Facing the Tomb
By Linda Rex
April 9, 2023, Resurrection Day or Easter Sunday—Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Monday was another one of those days. An active shooter at a local private elementary school and now children and adults are dead. I think of the families whose hearts are being wrenched by this tragedy. I think of the nurses and doctors trying to save the lives of the victims and being unable to. I think of the teachers and staff who could not protect the children. And I am caught in the anger of grief and loss.
Death comes in unexpected ways, and disrupts our ordinary life, bringing unwanted changes and loss. We forget sometimes about the ordinariness of death—that it happens to everybody. It’s a fact of our human existence right now. We may hide it in our mortuaries and cemeteries, but we still have to live with it and come to terms with the reality of it. Each of us has to face it in some way. We cannot escape it.
The comfort we have this day is that death no longer reigns triumphant over us. Death was summarily put in its place over two thousand years ago, as Jesus Christ allowed himself to be crucified, the Son of God in human flesh dying for us. Our Savior entered the gates of death, undaunted by its threat of decay and darkness. He willingly laid his human body down in the tomb, wrapped in graveclothes and scented by funeral spices. And there his body lay as he entered the gates of death.
But good news! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Death could not hold Jesus. No, death was impotent in the face of the resurrection power of God. Jesus arose and walked out from his tomb, unbound by the limitations of our human flesh, for now his was a glorified human body. Not only that, but this glorious new life went home with him into the presence of his heavenly Father. Now in the Spirit, we find our life is hidden with Christ in God.
It’s important for us to wrestle with the challenges of living out our human life on this earth. We are given the challenge of finding ways to facilitate the safe and healthy instruction of our children while allowing them the freedom to grow and develop in warm, caring environments. We have the challenge of making our societies places where people want to care for others rather than harm them, while ensuring that those who do harm others deal with the consequences of their actions and are offered the means to learn better ways of living. This, within a broken culture, which values each person’s freedom to decide for themselves how to live.
And we must face and wrestle with death—with all its devastation, loss, and grief. How do we do all this? It seems an insurmountable task. And here is where we need reminded once again that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Where we keep our focus affects how we live our everyday lives. The apostle Paul, in Colossians 3:1-4, reminds us to keep our minds and hearts on things above, where Jesus Christ is right now, today, in face-to-face relationship with his Father in the Spirit. There, in his crucified but risen life in joyful fellowship with his Father is our own life. We may suffer, grieve, and experience loss here on earth, but there we are held, loved, cared for and blessed.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! This Resurrection Day, may you find comfort and encouragement in the reality that you have real life, right now, in relationship with your Father and mine, and his Son Jesus, in the Spirit, in that warm fellowship which is ours now into eternity. And whatever losses you may experience now are only a temporary sorrow to be eclipsed by the joy of the life to come in the new heavens and new earth. As we keep our focus on things above, no matter what comes our way, we receive the faith, hope, and love we need to bear it, knowing we are held in God’s love and grace by a Savior who knows exactly what we are going through, having been there himself.
Dearest Jesus, we celebrate with you the joy of your resurrection! Heavenly Father, thank you for including us in Christ, in his life with you in the Spirit. Grant us the grace to keep our hearts and minds on things above, rather than on earthly things. Amen.
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Colossians 3:1-4 NIV
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Seeds and Flowers, and Maturing in Christ
By Linda Rex
Outside the house next to our patio door sit two flower pots. Last summer we moved some tiger lilies out of a flowerbed and into these pots because the local mole had decided he had a hankering for flower bulbs and managed to eliminate most of them we had planted earlier in the year.
Even though we planted the tiger lily bulbs in the flowerpots, we assumed they were too far gone to even come up. But this spring they began to grow and after quite some time they put on buds. We were delighted when the bright orange blossoms opened fully—they are quite stunning when in full bloom.
In comparison with a tiger lily, the bloom of an avocado tree is quite tiny and unimpressive. If one were to look at an avocado flower, one would have to get up really close in order to even see it. It has six tiny white or green petals surrounding an intricate white and yellow center. And yet, when the flower has done its work properly, it produces a seed the size of a walnut enclosed within a thick layer which we consume as fruit. The entire avocado can be bigger than the size of a human fist—a far cry from the tiny flower it came from.
The size and beauty of a flower may be large and glorious, but this is not what determines what type of fruit it produces. Nor does it determine whether or not it produces fruit which matures in such a way as to produce seeds. Some flowers produce fruit which is seedless—a natural process which botanists and producers have taken advantage of in order to provide us with such produce as seedless grapes and seedless watermelons.
Plants come in all shapes and sizes, and so do the “fruit”—this word includes nuts, vegetables, and fruit. Fruit from a plant may mature beyond the state any of us would be willing to consume, but for many plants, this is what is necessary for the seed to fully ripen so when it is put in the ground it will produce a new plant. We often consume what is produced before it is fully mature—corn on the cob is a good example of this. In order to plant corn, the corn kernel has to ripen completely and then dry—only then is it mature enough to be used as seed for planting. But dried corn kernels are quite hard to chew and they’re not very tasty either.
A lot of what I’ve shared here is common knowledge for a farmer, botanist, or master gardener. They understand the process by which a plant reproduces and how to work with seeds, plants, and flowers to produce the best crop possible. It is interesting that Jesus, our Master Gardener, often used the process of planting, growing, and harvesting crops in order to talk about himself and the kingdom of God.
In one parable, Jesus used seed to represent the Word of God. He was explaining the different ways in which the Word of God was planted and the results of each scenario:
“Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” Luke 8:11-15 NASB
It seems that the problem with producing quality fruit lies not with the seed, but with the soil it lands on. The Word of God always produces a result—it is fruitful—there’s no doubt about that. But the ground which receives the seed can be harsh and unreceptive, or provide little room for the roots to grow, or be so filled with weeds that a new plant can’t grow and thrive.
If we were to consider this parable for a bit, we might see that the point of putting the seed in the ground is not just to have pretty flowers. Flowerbeds are lovely and I personally enjoy a garden filled with colorful blooms. But this was not the point of this parable—the focus is on the seed and what the seed was to produce—more seed. This means each seed needs to produce a plant which will grow to the place it flowers, it produces fruit, and the fruit matures to the point that it produces seed.
Seeds come in all shapes and sizes, and travel all over by a variety of means. Seeds are not meant to stay on the plant, but to be spread to new places. We experience the reality of this when we find oak trees growing in our pansy bed or an apple tree coming up in the vegetable garden.
When we hear the Word of God—the good news of God’s love for us expressed to us in his Son Jesus Christ, it is meant to take root in our hearts by faith. The Word of God, the indwelling Christ by the Spirit, works transform our hearts and lives. We open ourselves up to the work of the Spirit in our walk of faith and begin to mature as followers of Jesus Christ. Our lives begin to reflect the Word of God at work within us. Like beautiful blossoms on a plant, we glow with the glory God created us to bear—the image of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This flowering is not the end of the story though. We are meant to go even farther and mature into seed-bearing plants. Our lives and words are to be a testimony to Christ. In other words, the life-giving Word is carried to new places and planted in new ground—new hearts—because we have become mature seed-bearing plants. Jesus said as we go, we are to make disciples. Making disciples, sharing the Word of God with others, is to be a natural by-product of our spiritual growing up in Christ.
The environment in which the Word of God exists within us is critical in this process. Do we allow ourselves to be deceived by a word other than that which given to us in Jesus Christ? Do we allow ourselves to be tempted by other things which supplant the Word of God? Do we allow ourselves to be so absorbed in the cares and pleasures of this life that we suffocate the Word of God? All of these are ways in which we disrupt or hinder the process of spiritual growth God meant for us to participate in.
The healthier alternative is to receive the Word with an “honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” The Word of God sinks deep roots in the soil of our heart as we practice spiritual disciplines which open us up to the work of the Spirit within us. The Word of God can transform our lives and hearts as we obey the Spirit’s inner prompting to put away our idols and distractions and focus wholly on Christ. We make space for God to work by making sure we are not preoccupied with the cares and pleasures of this life.
And we are not satisfied with just the external trappings of spiritual growth. It’s easy to look as though we are a stunning example of spiritual maturity. But the proof is when what God has done and is doing in us is duplicated in the lives of those around us. When the Word of God begins spreading into the hearts and lives of those around us, then we know we are being fruitful, and that God’s Word is living and active, taking root in many new hearts and lives.
Thank you, Lord, for planting your Word in our hearts. By faith, may we allow your Word to grow and develop, transforming our hearts and lives in such a way that your Word may be planted anew in others hearts and lives as well. May we be productive plants for your glory, through Jesus our Lord and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
“As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Luke 8:14 NRSV