Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him,
“Sir, if you have carried him away,
tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
I tore off the wrapping paper and couldn’t believe what my parents had picked out for my ninth birthday present. It was a book of fun crafts for kids. The cover consisted of shiny and blocks of bright blue and red, each block showcasing a perfectly executed craft project. Inside were illustrations and step-by-step directions for all 100 projects in the book.
The book enraptured me. I spent days reading through the projects and settled upon a miniature village made of milk cartons covered with paper, on which were drawn shingles, brickwork, and dainty windows. I gathered supplies for weeks and finally sat down to create a masterpiece all by myself. But the project was too hard. An hour later I gave up without having completed so much as a single building. The book went on the bookshelf and stayed there until Mom gave it to me years later when she moved to a new house. Paging through it with adult eyes, I could see the projects were too complicated for a child to complete alone. These were projects designed for families to complete together.
Whenever I read Mary’s words to Jesus (though she didn’t know it was him when she said them), that childhood gift comes to mind. She says, “Tell me where you have laid him,” referring to the body of Jesus which is not in the tomb, “and I will take him away.” Notice that she doesn’t say, “I’ll get help, and we’ll take him away.” No, she says, “I will take him away.”
Jesus, in all his grace, doesn’t respond with, “Really, Mary? You think you can move a dead body by yourself?” Instead he calls her by name. “Mary.”
Instantly, she knows her risen Savior. Immediately, she obeys his command to go back to her spiritual family and tell them, “I have seen the Lord.”
This Easter, many in our church body feel as hopeless as Mary did when she first discovered the empty tomb. For some reason, God in his perfect wisdom and timing, brought us face-to-face with a work of healing and forgiveness during Passion Week.
Though God provided us with an instruction book, complete with step-by-step instructions, the job to be done is far too big for any one of us to accomplish individually. Even when we study the directions together, pray together for strength and wisdom, and do the heavy lifting as one, this task is too big for us.
It will only be completed when we seek to hear Jesus speak by his Spirit into our devastation, grief, and sadness. When we instantly recognize his word and immediately obey his will even when we don’t understand it. When, like Mary, we cling to Jesus when hope beyond imagination appears. When, though we don’t understand how God can possibly bring beauty from the ashes of our ruined expectations and broken hearts, we boldly proclaim the glory of our risen Savior to a hurting world. When we trust his resurrection power and forgiveness to shine in and through us in the dark days ahead and praise him for the good and unseen things yet to come.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
This week’s Fantastic Friday post comes in the form of a poem written in January of 2012 when the weather was cold, the morning dark, the moon brilliant and full. The perfect antidote to the winter blues both then and now.
Light Stronger Than Darkness
In winter, the extra hours of darkness
Weigh upon my shoulders,
Press upon my eyelids,
Make me groggy and slow and stupid.
Still last week, when the moon was full,
And the air was winter-warm,
I took my camera into the darkness
As the sun waited patiently to start her day
Until after the moon went to bed.
The darkness was too thick
And my hands too shaky
To capture the glory of the moon,
And finally I quit trying,
Trudging home with shoulders bent,
Eyelids drooping in a darkness
That lingered until yesterday
When I finally looked at the pictures.
Disappointments, all of them but one,
Where the bright moon waited
In the blue-black sky.
Not behind bare black branches
As it was in reality,
But in front of them,
Engulfing them in silver light.
Looking at the picture,
My shoulders straightened,
My eyes opened wide,
When I saw the truth.
Light is stronger than darkness,
Waiting patiently to be found by those who seek it.
This Fantastic Friday remembers my Uncle Marvin who died four years ago this week. The legacy of hope he left his family and the hope his descendants carry into the future remain a source of hope today.
Sadness kept me company on this morning’s walk. No matter how hard I tried to steer my thoughts to smoother ground, they continually strayed to the uneven place where we stood and buried Uncle Marvin yesterday.
All I could think about were his grandchildren, the honorary pallbearers, gathered from Minnesota and Iowa, North Dakota and Illinois, and one recently returned from Egypt. They stood tall and straight and lovely, in the tiny country cemetery where their grandfather joined his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, only a few miles from where he’d been born and lived all his years.
These sweet carriers of our family’s future stood guard over the coffin, grave and composed during the pastor’s committal service, through the military gun salute, the folding of the flag, and it’s presentation to their grandmother. But when haunting notes of Taps filled the air, they began to cry, realizing for perhaps the first time in their young lives, that there is an end to every good thing.
Will this be the end of their connection to the family farm? I wondered, as they placed flowers on their grandpa’s coffin and said good-by. Will they return to their homes far away and forget their family’s long history in this place, the connection to the land that binds their parents together?
Sadness weighed heavy on me, and my head drooped lower. It’s over, I thought, and tears came to my eyes. For a moment, the sky wept, too, and raindrops wet my shoulders and hair. Maybe I should just give up and go home, I thought, too sad to fight life’s changes or the weather anymore. I looked up to check the sky.
And there against the grey clouds in the east was the beginning of a rainbow. A small, faded streak at first, it grew brighter and brighter the longer I looked up. Slowly, my sad weight lifted, and when I turned the corner I walked beside the rainbow. The further I went, the brighter the rainbow grew, until finally it stretched across the sky, bold against the grey clouds.
When those sweet grandchildren and their far-flung adventures came to mind again, the rainbow whispered to me.
Hope, it said so softly I had to strain to hear the word.
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
Rarely have I felt as weary and heavy-laden as I feel today. So many burdens are bearing down. The Red Card Kids Sunday school class broke the hearts of everyone in attendance as we were brought face-to-face with the conditions children live in around the world. The killing of nine people attending a Bible study in Charleston sent believers in our country reeling. Every week parents of kids with special needs email their stories to me and ask for advice. And right now, this very minute, my husband and I are shouldering burdens concerning people we love very much, and we feel too weak to bear the weight much longer.
I am so weary, so heavy-laden. What I want right now if for the world to leave me alone while I watch one happy-ending movie after another, starting with The Wizard of Oz and ending with Ella Enchanted. Why do I–and maybe you, too–want to escape the woes of this world? Because, deep down, we know we can’t fix what’s wrong.
We can’t ease the daily suffering and oppression of millions of children.
We can’t end the racism that led to the killing of nine Christ followers.
We can’t provide the resources and rest parents of kids with special needs require.
We can’t even make things better for the people we love most in this world.
And yet as believers we are commanded to end oppression, to fight injustice, to heal the broken, and to maintain loving relationships. We are called to bear burdens we can never fix. God’s commandment seems so unfair. Impossible to obey. Unless we remember Jesus’ call to bear our burdens with HIm. To be yoked together In Him. Not alone. Never alone.
Of course, being yoked to Jesus so the burden can be shared requires us to make some adjustments. Being yoked to Jesus means matching our steps to His. Going the direction He says is best. Moving forward in His time, not ours.
Being yoked to Jesus means total dependence on Him. Total release of our will to His. Total relinquishment of our loved ones to His sovereign will. Total trust in His wisdom and power when all appears hopeless, when evil seems to be winning.
Only when we realize that all the impossible things God calls us to do are only accomplished through His divine power are we able to lay find rest for our sore and weary souls. Only then do we discover His yoke truly is easy and the burden is so very, very light.
And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures
and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb,
having each one a harp, and golden bowls of incense,
which are the prayers of the saints.
“Is this heaven?”
“No, it’s Iowa.”
Truer words have never been spoken, at least in the opinion of Iowans. In June the grass is a verdant green, trees are in full leaf, and the cornfields are nearing the magical days when we can imagine Shoeless Joe and his teammates appearing from between rows of corn to converge on a field of dreams.
For me, some scripture passages read more like the script of a movie like Field of Dreams than like words for believers to live by. How do visions of strange living creatures in Revelation 5: 8 assure parents scared to send freshly graduated high school seniors into a world filled with evil? How do harps and golden bowls comfort parents of children scarred by horrors no child should ever experience? How can wafting incense reassure us when people we love dearly are wandering in darkness and despair and self-destructiveness?
Apparently, the vision is important because John reiterates part of it later in Revelation:
And another angel came and stood at the altar, holding the golden censer, and much incense was given him, that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. (Rev. 8:3-4)
In both passages, John describes the prayers of the saints as golden incense rising to God. The first passage could give the impression that the prayers are only those of saints already in heaven. But the second passage says, “the prayers of all the saints.”
Do you know what that means? It means that as believing saints, our prayers we on earth–for high school graduates, for vulnerable and damaged children, and for the lost ones we love–rise to God like sweet incense. If they rise to Him, He must hear them. And if He hears them, then we know He will answer them, though perhaps in ways we won’t understand in this world.
These verses say that our prayers matter. Our prayers make a difference in our lives and in the lives of those we lift up before the Father. On earth and in heaven. Today and for eternity. They provide the assurance we need when we are discouraged, when God doesn’t seem to hear and answer our prayers, when our high school graduates make stupid choices, when our broken children are not healed, and when the lost ones we love wander farther and farther away. When we want to shout, “God, do you hear me in Iowa?”
By his strange and magical Word, we hear God whisper into our shattered hearts, “Do I hear you in Iowa? No, dear one. I hear you in heaven.”