Between Midnight and Dawn: His Flesh and Ours

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Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Romans 6: 8-10

 

So what do I believe actually happened that morning on the third day after he died?
…I speak very plainly here…

He got up.  He said, “Don’t be afraid.”

Love is the victor.  Death is not the end.  The end is life.  His life and our lives through him, in him. Existence has greater depths of beauty, mystery, and benediction than the wildest visionary has ever dared to dream.  Christ our Lord has risen.
~Frederick Buechner

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Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall…

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
~John Updike from “Seven Stanzas at Easter”

 

Since this moment (the resurrection), the universe is no longer what it was;  nature has received another meaning; history is transformed and you and I are no more, and should not be anymore, what we were before.
~Paul Tillich

 

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Our flesh is so weak, so temporary,
as ephemeral as a dew drop on a petal
yet with our earthly vision
it is all we know of ourselves
and it is what we trust knowing
of Him.

He was born as our flesh, from our flesh.
He walked and hungered and thirsted and slept
as our flesh.
He died, His flesh hanging in tatters,
blood spilling freely
breath fading
to nought
speaking Words
our ears can never forget.

And He got up,
to walk and hunger and thirst alongside us
and here on this hill we meet together,
–flesh of His flesh–
here among us He is risen
–flesh of our flesh–
married forever
as the Church:
a fragile, flawed
and everlasting body.

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During this Lenten season, I have drawn inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

Between Midnight and Dawn: All Things at the End and Beginning

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photo by Julie Garrett

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This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 3:6

 

The journey begins when Christians leave their homes and beds. They leave, indeed, their life in this present and concrete world, and whether they have to drive 15 miles or walk a few blocks, a sacramental act is already taking place…

For they are now on their way to constitute the Church, or to be more exact, to be transformed into the Church of God. They have been individuals, some white, some black, some poor, some rich, they have been the ‘natural’ world and a natural community. And now they have been called to “come together in one place,” to bring their lives, their very world with them and to be more than what they were: a new community with a new life.

We are already far beyond the categories of common worship and prayer. The purpose of this ‘coming together’ is not simply to add a religious dimension to the natural community, to make it ‘better’ – more responsible, more Christian. The purpose is to fulfill the Church, and that means to make present the One in whom all things are at their end, and all things are at their beginning.
~ Father Alexander Schmemann from For the Life of the World

 

Human beings by their very nature are worshipers. Worship is not something we do; it defines who we are.
You cannot divide human beings into those who worship and those who don’t.
Everybody worships; it’s just a matter of what, or whom, we serve.

~Paul Tripp

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Back in the early days of Whatcom County,  the little church on Wiser Lake had been constructed through “contributions of the people” in a rural neighborhood only a few miles from where we now live.  $600 in lumber was provided by a local farmer whose trees were cut and milled and brought by horse drawn wagon to a building site adjacent to a one room school house along a corrugated plank road. The total property was “valued at $1800, but of even more value to the community.” The dedication ceremony was held on Sunday, August 27, 1916 followed by “a basket dinner—come with well filled baskets for a common table, under the direction of the Ladies Aid”. This was to be followed by a “Fellowship Meeting, special music and fraternal addresses” and the day ended at 8 PM with a Young People’s Meeting.  So began the long history of the “Wiser Lake Church”.

For reasons unrecorded in the history of the church, the original denomination closed the doors thirty years later, and for awhile the building was empty and in need of a congregation. By the fifties, it became a mission church of the local Christian Reformed Churches and launched a Sunday School program for migrant farm and Native American children in the surrounding rural neighborhood.  No formal church services started until the sixties. By the time the building was sixty years old, so many children were arriving for Sunday School, there was not enough room so the building was hoisted up on jacks to allow a hole to be dug underneath for a basement full of classrooms. Over the course of a summer, the floor space doubled, and the church settled back into place, allowed to rest again on its foundation.

Over seventy years after its dedication ceremony, our family drove past the boxy building countless times hurrying on our way to other places, barely giving it a second glance. It had a classic design, but showed its age with peeling paint,  a few missing shingles, an old fashioned square flat roofed belfry, and arched windows. The hand lettered sign spelling out “Wiser Lake Chapel” by the road constituted a humble invitation of sorts, simply by listing the times of the services.

On a blustery December Sunday evening, we had no place else to be for a change.  Instead of driving past, we stopped, welcomed by the yellow glow pouring from the windows and an almost full parking lot. Our young family climbed the steps to the big double doors, and inside were immediately greeted by a large balding man with a huge grin and encompassing handshake. He asked our names and pointed us to one of the few open spots still available in the old wooden pews.

The sanctuary was a warm and open space with a high lofted ceiling, dark wood trim accents matching the ancient pews, and a plain wooden cross above the pulpit in front. There was a pungent smell from fir bough garlands strung along high wainscoting, and a circle of candles standing lit on a small altar table. Apple pie was baking in the kitchen oven, blending with the aroma of good coffee and hot cocoa.

The service was a Sunday School Christmas program, with thirty some children of all ages and skin colors standing up front in bathrobes and white sheet angel gowns, wearing gold foil halos, tinfoil crowns and dish towels wrapped with string around their heads. They were prompted by their teachers through carols and readings of the Christmas story. The final song was Silent Night, sung by candle light, with each child and member of the congregation holding a lit candle. There was a moment of excitement when one girl’s long hair briefly caught fire, but after that was quickly extinguished, the evening ended in darkness, with the soft glow of candlelight illuminating faces of the young and old, some in tears streaming over their smiles.

It felt like home. We had found our church. We’ve never left. Over 25 years it has had peeling paint and missing shingles, a basement that floods when the rain comes down hard, toilets that don’t always flush, and though it smells heavenly on potluck days, there are times when it can be just a bit out of sorts and musty. It also has a warmth and character and uniqueness that is unforgettable.

It’s really not so different from the folks who gather there.  We know we belong.

 

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Wiser Lake Chapel in Whatcom County will celebrate a century of worship within its walls this summer

Blossom Cheeks

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Lined with light
the twigs are stubby arrows.
A gilded trunk writhes
Upward from the roots,
from the pit of the black tentacles.

In the book of spring
a bare-limbed torso
is the first illustration.

Light teaches the tree
to beget leaves,
to embroider itself all over
with green reality,
until summer becomes
its steady portrait
and birds bring their lifetime
to the boughs.

Then even the corpse
light copies from below
may shimmer, dreaming it feels
the cheeks of blossom.
~May Swenson “April Light”

 

Only a week ago we waited
on corpse light~
a mysterious illumination that came alive
on a bright Sabbath morning,
taking bare stubs of people.
begetting them green,
bursting them into blossom,
their cheeks pink with life,
in promise of faithful fruitfulness.

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In the Midst of Joy: Everything Sad Becomes Untrue

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Just after the climax of the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee discovers that his friend Gandalf was not dead (as he thought) but alive.
He cries, “I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
The answer of Christianity to that question is – yes.

Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.

Embracing the Christian doctrines of the incarnation and Cross brings profound consolation in the face of suffering.
The doctrine of the resurrection can instill us with a powerful hope.
It promises that we will get the life we most longed for,
but it will be an infinitely more glorious world
than if there had never been the need for bravery, endurance, sacrifice, or salvation.
~Pastor Tim Keller in Reason for God

 

And so we awake, rush to tend the dead and find death emptied out.  He is standing, walking, eating, calling us by name.  What He came to us to accomplish is done: nothing is the same and everything is changed.  We need no longer hide in darkness, fear death,  dwell in loneliness,  starve and thirst, despair in impossible situations because only He can do the impossible.

Because everything sad has become untrue by His bravery, His endurance, His sacrifice for our salvation.

All is fresh and made new.
Christ, yes God become man, Christ is risen indeed!

 

Awake, thou wintry earth,
Fling off thy sadness;
Fair vernal flowers laugh forth
Your ancient gladness:Christ is risen.

Wave, woods, your blossoms all,
Grim Death is dead;
Ye weeping funeral trees,
Lift up your head.
Christ is risen.

Come, see, the graves are green;
It is light; let us go
Where our loved ones rest
In hope below.
Christ is risen.

All is fresh and new,
Full of spring and light;
Wintry heart, why wearest the hue
Of sleep and night?
Christ is risen.

Leave thy cares beneath,
Leave thy worldly love;
Begin the better life
With God above.
Christ is risen.
~Thomas Blackburne  An Easter Hymn

 

 

Two Kinds of People

photo by Karen Mullen photography

photo by Karen Mullen photography

There are two kinds of people one can call reasonable,
those who serve God with all their heart
because they know him,

and those who seek him with all their heart
because they do not know him.
~Blaise Pascal

Some of the worshippers at our 2014 Easter Sunrise Service on our farm hilltop

a stream of people walking up the hill this morning for Easter Sunrise Service on our farm

Listening to Easter — Hear the Bells Ringing

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Hear the bells ringing
They’re singing that you can be born again
Hear the bells ringing
They’re singing Christ is risen from the dead

The angel up on the tombstone
Said He has risen, just as He said
Quickly now, go tell his disciples
That Jesus Christ is no longer dead

Joy to the world, He has risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah

Hear the bells ringing
They’re singing that you can be healed right now
Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing
Christ, He will reveal it now

The angels, they all surround us
And they are ministering Jesus’ power
Quickly now, reach out and receive it
For this could be your glorious hour

Joy to the world, He has risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah, hallelujah

The angel up on the tombstone
Said He has risen, just as He said
Quickly now, go tell his disciples
That Jesus Christ is no longer dead

Joy to the world, He has risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
Hallelujah
~Keith Green

a stream of people walking up the hill this morning for Easter Sunrise Service on our farm

a stream of people walking up the hill this morning for Easter Sunrise Service on our farm

Some of the worshippers at our 2014 Easter Sunrise Service on our farm hilltop

Some of the worshippers at our 2014 Easter Sunrise Service on our farm hilltop

“Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.”
― Gerard Manley Hopkins

Too often, the bright light of Easter morning dims over time
as I return to my daily routine.
In mere days,
the humdrum replaces the extraordinary,
tragedy overcomes festivity,
darkness overwhelms dawn.

The world encourages this,
I don’t muster enough resistance.
I climb right back into the tomb of my sin,
move the huge stone securely back in place,
and lie there waiting for rot to settle in.

I am not alone. I have plenty of company with me behind the stone.

The stone is pushed aside,
the burden shouldered,
the debt completely paid.

How can we allow the light to dim?

He is risen.

We are eastered beyond imagining.

Whatcom County Hilltop Easter Sunrise Service

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2014 Easter Sunrise Service at BriarCroft  — Sunday, April 20 at 7 AM
(formerly Walnut Hill Farm)

When we purchased Walnut Hill Farm from the Morton Lawrence family in 1990, part of the tradition of this farm was a hilltop non-denominational Easter sunrise service held here for the previous 10+ years.  We have continued that tradition, with an open invitation to families from our surrounding rural neighborhood and communities, as well as our church family from Wiser Lake Chapel, to start Easter morning on our hill with a worship service of celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

At our annual Easter Sunrise Service in Whatcom County, we develop a different Easter theme each year through use of scripture readings and songs, led by Dan Gibson. We sit on hay bales on the hill for the worship service, followed by breakfast of cinnamon rolls, hot chocolate and coffee in our barn.  As many of the people who attend come from some distance from all over the county, we try to conclude by 8 AM so they may have time to get to morning church services.

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552213_2562544363247_828834728_n562278_10150787215216119_1848824445_nthank you to Chris Lovegren for the four photos above of Sunrise Service 2012

We invite all to come to our farm to participate in this traditional service of celebration.  Please dress warmly with sturdy shoes as you will be walking through wet grass to reach the hilltop.  Bring heavy blankets or sleeping bags to wrap up in if it is a chilly morning.  In case of rain, we meet in the big red hay barn on the farm, so we never cancel this service.

If you would like more information and directions to our farm at 1613 Central Road, between Hannegan and Noon Road, please email us at emily@briarcroft.com

Dan and Emily Gibson