“Though [death] come, God came first and in Christ has walked through it before us and walks through it with us. The good Shepherd who daily bears our burdens bears this burden as well: He carries us through death and into life.”
(Kimberlee Conway Ireton)
Our culture is terrified of death, so we pump ludicrous amounts of money into the industries of beauty to delude ourselves, health to stave off the inevitable, and entertainment to numb our souls in the meantime. But, friends, this is not the kingdom way.
You can only walk with Jesus so long before those scars become your own. Although the lashes have healed across His back, the skin is still knotted enough to knock any trace of hardness out of a heart. This Shepherd has chosen not to take away the visible damage to His person like so many in Hollywood would opt for. He is the Lamb of God, slain and reigning, and there’s a good chance the sight of Him will spark a gag reflex in the uninitiated. But as our gait adjusts to match His, Jesus turns our repulsion into wonder and our wonder into joy. The wounds we used to be ashamed of are now cause for celebration because we know we’re the fruit of those scars.
The cadence of the gospel beats less like “death shall never come, death shall never come” and more like “death and resurrection, death and resurrection.” While the world fights tooth and nail against the path to the grave, believers have been willingly practicing this trail since the first call to “take up your cross and follow Me.” After all, as Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” The grave lost its sting for us long, long ago, and all that’s left is a well-worn track through death to resurrection.
In the murky depths of Lent, I find comfort in the fact that, as always, Jesus is keeping me company in the dark. There is no shadowed valley He’ll abandon me to; the good Shepherd knows He’s my only hope of survival. He waits with me through the long watches of the night, lovingly pointing out places in my own heart that need to experience crucifixion. But He’s also quick to point out that there is a tomb in Jerusalem gaping as wide as His love for me that can attest to His faithfulness to bring life out of death. So we travel from grave to grave, laying down the bones of my old reality and picking up newness of life, tucking it into pockets and pouches wherever there’s room.
Friday lingers, but Sunday can’t be stopped. When the fullness of time has come and daylight finally dawns, death will utter its last pathetic groan before sinking forever into forgottenness. It’s a promise: sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. That sunrise will make any current wisps of dark flee, never to return, and the glory of the One now with us will light up the air in a way that makes my boggled imagination hum. Take courage, dear heart— shadows always seem more substantial than they are before the sun hits them.
So here we find ourselves, treading toward Easter. (Okay, so it might feel like limping or crawling. Heck, even the paralytic guy made it to Jesus by having his rear end dragged on a mat and lowered through a hole by his friends. Mode of transportation matters less than destination.) We meet the Savior and journey onward, hand in pierced hand. Left foot, right foot. Death, resurrection. Each step makes our legs stronger, more agile for walking along streets of gold.
Together in the dark, let’s cheer each other on—not with the shallow, empty promises the world has to offer, but with the truest truths available to us in the wealth of the Firstborn Son. We are never not carried, and if Jesus bears us toward a tomb, we can be sure of the fact that it’s not His first time (and it won’t be His last). He won’t dump us there and roll a stone over the door: He’s the liberator, the grave robber. If He bids us leave a piece of ourselves in that sepulcher, we can bet the farm that something better waits in His hands.
What things—false beliefs, relationships, behaviors, etc.—is Jesus inviting you to let die? What might He be longing to fill those spaces with? Why do you think He waits for you to lay down the old bones before stuffing your pockets with new life?