Friday, March 30, 2012
Intensity of that Morning... (early Easter message)
Art by Eugene Burnand. Shorter version of title is, "Peter and John Running to the Tomb".
This piece of art gets me every time. Every time. I saw it in passing once, while working at the Christian bookstore near my home those many years ago. I saw it and wondered and awed. To capture such... grieving disbelief? urgency? panic? intensity? It is remarkable. And, before I even knew the title, I knew what it would be regarding.
They were friends, Jesus and these. They left their previous livestyles knowing that something life-changing would occur. Somehow they sensed that, I believe. This Man who had asked them to leave their work to follow Him, there was something deep and wide and sure about this simple, not-much-to-look-at Man.
They could not have known on that day of leaving that they would actually be finding the true reason for living. They could not have understood then, in that moment, how they would never be the same again- in the most dramatic way of exclaiming that, in every way. They could never know how their lives and souls and minds would become so entwined in Him that they would grow to die to their own selves, so they could be better. Not because they did anything to cause that, but because HE caused that.
It was a good better. The kind that reaches to all those twisted, knotted places in the heart, and brings them back to wholeness and life. The kind that challenges them to see not just with their physical eyes but with their souls and hearts. The kind that encourages one to believe even without seeing- by faith. The kind that hopes and desires and reaches, wanting more, the good more, because it is fulfilling and relieving and inspiring and right.
Even with their faults, in their times of weakness and pride... His gentleness was known. Even as they walked and talked and listened to His sharings; His patience was expressed, was what extended out in long reaching strides to fill in voids and missings and longings they never even knew they had.
It was unsurety and shock that caused them to stand still in humbled and flesh-and-pride filled horror. He... this pure, good, wise Master. How could He extend out the same hope that touched their hearts to the worst of sinners, the lost, the impure, the dejected, rejected nothings? How could He touch the one obviously born imperfect, the one who chose a lifestyle so wrong, the one who chose to hurt others for his own gain? How could He?
His love. His love exploded out to any and all that wanted to bask in it. He literally made it available to whomever came to Him in faith- wanting, accepting. He widely planted seeds of hope and love and acceptance and unconditional care. Because He is the Father of fathers, the most loving of all because He IS LOVE. Because even if He came as a Man, He came with spiritual, soul-saving purpose. To SAVE that which was lost. To PROVE His love for all people in the earth. To rescue His created ones who did not even realize that they were lost.
He sacrificed then so that Prodigal-son waitings might encourage intercedings and build hope that one day a grieving parent might see the bringing back of lost children. He sacrificed then so that with all of our differences, we might find ONE who understands ALL sufferings. He sacrificed then so we could understand that there is always room to turn around and find the right way. He sacrificed then so we could know His strength to get back up when we have fallen. He sacrificed then so we could have the hope of new beginnings. He did this for US! So that WE might be offered an escape from the dark, weighing death of sin, of things we do that are wrong.
He offered freedom when He came. Freedom from chains that bind; from oppression that suffocates; from all things that wrap themselves around us to keep us bogged down and sinking in cesspools along our journeying. He offered that before we even knew we needed Him to do that. He offered that because He, in His infinite wisdom, could SEE that we were in danger. The Creator, Healer, Master... He surrendered to His evil creation so He could die at their hand, FOR them. To save them!!! How ironic! How mind boggling!
So... His journey of living led Him to the cross. He knew it. He accepted it, and He followed through.
Every fresh ripping of His flesh and surging moment of pain caused all of creation to tremble. Every weakening moment from blood lost, every thorn pressing against nerves and veins and bone, every clawlike-striped beating, every embarrassing and disrespectful act completed... He suffered it all. He knew that it served a purpose. A good purpose. To save the ones He loves.
Even to the end, with His last breath, He was working for our good. He allowed Himself to become OUR sin so that we might have the hope to find true peace, true hope, true joy, true love. He asked for our sins to be forgiven us, even while He hung with labored breath, while life flowed in blood and water down splintered tree. He completed His rescue mission, and died.
But, that is not all. That is not why this piece of art was created. NO! It was not at His death that Peter and John rushed so. It was after the preparations for burial, after the stone rolling and sealing. It was when they heard words from devoted, emotion-filled women who had loved their Master. In their grieving they had gone again to where He was buried and were presented with a stone that was not in place, but rolled away.. And, they heard and saw what would make their hearts burst in wonder, what would make them truly see and hear and understand the words that He had spoken in life when He walked with and taught and shared with them. An angel declared to them, "He is not here; for He is risen, as He said." (Matthew 28:7)
The women rushed back to the disciples to tell them what had happened. Then we see it... We read it... "Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first." (John 20)
The fear that must have surged through them! The doubts. The concern. The broken-hearted love and devotion and feelings of desperation for lack of control.
But that was not the end. For all of that, what did they find??? A risen, victorious, saving Jesus risen from the dead!!!! Not only did the angel say so. Not only did Mary Magdeline witness it. But He revealed Himself to His disciples and others. He IS alive!
This image is the moment before the climax, the just-about-to-peak-sunrise-of-hope-exploding. This image reminds me in my moments of stress, insecurity, and hopelessness, to remember Peter and John as they raced to understand, to see for themselves, to battle with fear and doubt, to deal with what might be a bad situation. But Jesus surprised them all- with a revelation of His glory, power, might, and hope. He took their weighted brokenness and rescued them again by filling them with peace, and a clear understanding of His truth, of who He was and still is today. He is King of kings, Lord of lords, Prince of peace, and Mighty Warrior Saviour! He is the innocent, sacrificed Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world.
But that is not enough to know with our minds... Do you know that? We must repent of our sins and turn away from our wicked ways. DAILY! So as to honor His sacrifice. We must recognize what He has done to die for our sins, and then to rise again. We must recognize who He is and give Him due praise and glorify Him. We must lay our pride and wills and past, present and future at His feet. For He does not want anything else. He wants that. Not because He is desiring to take it controllingly, to hold it against you as a dictator, and destroy you. But because He wants to cleanse you, restore you, and renew you in your spirit, soul, and mind. Because He is Doctor, Abba Father (Daddy), who loves you intensely and profusely, enough to stretch out His arms as far and wide as humanly possible and give His life away for nothing He ever did. He did it as a gift to you and I... A gift! A gift with no puppet-strings attached, but with a desire that we would willingly accept and trust Him.
I will trust Him. I have seen how good and faithful and wonderful He is to me. I have felt His patience, known His healing, and wept at the sacrifice I do not deserve. But I accept because that gift is what He died for. He loved us so much, He knew He had to cross the ocean of space between heaven and hell to get it for us. He knew that sacrifice would mean that by letting you and I go, there would be a chance of saving you back into His achingly loving arms.