Sunday, March 31, 2013

Beyond the Graveyard


The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24.5)

The Third Day

We know the story all too well, which is only proper, as the entirety of our faith hinges on it. The disciples are struggling to absorb the blow of Jesus’s sudden execution. They’re hidden out of sight, fearful they may be next. Before dawn on Sunday, a group of women venture out to Jesus’s graveside with spices to preserve His corpse. His burial was a hurried affair. Since He owned no tomb, one had to be borrowed so He could be laid to rest before Sabbath’s sundown. In the dim shadows of early light, the women return to complete their task. They find the stone guarding Jesus’s body pushed aside. He’s gone. Two dazzling figures appear out of the blue, terrifying the women. The messengers can’t figure out why they’re there. Jesus repeatedly told them He would be executed and rise again three days later. It’s the third day. They ask the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24.5)

We can forgive the women their confusion. They’ve just witnessed their beloved Teacher’s gruesome death at the hands of their political oppressors, sanctioned by their religious leaders. In the midst of their grief, they face the hard reality that they are, for all practical purposes, enemies of the state and religious rebels. The rush to bury Jesus left their work undone. The men have gone underground. And their worst nightmare—that someone might steal Jesus’s body, perhaps as a cruel prank to visit further indignities on Him—appears to have come true. How can we possibly expect them to be clearheaded? They’re just doing what they know to do, following ancient tradition that burdens women with preserving their loved ones’ cadavers. Urgency and grief leave no room to think things through.

The Gospels’ compressed accounts of the Easter story leave the impression that everything happens quickly: Where is Jesus? He’s not here. He’s alive! Let’s run back to tell Peter and the rest of the guys. But that question—Why do you look for the living among the dead?—can’t be glossed over. It needs time to sink in. As the sun edges over the horizon, it dawns on the women. Of course. Why would we expect to find Jesus here, when He emphatically told us He would rise on the third day? This is the last place He’d be. What were we thinking?

Shadows

Why do you look for the living among the dead? It’s a question that won’t go away—particularly for those of us who find ourselves on the outs with the political and religious establishment. Our association with Jesus raises suspicions. We answered His call to follow Him. Yet we suffer intolerable sorrow as we witness constant attempts to mangle and destroy His gospel of unconditional love. Some of us go underground, fearing we’ll also be victims of religious hatred. In defiant grief, many of us summon false bravado that induces us to withdraw completely from the community of believers. Who wants to go where they’re not wanted?

But there are just as many, if not more, of us who fall into the same patterns that brought the women to an abandoned tomb. Although we don’t fit traditional molds, we persist in trying. We do what we’re told and risk whatever it takes to get the job done. So we travel silently in predawn shadows, taking care not to draw notice from anyone in a position to challenge our faith. We worry about not completing unsavory tasks that diminish our value. We fear the worst—that we’ll look for Jesus only to discover He’s been stolen from us. Broken-hearted and confused, we end up in a graveyard, ready to offer Jesus what He doesn’t need.

Even if the men mustered the nerve to accompany Mary Magdalene and the rest to the tomb, it’s doubtful they would have gone. Dressing corpses is women’s work. As it turns out, that’s not the work Christ needed them to do. Their spices and traditions are useless. When the reality of what’s happened finally dawns on them, the women are tasked with delivering the news of Jesus’s resurrection. This is a radical reordering of gender roles that many struggle with to this day. Had these extraordinary women slunk back into the shadows of tradition and fear, the Easter story might never have been told. Why do you look for the living among the dead? Why indeed.

Free to Live

If we allow the Easter story to start and stop with Jesus and the disciples, we reduce it to a magical tale that ends with “they all lived happily ever after.” This unprecedented event is designed so that all who embrace it by faith will likewise live happily ever after. To get there, however, we have to break our addiction to shadows. We have to stop looking for Christ among the dead. Trips to the graveyard, no matter how sincerely they’re undertaken, get us nowhere. The Jesus we seek isn’t there. He is alive and well and present among the living.

In Romans 6, Paul tells us, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. The death He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (v9-11) “Dead to sin” means “free to live.” Jesus accomplished this once… for all. Easter lavishes on us a fully inclusive faith that defies every demeaning label and tradition. The instant the stone rolled away it took the need for shadow-living with it. No believer has any cause for fear or shame. We are all free to live out our faith with boldness and clarity. So let’s put the spices away. Let’s forget our anxieties about being found out and settling for second-best. Let’s quit trying to do for Jesus what He doesn’t need. We answer a call higher than adherence to ancient tradition and religious exclusion. We have been entrusted with the unassailable truth of resurrection. We are alive to God. This is our story to tell and we can’t proclaim it until we realize the graveyard is nowhere we want to be.

If our search for the Risen Christ finds us clinging to shadows and abiding by demeaning traditions, we’re looking in the wrong place.

Post-Script: Benediction

Today marks Straight-Friendly’s 1001th post. When I began nearly five years ago, I had no idea where it would lead. I certainly didn’t anticipate this little project would bring so many blessings to my life, forging tremendous spiritual bonds and lasting friendships with so many kindred spirits. I cherish every one of you who have supported this effort with your prayers and encouragement. And I’m grateful to know the work we’ve done together in this place has helped many who were struggling to find their place in God’s kingdom.

Crossing this major threshold on Easter Sunday, it seems a fitting time for Straight-Friendly to take its leave. There are new areas of ministry I hope to explore, fresh horizons to seek out. While my heart will always remain with each of you, I feel myself being drawn to people and places the blog hasn’t reached. Setting it aside will provide time and energy to do that.

Should the time come to resume S-F—or set out on another online adventure—the first thing I’ll do is publish a post here. Meanwhile, I hope to stay in touch with as many of you as possible via Facebook, email, and other means of contact that have held us together all these years. If you’ve not found me on Facebook and care to, I encourage you to look me up.

I love you more than I can say. I’m grateful for all you’ve meant to Straight-Friendly’s success and to me. I hold each of you in my heart and pray God’s bountiful goodness will find you at every turn as you seek God’s will in all you do.

Now, to the One Who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of God’s glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. (Jude 1.24-25)

Many, many blessings always,
Tim

7 comments:

Sherry Peyton said...

You're reflection is my friend, one of your best, and it with sorrow that I hear of your decision. Yet, I understand completely that decision. You have been more of a teacher to me than you can ever know. I know we will maintain our friendship through FB, and I will cherish those times as I cherish this wonderful gift of S-F for these years. As usual, we often don't fully appreciate the value of something, until we learn we are losing it. You have taught me so much about the basics--loving kindness as authentic life. So this is not goodbye so much as it is a recognition of the power of the the Word blended with your words. We are always at our best when we are re-inventing ourselves, and I have no doubt that the future holds much more for you in your work to help us all see the Glory of God in our lives and in each other. Blessings to you my dear friend. Sherry

Tim said...

Thank you, Sherry--not only for your kind thoughts today, but for everything you've done for me and the blog. You too have (and will continue to be) a teacher to me. And more than that, I treasure our friendship. I can't express how much you've inspired me over the years and I look forward to growing alongside you for many years to come.

I'm already feeling separation anxiety of a sorts with this last post. But I can't escape the sense that it's time to move on. But I'm not leaving this amazing little group that's gathered here--how could I? Having more time to spend at your place and other blogs that I love will be a great consolation to me!

Much love to you and Parker,
Tim

kkryno said...

Sad to see the blog come to a close, but I know that life has to come first. I am so blessed to have met you through this forum and hope to see you IRL someday. I have learned so much from you and I feel that you have lead me back to my faith. I will always consider you a wonderful friend.

Love ya!
Vikki

Tim said...

Vikki, we will most definitely meet IRL someday... if I have to fly to Anchorage to do it! ;-)

You have taught me so much here as well--such tenderness and compassion in your spirit and comments! And, yes, we will be friends and faith family always!!!

Much, much love, sweet friend,
Tim

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Tim said...

Thanks, anonymous. I'm not sure what comments you're referring to, but the readers here are all pretty plugged in. I'm not currently writing anywhere else, as I'm studying for ordained ministry and that occupies far too much time right now. But thanks for your kind thoughts and I hope you'll have time to go back through some of the posts. We covered a lot of territory here over five years!

Blessings,
Tim