“But God”

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1)

“It was a dark and stormy day and the sundial showed the ninth hour.” If someone were writing about the death of Jesus, they might be tempted to tell about the hour of his death with an opening line like this. It’s close to the truth. All three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) record the time with similar words:

  • “From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon” (Matthew 27:45)
  • “When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon” (Mark 15:33).
  • “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the after- noon…” (Luke 23:44).

John’s Gospel does not mention the time of Jesus’ death; instead, John adds other important details about his last hours on earth.

In addition to the time (three o’clock was the ninth hour of the day as the Romans reckoned it), what stands out in these accounts is the darkness. This is an unnatural darkness, a night that shows up in the middle of the day.

This is the darkest hour in human history. God’s only Son, Jesus of Nazareth, is put to death by God’s beloved human beings. Once again, it seems, death has triumphed. Once again, injustice pre- vails. Once again, human cruelty is on display in a death most awful—crucifixion. Once more, it seemed as if people would go on living in the darkness of a world so sick with sin that it puts to death the innocent, the blameless, the unblemished Lamb of God. 
For two more days, until Sunday morning, the dark- ness had full reign.

And then, as we might tell the story, comes two of my favorite words in the Bible: “But God.”

How else can we relate what happened next without these two marvelous and precious words? Jesus was dead. They put him in a tomb and sealed it. The Romans and Jewish religious authorities alike believed that would be the end of his story. Like so many would-be Messiahs who came before him, this Jesus would be forgotten and the world would go on just like before. Nothing more to see here, Roman subjects—just one more dead Jewish rabble-rouser taken care of by the brutal efficiency of Rome. You can go back to your homes now and thank almighty Caesar for preventing a further disturbance of the pax Romana (Roman peace).

From all appearances, death had won in that dark hour.

But God—there’s just no other way to say it—had other plans.

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And the rest, as they say, is “His Story.” God raised Jesus from the dead, giving new life to him and to all who believe in him. Because He lives, we can face however many tomorrows come our way.

We’ll continue to face the darkness in many different forms and at different times in our lives. But God has given us the light of new life in Jesus the
 Son, who overcomes the darkness. He is the true “Sonrise” that we celebrate this Easter, every Easter, every Sunday, every day of our lives.

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Amen!

Pastor Bob

 

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“The Ins and Outs of Lent”

It’s March and depending on how you look at it, spring is either here or just around the corner. If you are a weather aficionado, someone who loves to pore over the maps meteorologists produce showing the high and low pressure systems coming our way, then you know that spring is here. March 1 is the start of meteorological spring. On the other hand, if you go by the astronomical calendar which looks at the rotation of the earth around the sun, you’ve got until March 21, the day the sun runs parallel to the earth’s equator, before you can say spring has sprung. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take spring as soon as I can get it—give me the meteorological calendar anytime.

Either way you look at it, March can be a month of extremes. We could have snow, or temperatures in the 80s. The old-timers tale about March comes to mind: “in like a lion and out like a lamb.” I found this poem by Lorie Hill that expresses these extremes:

In Like A Lion, Out Like A Lamb

March roars in

like a lion so fierce,

the wind so cold,

it seems to pierce.

The month rolls on

and Spring draws near,

and March goes out

like a lamb so dear.[1]

These “ins and outs” associated with the month of March made me think about Lent. According to the church calendar, Lent covers most or all of the month of March. (It all depends on when Easter falls, which depends on when Passover takes place). For Christians, Lent is a season of reflection. We are to think more deeply about our relationship with God, about our shortcomings and our mortality—“you are dust, and to dust you shall return”—and about the God who gives us life through Jesus Christ. We reflect on the Passion, the pain and suffering Jesus endured for us. And if we do that in a meaningful way, we are humbled by what God did for us so that we can have an abundant life.

Like the month of March, the season of Lent begins with lions on the prowl.

  • At the start of his ministry, Jesus is baptized, then the Spirit drives him out into the wilderness to face a time of testing by Satan and the harsh desert environment. (Mark 1:9-15)
  • Jesus speaks harsh words to Peter—“Get behind me, Satan!”—when the well-intentioned fisherman rebukes Jesus for saying the Son of Man must suffer and die in Jerusalem. (Mark 8:31-38)
  • In the Temple courtyard, Jesus cracks the whip, literally, and tosses tables to chase away the animals and moneychangers who have dishonored the house of God. (John 2:13-22)

image001With all this temptation and trial, confrontation and conflict, you’d think the lions would come out on top. Not so. In the end, the Lamb of God emerges, broken by the lions of Rome, and lays down his life for a broken humanity.

So as you think about Lent remember that it comes in like a lion all right, but it goes out with the Lamb of God rising on Easter Day.

Join us on April 1 to celebrate our Risen Savior!

Pastor Bob

[1] Lorie Hill, “In Like A Lion, Out Like A Lamb,” Scrapbook.com, https://www.scrapbook.com/poems/doc/694.html.