Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Meditation For Easter

As Easter approaches I have found myself feeling a mix of emotions. The primary feeling is one of sadness. I have experienced a number of losses in a very short period of time. It began in July 2015 with the unexpected passing of my godfather, followed by the death of my mother in September and the loss of my great aunt in January 2016. In addition to those losses many of my clients that I counsel were also grieving over the loss of either a family member or a pet. Moreover, a very close friend lost her father two weeks after the passing of my great aunt. Death seemed to surround me on all sides and I was feeling disillusioned as the Lenten season began. I always desire to celebrate Lent and all that it signifies to believers in Christ. However, this Lenten season I wasn't "feeling it." I couldn't understand what God was doing with all these tragedies occurring one right after the other. When I began to process these feelings with my spiritual director I had an "epiphany." The Lord was bringing me to and through the Easter season in a very real and unique way. In a sense I was experiencing the steps that Jesus and His followers were facing those last few weeks of His life. This meditation flows from that experience. Jesus said, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise." (Mark 10:33-34) Jesus predicted His death to His disciples more than once before they entered for the last time into Jerusalem. Did the disciples hear Jesus say that He would rise again or were they shocked and focused on His death? As I watched my mother slowly deteriorate I was aware that her death was coming. Despite that awareness, there is a feeling of disbelief. I had read all the materials on the physical signs of death and heard the doctor's prognosis yet there was no way to prepare for the reality of the death process. But the Lord was impressing upon me that death must come first with all the heaviness and sorrow that accompanies it. After sharing one final Passover meal with His disciples, they left and went to a place called Gethsemane. Jesus said, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death..."Abba, Father," He said, "everything is possible for You. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will"...And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." (Mark 14:34,36; Luke 22:44) The reality of knowing that death for my mother was inevitable once she was placed in hospice care was overwhelming. I knew that the Lord could still provide a miracle and I fervently prayed but I also had to come to the point of saying, "Your will be done." During my mother's final days, she had developed congestive heart failure and was laboring to breathe. Jesus as He hung on the cross experienced a similar phenomena as He struggled for oxygen hanging in that unnatural position. Jesus said, "I am thirsty." A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of a hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. (John 19:28b-29) The wine vinegar was often used to help ease the pain a crucified person was experiencing. After my mother was placed on hospice care she was given morphine to make her comfortable. Hospice patients can no longer safely receive solid food or water. When I went to visit with my mother the day before she died, she was unresponsive yet comfortable. I noticed a container with tiny sponges on the end so they could moisten her lips. Jesus said, Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit." When He had said this, He breathed His last." (Luke 23:46) It is said that the sense of hearing is the last to go before someone dies. Before my visit with my mother ended, I leaned over her and whispered into her ear releasing her to the Heavenly Father saying, "I have to go now but if you see your mother or your sister or Jesus, go with them because your time here is finished. I love you." I received the phone call the next morning that she had passed away. After Jesus' death Luke tells us, "When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew Him, including the women who had followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. (Luke 23:48-49) I imagine many people but especially His disciples were shocked and disillusioned. I experienced similar feelings now that the reality of death had come to pass. My brother and I had the sad task of choosing a coffin and making funeral arrangements. Luke tells us that a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea had the same task, offering his own tomb for Jesus' burial. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph to see the location of the tomb and see Jesus being laid to rest in it. They were prepared to return the next day with spices for the body. (Luke 23:50-56) My friends and family members accompanied me to the cemetery but my mother's final committal had to take place in the cemetery chapel as another interment was taking place near the plot of ground where my mother was to be laid to rest. When my brother and I returned to the cemetery a few months later, the marker had not yet been returned from engraving and we could not find the plot. The cemetery owner pointed the spot out on a map and stated that the grass has not yet covered it so it should still be fresh soil. We believe we found it but are unsure. I was going to wait until warmer weather to go back but the Lord appeared to impress upon my heart that I needed to return before Easter. I had to finish the Lenten journey. When Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb to find it empty she began weeping. Jesus said, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" (John 20:13) When I returned to my mother's grave I was deeply disappointed to see the marker had not yet been placed as according to the cemetery owner the ground was not yet soft enough to put the marker into place.  The fresh soil remains visible at this present time yet without a marker. I felt a little like Mary after she discovered Jesus body was no longer in the tomb, "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put Him." (John 20:14) Even though I know where my mother's plot is located without the identifying marker, there is still a bit of uncertainty. The angels at the tomb said to the women, "Don't be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him." (Mark 16:6) The angels words resonated with my spirit, "Don't be alarmed, you are looking for your mother. She is right here. See the place where they laid her." The cemetery administrator assured me that the marker should be laid by the end of April. The cemetery tries to ensure that women's markers are in place before Mother's Day. As I think about it, what a wonderful gift! By the time Mother's Day comes around, all of nature will most likely be in the process of awakening from it's winter slumber to be "resurrected" in the newness of spring. One day when our Lord returns my mother's body will be resurrected to the newness of life eternal as Paul states, "For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." (1 Corinthians 15:52b-54) I am encouraged by these words because the resurrection is what Easter is all about. "Jesus said, Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:1-3)
Even so, come Lord Jesus! Have a blessed Easter!
Pastor Sheree

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