I admit it. Right this minute, I should be doing our taxes. We’re down to the last minute and I have all the paperwork stacked on the desk beside me, but I’m not doing it. It is too miserable a task to even contemplate. Instead tonight I went outside to capture spring.
The last few mornings, when I have risen just before dawn, I have gone outside to breathe deeply of the scents that hang heavy in the cool moist air. The perfume from thousands of orchard blossoms on our farm is heady and intoxicating. There is nothing quite like these two weeks each year when our farm becomes a mass of snow white and pink scented flowers, busy with honey bees and eventually showering petals to the ground as the fruit starts to form.
Unfortunately, I’m allergic to tree pollen. I breathe deeply and… sneeze and wheeze. Even the…
2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they (the women) were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
1 Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples. 2 There he saw a well in the open country, with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. The stone over the mouth of the well was large. 3When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well.
7 “Look,” he said, “the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.” 8 “We can’t,” they replied, “until all the flocks are gathered and the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the well. Then we will water the sheep.” Genesis: 29: 1-3, 7-8
15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” John 21: 15-19
Giant stones were used to seal and protect something valuable and precious, whether it be a well in an area with little water, or the dead body of a troublesome crucified prophet who had predicted He would rise three days after death. In the gospels’ description of Easter morning, the rolled away stone is always front stage, representing the overpowering of the natural by the supernatural, the breaking of the Roman seal rendering it futile, the dawning of a new life penetrating the darkness of death forever.
However, it represents something even more–it is the rolling away of the stone, too heavy for one man to move alone, in the Old Testament story of Jacob that allows all the gathered flocks to be watered at once from the well. On this one day in history, the ultimate Good Shepherd has rolled the stone away so that we shall never again go thirsty, or hungry, shall never again be lost, or without protection. The darkness of our former life of sin is cast into the light.
Once the stone has been rolled away, the seal of sin is broken and we have no excuses. The sheep must be cared for. All sheep. All flocks.
“What God began, God will not abandon. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion. God loves everyone, sings the psalmist. What God has named will live forever, Alleluia! The happy ending has never been easy to believe in. After the Crucifixion the defeated little band of disciples had no hope, no expectation of Resurrection. Everything they believed in had died on the cross with Jesus. The world was right, and they had been wrong. Even when the women told the disciples that Jesus had left the stone-sealed tomb, the disciples found it nearly impossible to believe that it was not all over.
The truth was, it was just beginning.” Madeleine L’Engle
The Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday always feels like a “already but not yet” kind of day, as if we are between sleep and waking, in weary vigil. We aren’t celebrating “happily ever after” quite yet. Actually every day should feel like this day, as that is where we live: we know the extent of sacrifice made, the overwhelming debt paid, but the full completion of His new covenant, His new kingdom is yet to be realized. We wait, and will wait some more, unsure what comes next.
But one thing is clear. Burial in the tomb was not the end. Not even close.
To borrow from Winston Churchill out of context:
“Now this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
“This child is like a pearl, Some men will forfeit everything To have his love, while others cling To worthless things and forfeit life. He is a source of peace—and strife. And many thoughts he will reveal That men have thought they could conceal. And you, most blessed woman too, Will see what wicked men can do. Your love to him will take its toll, And like a sword will pierce your soul.” from John Piper in “Simeon“
Older than eternity, now he is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed to my poor planet, caught that I might be free, blind in my womb to know my darkness ended, brought to this birth for me to be new-born, and for him to see me mended I must see him torn. from “Accompanied by Angels” by Luci Shaw
The God of curved space, the dry
God, is not going to help us, but the son
whose blood splattered
the hem of his mother’s robe. “Looking at Stars” by Jane Kenyon
This was the day she had been told would come yet she could not have anticipated how horrific would be His suffering, how hideous His wounds, how extensively His blood covered those around Him. She could not have imagined the helplessness she felt in being unable to comfort Him, ease His pain, or smooth His torn brow. She could not have known she would feel His hurt so deeply; it was as if she too had been lacerated and drained of life herself.
Yet looking down at her from the cross, despite His own distress, He compassionately provides for her future care and protection. He continues loving her even when He is beyond her reach. He doesn’t abandon her even as He endures the unendurable–separation from His Father and betrayal by His people.
She shed her blood bearing Him, birthing Him to breathe and walk and live fully on this earth; now her heart breaking, she watches Him surrender and take His last breath.
He sheds His cleansing blood in parting, once and for all mending all that is pierced and broken in us, yet rending forever that which separates us from God.
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. Matthew 26:40
“Gethsemane” means “oil press” –a place of olive trees treasured for the fine oil delivered from their fruit.
On this Thursday night the pressure is turned up high on the disciples, not just on Jesus.
The disciples are expected, indeed commanded, to keep watch alongside the Master, to be filled with prayer, to avoid the temptation thrown at them at every turn.
But they fail pressure testing and fall apart. Like them, we are easily lulled by complacency, by our over-indulged satiety for material comforts that do not truly fill hunger or quench thirst, by our expectation that being called a disciple of Jesus is enough.
It is not enough. We fail the pressure test as well.
We sleep through His anguish.
We dream, oblivious, while He sweats blood.
We deny we know Him when pressed.
Incredibly -He loves us anyway.
So, like the disciples who walked alongside Him, tonight I’m reminded to deliver my best under pressure:
to remain watchful,
to be faithful under stress,
to stay awake praying
when I’m needed most.
“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23: 41-43
This is no idle promise for an indefinite future but a simple statement of what Christ can and will do here and now if we put our trust in him and open our lives to his presence and power….for to be with Jesus Christ, whenever and wherever it takes place, is to be in paradise. Howard Hageman
The penitent thief, one of the crucified trio sharing the final few minutes of their lives on a lonely hill, did not utter a “death bed” conversion. He did not plead for forgiveness for acknowledged sin and crime. Instead, he regrets leaving behind an inconsequential life, to be buried forever forgotten in the dust heap of time. He simply asks to be remembered by the mocked and labeled “King of the Jews” in the kingdom to come, with no implied expectations about what that might mean. Simply “please don’t forget me.”
Jesus’ response is earth shattering, just as the world is about to darken, tremble and never be the same again. He is making it clear we do not need to wait until our dying moment to know this grace for ourselves. Paradise can be here and now, even in the midst of terrible suffering, if we only ask. Heaven is walking with Him no matter where it takes us.
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
This is a week of letting go while 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.
No falling asleep.
No selling out.
No turning and running away.
No hiding 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 grasp and carry the load, my load, alongside Him.
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.
From those ashes rises new life.
Love of His love of our love.