdered even though He'd committed no crime, and all she wanted to do that morning was visit His body, and she couldn't even do that much for Him. His body was gone.
She was alone.

We taste a small portion of Mary's impotent, despondent misery when we pray for God to heal us, and we stay sick or even get worse. We feel a little of Mary's helplessness when we ask God to save a loved one from death and watch them die just as if we'd asked God nothing at all. We know some of her anguish when we beg God to help us out of trouble but seem to struggle alone. We feel her heart break when we lose our ability to walk despite our years of offering tithes and worship in God's house, when we turn on the news to bombs and gunfire in our own streets, when our parents lose their minds to dementia, when our bodies betray us in every way, when medication does more harm than good, when each day is filled with physical pain and emotional pain and nothing but pain until we can't take it anymore.

We know some of Mary's agony that morning when we weep
at the tombs of our loved ones, at the graves of our health,
at the coffins of our hopes and dreams and expectations.

In those darkest hours, you and I—like Mary—fail to recognize Jesus for who He really is. All we see is a man who couldn't save Himself or us: a man who has disappeared like so many others along with all His promises of a new world where the first are last and the last are first  where the sick are made well, the blind can see, and the dead live all because the sinners are saints (Matthew 19:30; 8:14-17; 11:5; Mark 8:22-26; 1 John 1:9), and now He's left us totally alone without even a body to grieve over. But in the middle of all that heartbreaking misery, you and I are blessed because we know now what Mary Magdalene didn't yet know at that moment: we know the rest of the story of the Christ, the Son of God, the whole story.

We know that what looked like weakness was actually
the greatest, most powerful miracle in all of heaven and earth:
the Son of God sacrificed Himself for us.

Our seemingly infinite list of pain and suffering has an end now: it ended on that terrible and beautiful cross when Jesus died for all our sins and sinfulness and then rose from the dead, paying our debt to the Father with His pure and innocent blood and securing our own ability to be raised in the same way: perfect, new, and eternal, without any sorrow in our new, loving hearts, without any anger or hate or malice of any kind, without any pain and suffering in our new, perfect bodies and minds: just as God had first intended it to be in Eden before Adam and Eve fell for Satan's lie and let sin corrupt us all and all that is around us.

Especially when we are chronically ill (remember: that means constantly sick) our lives can seem like one long Good Friday with that joyful Easter celebration nowhere in sight, and frankly too tiring to want to go to anyway. Our sickly bodies and exhausted minds has obscured everything that is good so that we can't even find joy in our filling kids' Easter baskets and hiding eggs for them, much less scrounge up the energy for new, pressed and cleaned church dresses and suits and shiny shoes, an early morning Easter church service, and a big, traditional Easter meal or a gathering of loved ones. And on Easter Day, that is what we are trained to want.
Those things are nice, and there is nothing wrong with having them,
but Easter is Easter without them. Maybe even more so
because it's less concealed by the things of the world.

And so we see how sin remains in us and all around us, BUT we do not have to let it consume us. Take heart: your Easter Morning is coming because Jesus' Good Friday has already been. In the meantime, during your own personal Good Friday, God is with you as you weep at the empty tombs of what should have been, though Satan would have you believe that He is simply gone. God is with you for Christ’s sake because Christ chose to die for you, and nothing can sever you from God’s love even though the world has severed from you from what you wanted your life to be, even though the world has severed you from those you love best for a short time just like the grave separated Mary from her Savior for a short time.

But in the end, nothing will keep you from that same perfect Resurrection of Jesus. He has overcome the world for you, and like a joyful Easter morning that follows a sorrowful Good Friday, our grief will one day be replaced with His joy, and we won't even remember the anguish that plagued us here, even if we can't feel anything but anguish today: too much pain to celebrate with family and friends and then the pain of not being able to celebrate at all. Both hurt the same, the latter maybe a little bit more as we watch our children have that celebration so unfairly taken away from them ...because of us. But don't look for your joy here, or you'll just spend all your time weeping at the door of empty tombs.

Knowing the whole story of Christ, spending time weeping at empty tombs seems like a fairly silly thing to do.

So, find a church and celebrate the fact that Christ has risen for you and for me: sick, sinful, & all. He has risen indeed! Alleluia!
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The suggested verse we should ask ourselves if Easter is
an especially difficult day for us is from
 John 20:15
"Why are you weeping?
Whom are you seeking?"
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