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Finding Grace in the Wilderness

April 15, 2017

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It was sunrise on a very cold morning in January of last year. We had gotten up early to make a trek into Rocky to capture the sunrise at Many Parks Curve. The wind was whipping and both Denise and I moved between the warm car and the edge of the walkway as I took pictures. For those of you who know me, Sunrise is not the time of day when I am typically up and alert, let alone in the mountains taking pictures! The vast majority of my sun photos from the seven years I spent on the Gulf Coast of Florida and Alabama are of sunsets. Yet we set the alarm for a very early hour and made our way into the park.

John Denver sings about seeing Fire in the Sky in his song Rocky Mountain High. There is something to be said for that observation. As the sun rose that morning, it did seem like there was fire in the sky as the pinks, reds, and purples grew stronger as the sun made its way up from the horizon. The sight took my breath away as I watched the divine palette unfold across the sky.

Easter morning… some traditions have big, extravagant Easter Sunrise services followed by breakfasts. I have conducted and participated in my fair share of Easter Sunrise services throughout the years in civilian ministry and in the military. Honestly though, these services have often fallen short for me. No, it isn’t because I am not a morning person… it is because when we see the first glimpses of the sunrise, we already know the good news. Jesus Christ has risen today! Hallelujah!

It struck me this year for some reason that the word of the prophet Jeremiah was paired with the scene we are so familiar with, Mary finding the empty tomb and thinking Jesus was the gardener. I have really been trying to spend time in the wilderness this particular Lenten season. In part I have been because the midweek Lenten service focus was on the Wilderness and Jesus’ forty day struggle there. Yet another part of me has truly tried to take the Ignatian approach to placing myself into the scripture story as if I was somehow there.

Well, as I reflected on Jeremiah’s words to the people in exile, frankly in a wilderness of their own making, I put myself in the shoes of the disciples and the women. Did you know, Mary, that the promise of Jeremiah would be fulfilled when you approached the tomb of your Lord the morning after the Passover? “This is what the Lord says: ‘Those who survive the coming destruction will find blessings even in the barren land, for I will give rest to the people of Israel.'” (Jeremiah 31:2-3, NLT)

Would that promise comfort you in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead as you forged ahead with the disciples to share the love of Jesus with others? Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddaeus, Simon… did that promise of restoration and blessing comfort you as you spread the Good News across the known world along with Paul and Matthias?

We are quick to jump from the wilderness of Lent into the joy of Easter Sunday. Sometimes we even skip over the difficult suffering of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. We are in such a hurry to get to the empty tomb that we forget what it was like for the first followers. While they may have rushed to the tomb, they had no clue what had happened. The shock of what they experienced wouldn’t soon wear off either.

Even after they began to get used to the idea that Jesus had risen from the dead. Even after they had touched his wounds and physically held onto him. Even after they spent the forty days with him after his resurrection. Even after they saw him ascend into heaven. Even after all of that, they were still, quite frankly, in the wilderness! Life had changed for them in a way that is beyond comprehension for most of us today.

What we take for granted thanks to nearly two thousand years of history and the retelling of the story was new and mysterious and often incomprehensible. Plus, when you add to that the fact that they didn’t just go back to their ordinary Monday through Sunday living like we do, it is overwhelming. They continued to be in the wilderness after his resurrection. The wilderness they were in was one of fear… of persecution… of terror… of torture… of death… They didn’t live in a time or a place where their belief system was taken for granted. They were persecuted for what they believed in. The Empire wanted them destroyed!

“Long ago the Lord said to Israel: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself. I will rebuild you, my virgin Israel. You will again be happy and dance merrily with your tambourines.'” (Jeremiah 31:3-4, NLT) Yes, they would know… they would remember the promise… but on that Easter morning they were still in the wilderness of fear and the unknown. Perhaps it would be good for us, dear reader, to remain with them awhile. Perhaps it would be good for us to consider just what happened on that morning and what it means for our lives.

I will sing Hallelujah, He is Risen with the congregation tomorrow. I will sing the Hallelujah Chorus with the choir at the end of worship. I will proclaim that “Christ has risen! He has risen indeed!” But in my heart, I will stand with Mary and the others… in awe… in wonder… in apprehension… just what will this means for my life and my witness? The sun has risen, Christ has risen… Lord, give me the courage to share the good news of your amazing love and grace with a world that is so filled with hatred and fear.

2 Comments
  1. Michael, your words stir us into some serious soul searching of the lectio divina kind. We need to remember we have prior knowledge of what happened next in Scripture and hearts eager to read ahead to embrace the great hope of the resurrection. Therefore, we are apt to forget just how bewildered, confused and disappointed the disciples must have felt after the crucifixion, not to mention fearful and concerned, as they huddled together and hid away from the authorities.
    But us? We have the understanding they lacked until God opened their eyes and Holy Spirit insight came to their muddled minds. So your words here are timely thoughts we would do well to consider: “But in my heart, I will stand with Mary and the others… in awe… in wonder… in apprehension… just what will this means for my life and my witness?” What indeed? May we ponder long and seek God’s help in how we answer this salient question. Thank you and bless you for this thought-provoking post! ❤

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