Looking back upon my journey with Him, I can surely see the Holy Spirit guiding me each step of the way and at those moments when it seemed I’d reached an end, it was really another place for me to die to myself and rise again to the next level of walking with Him.
It was this sort of experience during Holy Week nearly 12 years ago which brought me to a place of such radical insight, that I’ve never been the same since.
It was the beginning of a season of epiphanies…a moment of time on the edges of such gathering darkness that any light at all could seem bright but this Light…was breaking in and shaking me like none other. This Light was drawing sharp lines and outlining the shades and shadows of places I had yet to see and understand.
God was moving me… whispering into my soul in words and ways I can’t fully explain–calling me deeper and higher at the same time….moving in closer.
and has been steadily moving me closer to Him ever since.
I’m sitting in her chair now.
A gift to me from her husband, soft amethyst and rose-budded. A wide and comfortable wingback with a matching fringed ottoman: perfect for late-night feedings and a new mother’s waiting arms. It had no doubt been arranged, close by in preparation for a day that would never come.
I barely knew her.
We hadn’t been there long ourselves when they stood to join the church one Sunday and she was already well along in her pregnancy. Conversations were brief and fell along pleasant lines but honestly, I don’t know that we ever had time to get past the idle Sunday morning chit-chat.
I like to think eventually, we would have.
Holy Week in this place was observed as a time of deep and almost mournful introspection. There was the labyrinth for prayerful preparation. Slots had been filled earlier in the month for the round-the clock vigil held in the sanctuary immediately following the Good Friday service…where the altar was stripped bare and black and the lights remained low. Dark-in-the-grave…no-stone-rolled away…silent, still and cold.
I had chosen two watches the week before…never knowing where they’d take me in that 48-hour period.
The word spread in a sickly slow-motion, shock wave rumbling beneath the surface of our congregation. A horror of words strung insensibly together: midnight, aneurysm, brain-dead mother, still-born child, father couldn’t save them…bone-crushing grief.
There, alone in the 3 a.m. dark of night I sat, keeping watch for those hours, dumbstruck and confused by the penetrating pain of that moment in time. It mingled with the dawning understanding of a moment in history nearly 2000 years before represented now in a black, cloth-covered cross.
Waiting and praying.
Not understanding the need for such loss…on either side of the cross.
Wasn’t it just a few months earlier that we celebrated and danced at the birth the sweet baby born in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling cloths, heralded by angels to Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night?
Wrapped in strips of linen then…wrapped again now and laid in a tomb..the baby…the Son, the God-Man…
You saved others, could you not save yourself?
Could you not save this mother and child?
These thoughts and scriptures held tight to my heavy heart all through the next day as I struggled to pull my head into the life of my family and muster up a spirit of celebration for the sake of my own children. But something had shifted inside of me and something else was taking It’s place.
My second vigil slot came again in the mid night hours which had seemed prudent at the time but now, felt like an unearthly excursion into a dark and difficult reality.
I almost didn’t go.
Head and heart bowed low I walked the few feet to the sanctuary and the scent met me moments before my hand could reach the door…… lilies.
Lilies and light!
The room was filled with the heady fragrance and blinding whiteness of lilies and candlelit vestments on the freshly dressed altar. In preparation for the Sunday celebration taking place at dawn, the church had already been transformed from a place of mourning into one of celebration.
And I felt it..heard it nearly audible-like in my heart:
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here, he has risen!”
And I understood: the curtain torn in two from top to bottom opened the door so I could see…so clearly see:
the baby born in Bethlehem truly was a precious child gifted to us from a precious, loving God who knew that as miraculous as it is,
even an incarnation wasn’t enough.
- Justice would have to be served.
- God’s wrath would have to be satisfied.
- The price would have to be paid.
We would have to know the weight of the price needing to be paid and why..
Jesus paid it ALL.
As I was reminded in a Holy Week service today..He paid it willingly; modeling and ministering up until the very hour of His death. Even in agony, Jesus offered forgiveness and mercy–from the cross–letting us know that even at that moment of darkness and despair, if we seek, we will find.
Our friend did.
He found his strength in loving friendships and community and he found his hope where it had been before and is still now: in Jesus. He has remarried and now he and his wife are ministers who specialize in grief and counseling. He is a resurrected man living in the light of our resurrected Savior: Jesus— the light shining in the darkness that could not…will not be overcome.