Easter Week

When I was a child, our church celebrated Easter Sunday, the triumphant day of resurrection.  Perhaps there was a Maundy Thursday service of some kind, but if so, nothing was memorable.  We focused on expressing new life in Christ and giving glory to God (to put it most positively) by showing up on Easter morning in new clothes.

As an adult I find it much more wonderful to celebrate, or walk through, the whole of Passion Week.  In what happens to Jesus there is so much that speaks to our human condition.  How many of us have experienced betrayal by someone who was a close part of our circle, maybe even a spouse or a parent or a sibling—betrayal in terrible proportions, or even in relatively small things?  I think of the wife whose husband has an affair with her best friend.  Any betrayal is devastating.

What about having friends disappear when you most need them?  I think of a breast cancer patient who told me that her mother was no longer talking with her.  Or the one whose husband walked out not long after the diagnosis.  To be abandoned by friends is bad enough.  To cry out to God and feel as if God is not there is even harder.

What about being accused unjustly, or treated abusively and derisively?   Such treatment may well steal our sense of self.  Or what about Jesus’ disciples in this story?  Like them we have notions about the purpose of what we are doing.  How hard it is if what we have worked for so long suddenly falls apart.

What I learn in the passion story is that my suffering is not unknown, that God is with me in it regardless of how I may feel or how the suffering may have come to pass.  And that no matter how bad things are, the suffering is not the end of the story.

Queries:

What has been your experience of Easter?

How can you connect inwardly with the suffering and the joy of Easter?

Prayer:

Jesus, forgive us for the barriers and blocks we put up to keep us from living in the abundant joy you desire for all of us.  May you reign in our hearts and in our world.

For further reference:

Read the passion story in one of the gospels—Matthew 26-28, Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24, John 18-21.

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10: 10).

“The Holy Innocents”

Herod, king when Jesus was born, is told by wise men from the East that there is a child born king of the Jews whose star they have been following.  To eliminate the threat this child poses, King Herod has all boys under age two killed.  But Jesus escapes because Joseph had been warned in a dream to take his family to Egypt.

This story has many parallels with the story of Moses, who led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt, and points to Jesus as a new liberator.  But the story also kicks up some deep and perplexing questions.  What about all those children who were killed, and what about their families?  Why weren’t they saved?  Where was God?  Did God abandon them?

How can I say that God healed me when so many people are not healed?  Does God listen?  Does God really intervene?  Does God play favorites?  Can God be trusted?  Do these hard things mean that God doesn’t exist, or that God doesn’t care?

This Bible story doesn’t give answers to these questions but it does point.  In the gospel story, the death of the children does not go ignored.  Matthew includes a very powerful quotation from Jeremiah about Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be consoled.  The death of children did not and does not go unheard.  In the Roman Catholic Church there is a feast day on December 28 memorializing Herod’s victims—the feast of the Holy Innocents.

When children are killed today, there is outcry.  On September 15, 1963, four school-age African-American girls were killed in a bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  People knew this was wrong.  It became a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement, and it contributed to support for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  When on December 14, 2012, twenty children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a pall lay over the country.   Their story is not forgotten.

What I particularly value is that Matthew’s account makes clear that the God the Bible talks about is not one who prevents bad things from happening even to people who love God.  God intervenes in human lives but not always and not predictably.  God is mystery; God’s ways are beyond our human comprehension.  What I know experientially is that God is, God acts, God communicates, and God is available—regardless of outward circumstances.

Queries:

Under what circumstances have you questioned God?  What is it to trust God?

What groups of young people suffering call for your care?

Prayer:

You who are beyond our comprehension but not beyond caring, help us notice the children who are being wounded by the circumstances of our world and let us be heard wailing and in loud lamentation.

For further reference:

“Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we.  Come, let us deal shrewdly with them. . . . (See Exodus 1: 8 – 2: 10).

“When Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick” (See Matthew 14: 13-21).