Friday, March 29, 2013

Real Easter & Seeing Beyond a Flannelgraph Jesus

When I was growing up, Easter was about a new dress and shiny white shoes and sometimes a hat. In my early years, my mom slaved over a big Sunday dinner that surely included her mile-high homemade biscuits. I don't remember what else we ate, just the biscuits. When I was older we splurged on a fancy Easter buffet at an upscale hotel. It was the culinary highlight of the year. 

I'll be honest. Getting to waltz from table to table all dressed up in our Easter best and eat as much as we wanted--it meant more to me than church and the resurrection and all that. I would never have admitted it then but it's true. Easter was pageantry and special-occasion food and those fizzy dye tablets dissolving in vinegar and hunting for plastic eggs in our backyard. 

Now I'm 39 with kids of my own. My daughter thinks it's not Easter unless she has a new dress {which we haven't gotten yet.} I no longer care whether I have a new frock or not. I'd rather spend my money on a pair of comfortable shoes I can wear every day. {I've become a "sensible grown-up" and this is mildly terrifying.}

We'll dye eggs and fill baskets and probably have something special for lunch, which isn't hard to do since we normally have sandwiches and chips for Sunday lunch. Yes, our splurge is the chips. How far I've fallen. I did not inherit my mother's knack for mile-high biscuits nor did I inherit her Sunday fortitude in the kitchen. I'm tired by Sunday and therefore choose not to cook. 

Easter's significance is a melange of nostalgia, tradition, and celebration. It evokes certain feelings and memories and expectations. And I love that. 

But Easter glitz and layers of crinoline cannot obscure the reality that we have trouble in this world. A lot of it. I know trouble. C.S. Lewis wrote a biography called Surprised by Joy. I could write my own called Surprised by Trouble. 

Thankfully that wouldn't be the only book I'd write. Because here's what I know right now on this Good Friday. The world around me is full of trouble and even my own little kingdom teeters back and forth. It would be far more appropriate to wear sackcloth and ashes on Easter Sunday than a pastel dress and shiny heels. 

But the trouble I face in this world is not permanent and I don't endure it alone. You've heard that before and so have I. In fact, I'd heard it so much that it had become an abstraction. All of it. Jesus, his death, the tomb, the resurrection. It may have well been a flannelgraph narrative for all the functionality it really had in my life. That's the sad truth. 

When trouble comes, you've got some options. You can deny it, fight it, climb down into a pit, self-medicate your way through it, face it with a bullet-point strategy, or Pollyanna through your days even though you're dying on the inside. I've probably experimented with all of these approaches on one level or another.


You can tap into this resource that's too good to be true except that it is true. I know because I'm actually learning to live out of that resource and it's no flannelgraph Jesus. It's a feeble start but it's real. We can let the world turn us into victims of its trouble or we can fling ourselves into that arms of a Savior that promises to be our everything. 

Our help in times of trouble.

Our refuge in times of danger and attack.

Our friend all of the time.

Our Counselor and our comforter.

Our strength when we are weak.

Our grace when we want to hold a grudge. 

Our compassion when we'd rather condemn. 

Our peace when life's a storm.

It took trouble for these things to become living, breathing reality in my life. As I've said before, it's good to make friends with mess. 

And these things He promises to be for us? They have been living, breathing reality in my life not just in recent years but specifically this very week. You can be in the trenches of trouble and simultaneously in the trenches of grace. It seems like they should be mutually exclusive but they're not.

I've listened to a sermon by Tim Keller a couple of times in the past week or so. It's called Peace and he talks about how everything, all of our peace, comes down to the cross: 

On the cross He {Jesus} got all the consequences of what we have done and this is one of them and can't you see it? Do you see Jesus Christ just walking through the crucifixion and saying, 'I'm just keeping my mind centered on God. I'm okay. I'm content in whatever circumstance I'm in.' Jesus didn't say that. No. Because He wasn't! Why? Because He lost all of his peace! He cries, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' In fact, we're told that He died with a cry. He died screaming... 
Jesus lost all of his peace so that you could have eternal peace. And looking at that is what'll get you through. That's what will make him lovely.

Jesus entered into the trouble of this world and He allowed the trouble of this world to be heaped upon Him, the perfect and completely innocent Son of God, to the point of death. 

Because of this we can make our way through our troubled days in this troubled world alongside and because of Someone who overcame the trouble. 

And that's why Good Friday is so good even though it was also terribly bad. 

For years I'd been trying to get all of this to really mean something, to care more about Christ and what He did more than I cared about foil-wrapped chocolates and a new outfit. 

Now it finally does. Why? Because out of sheer desperation and dependance, I'm holding the hand of the One who leads me like a shepherd through the trouble of this world. It's experience to me instead of abstraction, actual heart change instead of behavior modification, reality and not just ancient story. 

It's a promise fulfilled already in this very day and one that will continue to unfold throughout my days, like the petals of the daffodils in my yard each spring. They dare to burst forth, unfold, and hold their heads high. Even though they're surrounded by the weeds of my unkept flower beds and may well fall victim to my five-year-old's cowboy boots. 

Beneath the traditions and fake Easter grass and Sunday pastel parade, there is Truth that changes you and me and our relationships with one another and this whole wide world. 

It's real. 

Happy Easter weekend my sweet friends. I pray that the glorious beauty and power of Christ's risen life in you will be more real and radiant than it's ever been before.   

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