The Blessing of Death

According to the Christian tradition, Jesus died on Friday and rose again on Sunday. While experts can debate the details and argue about whether Jesus really spent three days in the grave, whatever you decide, Saturday was a difficult day for His followers.

Picture it…Jesus, their hoped for Messiah…the One they thought would ride in on a white horse and restore Israel’s greatness…He was dead and buried. And not even decently buried. They were in such a hurry to get him in the ground before sundown and the beginning of the Sabbath (which, consequently, leads to a great deal of confusion about when Jesus was crucified…it wasn’t necessarily Saturday), they didn’t even get to prepare His body properly.

However you look at it, Saturday is a dark day for everyone who loved and followed Jesus. He is dead. All their hopes and dreams died with Him. They are facing a crisis, all holed up together trying to figure out what they’re going to do.

I’ve been there…my dreams dashed, my heart broken, overwhelmed with confusion and disbelief, shaken by doubt. It is a miserable place to be. Can you relate? Something tells me you probably can…

One experience in particular stands out in my mind…an experience not unlike the disciples were facing so many centuries ago. Only the one who was dead was my child…my unborn child whose anticipated arrival was still months away. Different expectations and hopes, but all dashed, just the same.

As I sat in the car, wrestling with God over the loss of my baby, over the agony of death and the frailty of life, I realized something. Death is a gift.

Yes, you read that right. Death is a gift.

You see, if you take the Bible literally, as I do (and please, let’s not get into a debate about that here), then you believe life began in a garden…the Garden of Eden. And in that garden were two trees; the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. Adam and Eve ate from one, but God wouldn’t let them eat from the other. And there in lies the gift.

You see, if Adam and Eve had eaten from the Tree of Life, then they and everyone who came after them would have been doomed to spend eternity in our sinful state.

Paul describes the flesh in Romans 7:18,

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

The result of living in our “flesh” as the Bible calls it, or our “natural state” results in certain behaviors that are anything but beautiful. A complete list can be found in Galatians 5:19-21, but that isn’t the focus of this post.

You see, if we were left in our sinful state for all of eternity, then we would hopeless, helpless, and just plain miserable. But, we’re not!

Because Adam and Eve didn’t eat from the Tree of Life, we all die. And in death, we are set free from the bondage of sin. That is the gift; that we do not spend all of eternity in bondage. As followers of Jesus, we have choices beyond our sinful nature, but we still struggle under the weight of it. But we won’t, not always. Some day, we’ll be set free. And when we lose someone we love, whether we bury a baby born too soon or a parent at the end of a long and fulfilling life or anyone in between, that is a reminder that this life is not all there is. There is more. Someday we will experience life the way God intended in the Garden…without our natural tendency to be selfish or unkind or blame someone else for our mistakes…some day…

That some day is what makes the day we commemorate on Easter Sunday really special. Because if Jesus had just died, if the grave could hold Him, then nothing else mattered. Sure, He was our Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7); sure, He lived a sinless life (Hebrew 4:15); sure He fulfilled multiple Old Testament prophesies. But if He had stayed dead, none of it would have mattered.

But He didn’t. Jesus “came alive again” to borrow a phrase from one of my children. The day we commemorate on Easter was the day Jesus conquered death. The angels at the tomb said it best, when they inquired of the women who had come to finish the burial rituals; “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Luke 24:5 ESV.

That is what I think of when I hear of someone dying. My heart aches, I grieve with those who are grieving, I weep with those who weep, but I am also reminded of the gift it is to eventually die. In the end, we will have an answer to Paul’s anguished cry in Romans 7, “who will save me from this body of death?” The answer is, Jesus!! And He already has.

Advertisements

The Prodigal Son

I have been contemplating the parable of The Prodigal Son a great deal lately. Some personal circumstances have given me cause to dig deeply into the issue of unconditional love, and how the father in that parable demonstrated it, for both of his sons.

At times, I can be identify with the older brother. I have always been a good girl. I’ve always done the right thing. I used to think that Romans 8:28 meant God would fix up my mix-ups and life would feel good. After all, I’m a missionary, right? I’ve done all the things God said I should do. I’ve stayed away from the things He said to stay away from. That should protect me from pain and suffering, right?

Not so much…and learning that lesson as my life collided with my beliefs was…difficult…painful…terrifying…life changing…

Even though I’ve always been a “good girl”, I’m not perfect. Far from it. And at times, I play the part of the prodigal, running from what God is calling me to do, squandering the figurative wealth He has provided; listening to bad advisers, turning to foolish counselors; choosing “friends” who are happy to take advantage of me in some way; so easily drawn astray by lure of sin’s pleasure that lasts for a season. Yes…I can be like the prodigal.

The one I really struggle to relate to is the father. We can probably agree that the father is a picture of God the Father. And I, for one, am incredibly thankful that He is willing to come running when I decide to come home.

If we’re completely honest with ourselves, though, it isn’t always so easy to do…to enthusiastically embrace one who has been a cause of grief and pain. But that’s what prodigals are. And while we’re being honest, can you agree with me that all of us are or have been prodigals in one way or another?

Try, if you can, to strip away the familiarity of a lifetime of sermons on this passage. Forget that Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who are represented by the older brother.  Instead, put yourself in the shoes of the father. But not the gracious, God-figure we usually imagine in this role. Let’s picture the father as a human being, a person, just like me or you. A person with emotions and opinions, with insecurities and fears and hurts and disappointments, living in a culture which defines him by his actions or the actions of his children.

Keeping those factors in mind, do you think he was hurt by his son’s behavior? Do you? Do you think he felt frustration at his son’s request? Do you think he was ashamed when word of his son’s behavior reached him? Do you think his heart ached for his son as he heard what those “friends” had done? Do you think he shook his head, or put his head in his hands and though “If only…”? Because I do. I think the father’s heart broke just like ours do, and like God’s does.

This begs the question; what does love…true biblical, God-honoring agape love look like? How do we balance very real pain and the natural desire to protect against that pain with God’s definition as laid out by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13? How do we have “good boundaries” and not keep record of wrongs suffered? How do we “endure all things” while guarding our hearts against further assaults? How do we have hope when ties are cut and walls are built and any potential for reconciliation appears to be destroyed? How do we not give up hope? How do we keep waiting for that prodigal (however your define one) to come home? The father in this parable, he had answers to those questions. And his answers gave him the strength to keep waiting for his son to come home. His answers gave him the grace to run when he saw his son a long way off. His answers gave him the freedom to celebrate his son’s return.

The timing of when this daddy ran has my attention; he ran when he saw his son coming home. Yes, he was watching, and yes, he had obviously never given up hope. But, he was home…he didn’t go chasing away the bad friends his son chose to associate with. He didn’t follow his son from place to place begging him to come home. This father waited…at home…and he ran when his son decided to come home…this daddy, he knew when to run.

God knows when to run, and He runs to us as soon as we turn our hearts back towards His. The key to running, I believe, lays in the timing…God runs to us when we turn our hearts towards His. He knows exactly when to run. Not too soon, because that will drive us away. And not too late, because our shame would overwhelm us and we’d give up. But in His infinite wisdom, He knows when is just right.

This is intriguing to me, because I don’t know when to run. I haven’t answered all those questions yet. Sometimes, the pain I have experienced overwhelms the grace I’ve received, and I can be like an unforgiving servant from a different parable. The freedom to celebrate is choked out by the bondage of unresolved conflict, and I. can’t. run. Or worse, I don’t want to…

In the end, the real question isn’t what we do with the pain, or how we hold on to hope, or where the strength to wait will come from, the real question is, what are we going to focus on? Are we going to look at our circumstances (kind of like Peter, so he started to sink) or are we going to focus our eyes on Jesus? Because when we focus on our circumstances, we will fall, every time. And when we keep our eyes on Jesus, we will know when, and how, and why, to run.

 

God’s Treasure

This poem was written over twenty years ago, for a class in seminary. The professor encouraged me to publish it, but I didn’t know how. So, I’ve just held onto it, until now. But as Easter draws near this year, I am compelled to share, finally. Here, published for the first time, is my poem, God’s Treasure.

Easter 2015

                                God’s Treasure

                          by Marchauna Rodgers

Pain pierces her heart with each blow of the hammer

The ring of metal on metal causes an involuntary cringe

Unwillingly, she remembers the treasures.

 

The first lusty cry, the tender early moments

In her mind’s eye she can see clearly His first

                Step, how He tottered, then fell, smile intact.

Oh, she loved Him dearly.

Painfully she remembers the treasures.

 

On angels’ wings the message came, a son

Would be born, the Christ-child, Messiah, King.

His weak cry for water snaps her back to reality.

Fleetingly she remembers the water turned to wine.

Wistfully she remembers the treasures.

 

No room in the inn, increasing pain, she knew

There wasn’t much time. The stable, the shepherds,

The infant King. Angels all around to herald

And sing His praises. Did they know, even then,

What she would face one day?

Unwillingly, she remembers the treasures.

 

“It is finished” He cries. John’s strong arms support

Her. Through her tears she sees the spear.

As pain courses through her body,

She remembers the treasures.

 

Day turns to night. Reality is lost. The

Promised Messiah, her precious son, is dead.

The dreams of a lifetime, the Kingdom to come

All forfeit to the overwhelming cost of grief.

In her sorrow, she clings to the treasures.

 

Days pass, can it be true? This day begins early

So much to do. What? The grave is empty?

His Body is gone?! Something is TERRIBLY wrong!

Who is that man, so familiar…she thinks of

Her son. Then, with unbelief and an

Unspeakable joy, Mary eternally embraces God’s Treasure

© Marchauna Rodgers, all rights reserved, April 1, 2015