grave

When Love Casts Out Fear

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By Linda Rex

April 12, 2020, RESURRECTION OF THE LORD, EASTER—During this pandemic season, the one common note I have heard in the news and on social media is that of fear. The fears we have are multiple and include concerns about politics, health, and economic security. We cannot watch or listen to much in the outside world without being confronted with real concern about many things.

As we enter into the end of the season of preparation for Easter, we are confronted with a reality in which, when we embrace it and believe it, is meant to free us once and for all from fear. Our anxiety about so many things is founded in a belief that we are unloved, left alone in this universe, and that the solution to our problems is all up to us. We may even believe in God, but often, we don’t act like it—instead, we act as if he were dead, laying in the grave we have created for him in our fear, unbelief, and rebellion.

What makes us do this? We were created as image-bearers of God, and so it should be so natural for us to reflect that image. Often, we do reflect the image of our God who is love and don’t even realize it. I see this in the parents who care for an autistic child, an adult child caring for both her family and her disabled parents, a person leaving their work to care for their parent with Alzheimer’s—so many examples exist when we begin to look around us. Where is the source of such humble, self-sacrificing love? It can have no source other than in the heart of God.

Fear often arises out of our inability to connect with others, to find a common ground where two people can be of like mind and interests. Our fears about other people often come to the fore when we don’t understand or accept the ways in which we differ or have opposing viewpoints or preferences. Fear is also created when one person or group imposes its will upon another without an appropriate acknowledgement of their God-given personhood and dignity. Fear is a useful tool to those who want to enslave, control, and manipulate others.

We were never meant to fear God in this way, nor were we meant to live in fear of one another. This is not what we were created for. We were created for connection, for unity, for oneness. We were created to be in relationship with God and man that is filled with joy, peace, and respect. A mutual indwelling, a deep sharing of heart and mind borne out of God’s very nature, is what we were created for. Anything less than this is the stomping ground of fear.

So often we project onto God all of our fear, making him out to be a condemning, cruel master rather than the loving, forgiving Father he is. We believe his sole purpose of existence is to find fault with us and execute punishment which we are so sure we deserve. We know we fall short of all we were meant to be, so we deserve to be punished. This is where fear comes in and causes us to be alienated in our minds from the God who is our Abba, our loving Father.

And this is why the Word of God to us was and is the God/man Jesus Christ. We needed to be freed once and for all from our fear—our terror of God and our fear of death. It is significant on resurrection morning that the ladies who came to the tomb were, in Matthew’s account, told by the angels and by Jesus, “Don’t be afraid.” If there is one thing they needed to know beyond all else in that moment, it was that there was nothing left to fear. The ultimate expression of the love of God had once and for all cast out our fear.

What is needed is for us to wrestle with what it means to live life without fear. How is our human existence different now that Jesus is risen from the dead? What does this mean for us as we face the difficulties of life, the pandemic, our job loss, or our business failure? How do we continue to face all these things with patient courage and grace?

If we are not in tune with the spiritual realities, we can resemble the Roman guards who, at the presence of the angels, were so overcome with fear they became like dead men. They had been diligently doing their best to prevent the disciples from stealing the body of Jesus away. But they hadn’t planned on an encounter with angels, nor with the resurrection power of God himself. The insignificance of their careful grave-watching became evident in the presence of the risen Lord. Nothing could keep the stone against the tomb once God decided it needed to be moved so people could see inside and know Jesus was risen.

The angels gave the women instructions—no doubt from the mouth of Jesus himself: Don’t be afraid; come and see—Jesus is risen; go tell the others; meet Jesus in Galilee. The practicality of the instructions left no place for fear or anxiety—they had things to do! Caught between the two emotions of fear and joy, the women headed back to the city. Wait till the others heard! And then they encountered the risen Lord. Can you imagine how overwhelmed they were with the reality of what they were experiencing? They were overcome with a desire to worship him—our best response to encountering Christ.

What Jesus said to them echoed the words of the angels—don’t be afraid, go tell the others, meet me in Galilee. There was in his words a renewal of the connection he had with them, a commitment to their relationship, and hope for more time together in fellowship with one another. All of these expressions of his continuing love for them removed their fear. They could trust that he was still the Jesus they knew before the crucifixion—he was still their friend and brother—only now he was the risen Lord.

The apostle Paul reminds us to keep our mind, not on what’s going on in the world around us or on everything people are doing wrong, or on the bad things which are happening, but on the things above, where Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God in glory. We’re not to have our hearts set on what’s in this transient human society and culture, but on the eternal realities where Jesus is the risen Lord, holding in himself our real life, our true existence. Our zōē life is not in this transient, dying world, but in Christ, held in heaven for us, to one day be revealed in the new heavens and new earth.

This is how we can live each day without fear. Death is not the end, but the passage into our eternal connection with all those who are in Christ. Suffering in this life is not something to fear, but to embrace as participation in Christ’s suffering or resisted as participation in Christ’s efforts to make all things new. Every part of our existence is swept up in Christ where we participate with him in his life, sharing in his love for all humanity as the One who plumbed the depths and brought us up into the divine life and love. We are called to faith, to believe in the reality of what Christ has done in living our life, dying our death, and rising again, bringing us into the presence of Abba.

Fear is a tough taskmaster, and we easily fall prey to it. This time of year, as we celebrate the resurrection, we are reminded of the abundance of God’s love and grace, of the forgiveness which is ours in Jesus Christ. In the sending of the Spirit, God makes possible for us to share in Jesus’ resurrection life. Trusting in Jesus, in his death and resurrection, we are awakened to new life—a life freed from the fear of death and all that comes with it.

Our resurrected Lord comes to you and to me again and again in the presence and power of his Spirit to say, “Don’t be afraid. Tell others the good news. Find your home in and with me.” Live life with a focus on the risen Christ and be busy about his business. There will be no room for fear because there is nothing left in this cosmos which can ever separate us from his love, not even the grave.

Thank you, Abba, for being a God we do not need to fear but can rest in, trusting in your never-ending love. Thank you for your faithfulness, for raising up not only Jesus, but in him our humanity, enabling us to participate in his risen life in and through your Holy Spirit. Grant us the faith to believe, to trust in all that Christ is and has done, that we may share in your divine life and love both now and forever, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Colossians 3:1–4 NASB

See also Matthew 28:1–10.

Waiting in Silence

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By Linda Rex

HOLY SATURDAY—Sometimes when wandering through a garden or while I’m picking berries, I’ll come across a cocoon hidden under some leaves. Looking at the neatly formed shape, I will marvel at God’s creation, and then I will wonder just what might be lying inside.

There within this cocoon a transformation is taking place. I once read that while in its cocoon, all a caterpillar was is reduced down to its elements and reformed into something new. The butterfly or moth which eventually pushes its way out from the cocoon may look completely different from its earlier form, but it is still in essence the same creature.

From the outside, the cocoon is like a tomb. There doesn’t appear to be any activity. It looks like a misshapen blob at times—something which needs to be removed from the plant or limb and thrown away. Even though something significant is going on inside, it is not obviously apparent to anyone who happens upon it.

On Holy Saturday we are reminded of how Jesus’s body was removed from the cross and laid in a tomb. Nicodemus brought myrrh and aloes, and helped Joseph of Arimathea with the burial process, wrapping the body linen and spices. The new tomb in the garden near where Jesus was crucified was blessed to receive the body of our Savior.

After Jesus was laid in the tomb, a stone was rolled in front of the entrance to close it. The Jews asked that the tomb be sealed, and it was—they hoped to prevent a rumor that Jesus had risen from the dead. They had heard that Jesus had promised to rise again, and thought it was only the vain hope of a would-be messiah. They did what they could to ensure the tomb could not be tampered with.

If we had sat opposite the tomb on Saturday, as Mary and Mary Magdalene had done the night before, we would have seen a silent spectacle. We would have had no ability to see what was going on inside the tomb. The grave would have been silent, with the only sounds being the wind rustling the tree leaves, the birds singing, or perhaps the voices and activities of people nearby.

Looking hard at the tomb, we would have seen only stillness. Considering the dead body within, we’d only hear silence. There would only be darkness within the tomb, we’d reason—nothing would be going on. When a person dies and is laid in the grave, all that’s left is decomposition and eventually dried out bones and dust. From the exterior, we would have had to assume that this was what was happening here, and that this was the end of all we had hoped and planned.

Maybe after a while, we would remember that Jesus liked talking about seeds in reference to himself and the kingdom of God. A seed, he said, must die in order for a new plant to grow and for many new seeds to be harvested. For Jesus, death never stood alone on its own—it was always accompanied by resurrection. He wanted his followers to understand that his path needed to go down the road to death, but that was never meant to be the end. Jesus’ death was only a step along the path to new life for all humanity.

This is a good thought. What if we saw the times of death, of silent waiting, not as times to grieve, but rather as times to hope? What if, instead of imagining someone going back to the dust from which they were made, we picture instead the renewal and transformation of what has been laid in the tomb? Maybe we should look at the places in our lives or relationships which appear to be dead and lifeless as being places where seeds have been planted which only need the light and water of God’s presence and power to bring about new life and an abundant harvest.

It is easy to come to places in our lives where we are faced with death and dying. The human story is one in which death occurs constantly—not just death of people, but death of dreams, relationships, businesses, or even churches. We fear death, when actually we should embrace death as the path Jesus trod in order that we might experience new life and new existence grounded within himself. Death can be a good thing, especially when we die to wrong ways of thinking or living or we die to the control of our broken sinful ways of being.

The spiritual discipline of silence in some ways resonates with the silent waiting at the tomb of Jesus. In silence, we set ourselves in God’s presence to listen and to wait, allowing ourselves to become attuned to the heart of the Father. When our attention wanders or our mind takes off on some errant thought, we need only redirect ourselves back to silence. Here we are, in this moment, with God. What does he have to say to us?

When we are busy going about our lives, caught up in the day-to-day issues we face, we may miss the growth and healing opportunities which come through attending upon God in silence. There is an intimacy in our relationship with God which grows when we slow down to pause and just be with God for a time. Perhaps we could spend a few minutes even now, picturing ourselves sitting beside the tomb, pondering what just happened this week and wondering what God is planning to do next.

Is there some place in your life where you are facing death or loss? Do you have a place in your life which feels as though it is dark and empty, with no hope of renewal? Perhaps symbolically you may take this into your hands and hold it out to God, laying it in the tomb with Jesus. And then wait for a time in silence. Allow Jesus to meet you in these moments, to remind you of his promise, which he kept in faithful love.

The seed planted in the ground often lays there for a time. The roots may be growing deep into the soil long before we ever see a sprout. Jesus lay in the tomb and all was silent—but great, amazing things were at work in God’s creation. A renewal, a turning about of all which was broken, lost, and dying was happening as Jesus Christ lay in the grave.

Holy Saturday reminds us that God is always and ever at work in our lives. As we turn to Jesus in faith, the Spirit reminds us that God loves us and has our best interests at heart even when all we see is a silent grave. Abba is a working, renewing, restoring, and healing, even though we may not see him at work. As we rest in Christ and wait in silence, we can find renewal and encouragement to hope in times of despair. God is at work and will not stop until he has finished what he has begun. We can count on him.

Thank you, Abba, that you never cease to bring new life and hope into our lives. Thank you, Jesus, for embracing death so that we could share eternal life with you. Holy Spirit, remind us anew that we are loved and cared for, and that Abba will work all things to the good, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” John 19:42 NASB

Letting the Failures Go

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By Linda Rex

Good Friday
I don’t know about you, but some days I wonder whether it was worth the effort to even get out of bed. It seems from the moment my feet hit the floor I am running backwards faster than I am moving forward. On days like this, hot tea or coffee doesn’t seem to help, and I’m hoping that the first person who comes in the door at work will pretend they don’t see me and will walk right on down the hall.

But the phone rings right then and I have to answer it. The cheerful tone in my voice is a little forced, but somehow in the middle of the conversation about who they need to talk to about what I find the capacity to genuinely serve and help someone. A silent prayer of gratitude forms in my heart—it seems there is hope for me after all, but only because of God’s grace and power.

And this is the thing about Good Friday. Here on this day we may ponder the suffering of Christ. We may read the story of him being taken into custody, having been betrayed by one of his very own followers. He did not get a good night’s rest, but spent the hours being grilled, beaten, and falsely accused of things which would never have even crossed his mind.

What really is amazing about this story is in his broken humanity, crushed by the anger and hate of fellow human beings, and weakened by the loss of blood and blows to his body, Jesus was at his strongest and most powerful. Why would I say that? Because he had access to legions of angels and to all the forces in the universe—and he did not call on them to help. What incredible strength of will and depth of humility!

In Hebrews, the writer says Jesus, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Heb. 12:2 NASB). He did not resist, nor did he regret, what he did in bearing up under the crucifixion. He had his heart and mind focused on the spiritual realities, securely rooted in his eternal relation with his Abba. He knew he was loved, held, and not forsaken, no matter how things appeared at the moment. And he had something he was trying to accomplish—something to complete—the destruction and removal of evil, sin, and death from our humanity and our cosmos.

What a task! To wrestle with the forces of evil requires incredible stamina of mind and will. To resist the temptation to quit or give in demands endurance and perseverance beyond our human capacity. To hang on when even the human body gives way means there was much more needed than just a human being dying on a cross when Jesus was crucified. The very presence of God himself on that cross was what was needed and what Abba gave us in sending us his Son Jesus to stand in our stead.

Because our Jesus was fully God and fully man, he conquered evil, sin, and death completely. There is nothing which was left undone in his gift of himself on the cross. He did it not because he had to, but because he chose to. He did it in love for you and for me.

So, if Jesus did such a good and complete job of conquering evil, sin, and death, why do I still struggle with my attitude and my behavior? Why do we still have people who go around shooting other people? What’s the point of what Jesus has done?

That is a really good question. I could say, Jesus set us an example of how we are to live our lives—as good people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for others. That’s a nice sentiment, but it lacks any substance. Just ask anyone who has for any length of time tried to really live the way Jesus lived—it’s really hard to do, actually next to impossible for us as humans to achieve in this life. No, there is something more going on than this.

I believe Jesus gave us as human beings the capacity to once again be truly human—to live the way we were created to live—loving God with all our being and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus enabled us to be genuine in our humanity by setting us free from evil, sin, and death, and enabling us to live in intimate relationship with his Abba by his Spirit.

And there it is. We have the capacity to be truly human because of Jesus. He has joined us forever with the Being of God in his Person so we can participate in the union and communion of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Yet, it took Jesus dying, rising, and sending the Spirit for this to be worked out in each of our lives individually. We each have been given the gift of God’s Spirit and Presence but are called upon to receive this gift and participate in the life we were created for.

The process of receiving this gift resembles remarkably the events of Good Friday. The Maundy Thursday meal where Jesus offered his body as the bread and his blood as the wine, was meant to help us identify the gift which was being given—Jesus Christ himself—his life for our life, his ways for our ways, his plans for our plans.

We join Jesus in his story on Good Friday as we own the truth of our failures, our missing the mark of who we were meant to be as God’s beloved children, and we lay down our broken humanity and receive his humanity in its place. We embrace the living Christ, who dwells within by his Spirit, surrendering to his Presence and Power.

This laying down that we might rise also means tossing away our feeble efforts at becoming godlike under our own power. Indeed, facing the reality of our failures as humans is healthy and essential to the process. We need to be willing to say, “I didn’t…”, “I can’t…”, and even, “I won’t…”—to admit the truth of our resistance against all which right, true, and holy. We can boldly come to our Abba and say, because of Jesus and our intimate connection with him, “I was wrong. I should not have done that, thought that, or said that.” And we can know in that moment, we are forgiven, embraced, and held. In spite of our failures, we are loved and included in Abba’s life.

As Jesus laid in the tomb on Holy Saturday, it seemed to all those he had grown close to that all hope was lost. In the same way, we can at times be so overwhelmed by the evil, sin, and death of this human existence, we begin to believe all hope is lost. We can live blinded to what is really going on: Jesus Christ is making all things new, and we are included in that great work he is doing right now in this world. All is forgiven and healed in him, but not everyone has embraced Abba’s solution to the problem.

Indeed, God calls on you and me, once in the sacrament of baptism, often as we eat the bread and wine in communion, and moment by moment as we live our lives, to die with Christ and rise with Christ. This is the truth of our existence, so we act like it. We live as though it were true.

In this moment in front of us, we may feel like we’re still rotting in the grave, but when we take a step in faith—trusting we are instead walking out of the tomb into the bright sunlight of God’s love and grace—we’ll find, that’s exactly the case. We are forgiven. We are loved. We are held. We are truly, essentially, and fully human, as God meant us to be.

Thank you, Abba, for including us in your life and love, through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Grant us the grace to see how we individually and collectively participate in your story, Jesus, when you walked the road to and through death and resurrection, and to receive this gift of love and forgiveness with open hearts and hands. May we receive and live in the fullness of the gift of our true humanity in and through you, Jesus, and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” Hebrews 10:18 NASB