This last weekend I had the privilege of being part of the team that led our church in remembering the death of Jesus. I was asked to share a short sermon, so I based it on the ways that I usually have to get my head right as I approach the cross of the Christ.
If you’re interested, have a listen. It takes about 15 minutes.
When you’re done, check out this song by Bethel Music. We used it in the service, because it reflects so well the spirit of what we were trying to communicate.
A little girl’s body being found in a field east of the city? That is the last thing I want to write about. Instead, let me tell stories about redemption and hope. Hell, I’d settle for penning some cheesy script full of pat answers and hallmark blessings. For the love of Jesus, just let me focus on something that can be illustrated with fairy dust and unicorns and pink ribbons. Please God, rewind this sodding mess just a bit and give us a happy ending.
I don’t want to talk about law enforcement officers wading through long prairie grass in the pouring rain. Eyes shut tight, let me forget that I live in a city that held it’s breath for a week and then exhaled this morning in a desperate choking sob.
In our hearts and souls we negotiated with hell. Jesus pray for us, for we mourned the mother but offered her up as some kind of sick sacrifice. We thought maybe her passing would placate the dark powers, but it wasn’t enough and we don’t know why.
Anger rushes in like a flood. Someone is in custody. Someone will be held responsible. We see a picture on the news, and tension slips off of our shoulders because now we have a target for our hate. The rage will keep us warm, perhaps even with enough heat to dry one or two tears. We will curse God, to his face if we can, for not putting a fence around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil… Yes, that’s it… We will curse God and punish the murderer, whom He created with the sick ability to choose.
Denial seeps in. We are good people. This is still cowboy country, where men are supposed to tip their hats to the ladies. I know a pastor who still gives children candy, while fathers look on and smile. Except now we don’t smile. We’re in shock. Numb.
Like the cursed ground where she rested these past days, our souls are saturated with sadness. Exhausted, we lay down without answers and rise again to the sound of rain. God weeps, for we have abandoned him. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these,” he whispers, “you did not do for me.” Who knows but that he sat there in the sopping ditch, cradling the child all week while we looked for her, and quietly left just as one broken-hearted hero drew near.
My children will not know why mommy and daddy are sad tonight. They will play with their puppy, and maybe have a Fudgsicle for dessert. Later, we will tuck them in a little tighter than normal. Our prayers with them will be the usual ones, but I will add a little something in the silence that children need not hear.
I will pray that my daughters grow old enough to have their hearts broken like this.
Holding hands is not a small thing. That one person would hold out a hand to another, and the other take it without a second thought: this seems to be a relational unicorn that disappears into the land of fairies as we grow up learning about fists and backhanded slaps. For the most part too lazy to become educated, we settle for being opinionated and use our hands to hold placards, shake fists, raise middle fingers and pull triggers.
I work with my hands, and they have scars. Bits of them are actually missing, and at the moment one fingernail is darker than the rest. In my profession we use our hands to measure the amount of respect due another man; the ritual of shaking hands is entered into with all of the force of the personalities hiding behind the callouses. To some degree I have little control over the appearance of my hands, but what I do possess is the ability to keep them open towards others.
An extended hand is a timely gift to a person who finds themselves on unsure footing. My daughters demonstrated this while crossing a river this afternoon. While both experienced a measure of pain as they waded through the waves with bare feet, the stronger helped the younger. They had no time to size each other up, enter into a dialogue about trust or even look into each other’s eyes. When things became cold and unstable, instinct reached for a steady hand.
My children, nurturing the world with reflexes of kindness. As a father I pray that their hearts won’t grow the callouses that so many of us carry. Oh, that a spirit of forgiveness would make them strong; gentle towards the weak and unafraid of their enemies.
For the rest of us, the temptation is to succumb to hopelessness and relational paralysis. The fear is that it is too late for us, especially in the valley of the shadow of death we found ourselves in this last week. We want the fist of justice, forgiveness be damned.
But listen to the words recorded in an ancient, holy book. The author prayed to God regarding seemingly insurmountable evil and then said,
“…Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.”
(Psalm 73, verses 23-26, NIV translation)
The power to maintain open hands rest in the Almighty, who first extends that same grace to us.