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Longing to heal the ugliness in others,
I find my only weapon may be
My own acceptance of my acceptance
In the beloved.
Help me, Father, to express my trust
In You and in Your reconstructive
Work around me by embracing
Your delight in me.
jmc 4/11/12


(C. S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Lucy’s gift from Father Christmas)

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This last portion of the poem deals with the one word that seems to be impossible–hope. Because that is the message of the Resurrection. Hope. Hope for new life that springs from the inside and changes us for eternity. Hope because the One who knew no sin became sin for us so that WE MAY BE MADE THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN HIM. That’s hope. And not the wishful-thinking kind. It’s the hang-your-hat-on kind. The lay-your-every-waking-moment-on-the-line kind of hope. Expectation.

I’m standing at the tomb
His tomb
My tomb
Your tomb
Dare I hope to see an angel
Announcing over empty grave-clothes
The Impossible has happened?
Where does my heart,
My death-wounded heart go
to find Your Resurrection?
Like Martha, I believe
You are Who You Are—
God, the Son of God,
The Resurrection and the Life.
Can this belief become
the spice I bring to mourn the dead?
Here is where we dwell:
We dwell with Death—
death of loved-ones, hopes, and dreams
Should I really be
Surprised that You should die?
It’s not ok
But I’m used
To it, to death
There’s always one more tomb.

But Yours is empty
Empty, hollow, vacant—
Incomprehensibly absent
Is the corpse I came to find.
“Because I live, ye shall live also”
Was Your promise,
A promise just as impossible,
Just as improbable—
Teach me to believe!
For now, just help me trust
In You, the One I’ve come to know.
I know You’ll read my message
When I send to You saying,
“Lord, the one You love is sick, is dead.”
You’ll come, e’en though he’s dead,
Because You love him, too.
I’m waiting for the glory of God
Promised by You,
Incomprehensibly impossible.
Hoping, waiting, believing
That You defeated Death.

If I show You,
if I show You where he is buried;
if I take that long, slow walk to his tomb again;
if I take that long, slow walk with You—
if we take that walk together, even though he’s four-days dead;
if I show You where he lies decayed,
What then?

______________________________________________________________

Go back and read it again. Slowly. As though it is so hard to express the thought you really want to ask that you have to preface it with several attempts. As though you can hardly get the words out. Because that’s really what you are wondering but it’s very hard to say, to admit that there’s really no hope. To admit that you feel that way.

This third part of the poem deals with the response I have when I put myself into the story being told in John 11 and when I bring the story into my own life. Jesus asks Martha, “Where have you laid him?” and she replies, “Come and see.”

That response makes sense within the moment. That’s what you do when the dearest friend couldn’t make it to the funeral of your brother but makes it to town 4 days later. You show him the grave. Maybe you pick up a bunch of flowers to lay at the grave, too. And you take a pile of tissues or a handkerchief because you know that the mourning is not over. In fact, you know that the grieving has just begun. You know that almost anything can set you off again, calling up memories that make you smile through your tears and wring your heart out through your smiles. You know that your younger sister is grieving deeply, too, and you try to be strong for her sake. One of you must be the sensible one that takes care of the details. But you and she both know that your lives will never be the same again.

But however normal Martha’s response may have been, as I read the story, as I think of the deaths (both physical and emotional) that I have mourned, my response is a bit different than Martha’s and Mary’s. As I find myself in their shoes, in their story and mine, I want to say to Him . . . very slowly . . . and in words that can hardly get past the tears . . . “What then?”

This is actually a partial re-post of a previous poem, a poem that fits again with the Easter season, especially as we think about the fact that Christ died in our place–He joined us in the death that we all are born into. For those moments on the cross, the ONE WHO KNEW NO SIN BECAME SIN FOR US. And all of the horror and sorrow of death and of the deaths of love and hope and dreams and beauty and righteousness was wrapped up into His dying and the laying Him into His grave. His death has not been the only death to bring sorrow and hopelessness. No, we come face-to-face with death over and over again in our own lives. Easter calls us to remember and to grieve the destruction caused by sin . . . . .

When another one falls,
not falls, but stumbles,
not stumbles, exactly,
but trips, and catching
his façade on a protruding edge,
rips it away for us to see
the things that lie inside—
Death rules again,
And I seem to see
You again, cold and lying
in Your grave enwound with
grave clothes and embalming spices.
I find myself at Your tomb again
Bringing spices, mourning You
Wondering
Was everlasting Life all a Dream?

With deathful Sin triumphant,
standing, gloating, leering,
mocking all our hopes—
now dashed with cold reality—
Who will roll the stone away?

And once the tomb is open,
letting out the stench of death,
exposing to our eyes the
lifeless shell within,
where will we find You?
You are not there, the corpse
that was Your body
cannot now be You—
Your spirit’s gone.
And where You’ve gone
We do not know
And cannot follow.
The memory of You fades
to a dream of something
we thought we had.
But we were mistaken.
What hope is there?

Nov 29, 2010

I was wrestling the other day with a wrong (or perhaps a series of wrongs), committed by a loved one. I wasn’t sure what to do with them in my own mind. When I read Psalm 62, verse 12 jumped out at me: “Also unto Thee, O LORD, belongeth mercy: for Thou renderest to every man according to his work.” Of course, this is going to sound like I am stating the obvious, but I realized that no one is big enough to handle the consequences of his wrongs. And I didn’t want that person to pay for the wrongs. I truly did (do) want mercy for that person.

But I also want the consequences to be taken care of, the wrongs to be fixed or made ok or made right somehow. Because it’s not only ourselves that must deal with the consequences–it’s those around us.

As I talked with God about it (or perhaps just TO Him at that point), He brought the Ultimate Payment to mind. Jesus’ death pays all debts. But the question I still have is this: if I stand here with the wrongs in my hand, can I truly accept the exchange of those wrongs for Christ’s blood and suffering? I mean, do I really want that? His death? His blood? I don’t want blood. I don’t want more suffering. That’s just one more wrong to be made right.

Maybe I have the wrong idea about the exchange. Maybe the exchange isn’t wrongs for blood; maybe the exchange is wrongs for grace and mercy. Mercy for the one(s) who wronged me; grace for me as I grapple with the consequences. And maybe living through the consequences is part of entering into the sufferings of Christ–following His lead as He entered into our consequences: “surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows”; “but He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed.” [fyi: those last two verses were quoted from memory, not carefully copied, so the punctuation, at least, is prob not quite right]

And I have been trying to follow His lead; I just seem to be doing a poor job, slipping and tripping a lot.

My friend posted a book excerpt that touches on the state we are in now–a state of missing something and longing for it and trying to get it back again. The book calls it “the feeling that quit at the Fall.” (Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller)

Read the excerpt here–http://meditationsfortheliminal.blogspot.com/2011/03/from-searching-for-god-knows-what.html

It struck me that he calls it a feeling. And it is a feeling. And the absence of it is a feeling. There’s an Adventures in Odyssey episode about God’s search for man that has Adam talking about what it was like after the Fall. His ultimate word on it all was that nothing could ever be the same again. And I’ve been pondering that. Especially in the light of the human relationships I know and enjoy. There are certain things that can happen in our relationships that take away the friendship, the openness, the trust that was there. And nothing is ever the same again. And there is an emptiness, a hole that needs to be filled. That’s what we are looking for as a human race–we are constantly seeking that condition that relationship that existed before the Fall.

The thing is that it goes both ways. It’s really easy to see the loss on our side. We, the offending party, lost the trust and the relationship and the ability to know and feel secure in God’s love. But He lost something, too. He lost us. Anyone who has ever been sinned against, who has ever been betrayed, lost the ability to trust someone, been deeply disappointed by son or daughter or student or friend knows this feeling. And God, being God, must feel it more deeply than we feel it.

There are only two paths away from a fall like this. And neither one is the same as before the fall.
1)  Things can be worse than before. And they usually are. There is distance, pain, separation, distrust, shame. And lots of other things we generally call “negative emotions.”
2) Things can be better than before. And that actually seems almost impossible. Miraculous at best.

But aren’t all the best things in life truly miracles?

Dec. 17, 2009

When another one falls,
not falls, but stumbles,
not stumbles, exactly,
but trips, and catching
his façade on a protruding edge,
rips it away for us to see
the things that lie inside—
Death rules again,
And I seem to see
You again, cold and lying
in Your grave enwound with
grave clothes and embalming spices.
I find myself at Your tomb again
Bringing spices, mourning You
Wondering
Was everlasting Life all a Dream?

With deathful Sin triumphant,
standing, gloating, leering,
mocking all our hopes—
now dashed with cold reality—
Who will roll the stone away?

And once the tomb is open,
letting out the stench of death,
exposing to our eyes the
lifeless shell within,
where will we find You?
You are not there, the corpse
that was Your body
cannot now be You—
Your spirit’s gone.
And where You’ve gone
We do not know
And cannot follow.
The memory of You fades
to a dream of something
we thought we had.
But we were mistaken.
What hope is there?

Resurrection?

Rising from the dead?
Just doesn’t happen
Impossible
So improbable that our minds
Cannot conceive the thought:
“Your brother will rise again.”
“Yes, Lord, someday he will
when life as we know it
comes to an end and
You make all things new.”
“I AM the Resurrection
and the Life,” You reply;
and, though my mind believes,
my heart still cries:
“Lord, if You had been here,
My brother would not have died!”
I cannot help but weep.
And You weep, too—
You, who are Life itself,
Weeping over Death.
I know by Your weeping
that You loved him, too:
that Death can touch Your heart,
divine though You may be.
Perhaps Divinity is wounded
more by Death than is Mortality.
And for this moment,
once again, Death
trumps Victory.
And so we weep together.
What comes next?

“Where have you laid him?”

If I show You,
if I show You where he is buried;
if I take that long, slow walk to his tomb again;
if I take that long, slow walk with You—
if we take that walk together, even though he’s four-days dead;
if I show You where he lies decayed,
What then?

I’m standing at the tomb
His tomb
My tomb
Your tomb
Dare I hope to see an angel
Announcing over empty grave-clothes
The Impossible has happened?
Where does my heart,
My death-wounded heart go
to find Your Resurrection?
Like Martha, I believe
You are Who You Are—
God, the Son of God,
The Resurrection and the Life.
Can this belief become
the spice I bring to mourn the dead?
Here is where we dwell:
We dwell with Death—
death of loved-ones, hopes, and dreams
Should I really be
Surprised that You should die?
It’s not ok
But I’m used
To it, to death
There’s always one more tomb.

But Yours is empty
Empty, hollow, vacant—
Incomprehensibly absent
Is the corpse I came to find.
“Because I live, ye shall live also”
Was Your promise,
A promise just as impossible,
Just as improbable—
Teach me to believe!
For now, just help me trust
In You, the One I’ve come to know.
I know You’ll read my message
When I send to You saying,
“Lord, the one You love is sick, is dead.”
You’ll come, e’en though he’s dead,
Because You love him, too.
I’m waiting for the glory of God
Promised by You,
Incomprehensibly impossible.
Hoping, waiting, believing
That You defeated Death.

I stand on trial again . . .
Faced with my Accuser . . .
And I know myself to be
All that I am accused of, and worse,
As though he holds a mirror
To my face and I see myself
Again just as I am:
Ugly, dirty, scarred;
Clothed in rags and torn;
Foolish, weak, and useless;
Careworn.
What does it matter that
The price is paid already?
I stand ashamed to know
So much was paid for
Something–someone–so
Very worthless.

I stand on trial again . . .
O Advocate! What have I to say?
I hear my accusations and
I think, I feel, I know them
To be possible. But are they true?
Is it Your robes of righteousness
Or my own rags of shame I wear?
And what do the garments matter
Anyway, if all is true as my Accuser says?

O Advocate, my dear Lord Jesus Christ!
You know this hurt more deeply
Than I know my share–
You wore my rags, becoming
What I feel myself to be:
Sin-stained, guilt-laden,
Shamed and bearing shame.
All that I was before Your advent
(springing up Your very life within my soul)
You became for me.
It is still true, though I can’t feel it so,
That You have made me into
What You Are?
Which clothes are mine in truth:
The righteous gown I wear–cloth
Of Your joy and glory–or
The rags I see upon my form
In the Adversary’s mirror?

3-3-2010

originally published 12 May, 2010 at 23:20 (for those who read it back then *smile*)

Family resemblances can be fun. We watch for them in movies or plays that we go to see (do the “family members” really look like they could be from the same family?). Computer programs have been made to try to predict what the babies of a couple will look like. And when we see newborn babies, we try to tell from which parent the various features come. And in each child, the blend is different. At my parents’ 30th anniversary party, someone asked my mother where I got my blonde hair, correctly deducing that Mom used to have blonde hair when she was younger.

We are not always proud of our inherited features. We may be embarassed at inheriting the big nose from our dad’s side or the strangely long middle toe. And it’s no fun to realize that you gain weight in the same places your other family members gain it! Sometimes a family resemblance can be painful, too, especially when there’s fear and heartache attached with it: a history of heart disease; a battered and abused woman fears she will look at her child and see the man who abused her; other examples could be given. There’s one family resemblance that is rarely talked about. No one is proud of it. Everyone would rather forget it, but everyone has it. I look like you in this way; you look like me. We have a common ancestor, and we look just like him. Not sure who I am talking about? The Bible gives us his name, and genetics reveals that we all have descended from him. His name is Adam. No last name. Just Adam. The father of all human beings.

The resemblance? Well, like noses and ear lobes, it comes in different shapes and sizes, but everyone has it. Its official name is “sin,” and it trips us up, discourages us, and fascinates us all. It is that desire to look out for oneself over others; it is that tendency to do lie to ourselves and others; and it is responsible for ALL the pain and suffering going on around us. Although it’s far easier to spot in others than to spot it in ourselves, it devastates us when we find it within us and realize that no power on earth can tear it from our hearts. We can get plastic surgery or liposuction to change our physical inheritance, but our spiritual one will haunt us to our graves. Within our souls, we resemble all the evil ever to have plagued the planet.

“Adam’s Family Album”

Are those dark spots
Real? or is something
Wrong with my eyes
As I look through the
Family photos?
So many sad eyes behind
Merry faces;
So many sin-discolored
Pictures, the tell-tale
Color of iniquity soaking
Through the pasted smiles.
Do You have an almighty pen
That will remove
The spots?
Sponge away
The tears behind sad eyes?
What white-out can erase
The captions I see
As I view these people?
How can I look
At those around me
With love-colored glasses,
Unafraid to find the sin behind
All the pretty faces?
How can I dare
To look at my own portrait
In the mirror?
Has Black Death disfigured us all?

~JMC

It has. Unmistakably. Go ahead. Look around. Uncover your eyes, and see the disfigurement. We match. We are related. What a family to be a part of!

All but one.

He had only one biological parent. No scientist will ever be able to explain the virgin birth of Christ, but Jesus Christ was born fully human, yet fully divine. And because God is His father, He did not inherit that evil we are all heirs to. Here begins the strangest exchange in all of history: God became a part of the human race so that humans could become part of His family. The Bible calls Jesus Christ the “second Adam” because He came to reverse the damage done by Adam’s sin. No power on earth could remove that tell-tale resemblance, but Jesus brings power from Heaven to do it. John 1:12 says “As many as received Him [Jesus], to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believed on His name.” Belief in Christ and in His power to save us from our sins re-births us into a new family. A new family with different features. Charles Wesley’s familiar Christmas carol puts it this way:

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild–
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord:
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail th’incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Come, Desire of Naitons, come!
Fix in us Thy humble home:
Rise the woman’s conq’ring seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness now efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

~ Charles Wesley

Did you catch that last line? “Adam’s likeness now efface,/ Stamp Thine image in its place:/ Second Adam from above,/ Reinstate us in Thy love.” The idea of stamping reminds me of my favorite cookie of all time–Scottish Shortbread Cookies. My mother got the recipe from an old Scottish lady in the church I grew up in. The recipe is relatively simple and oh! so good and buttery and sweet! The last part of the process before baking involves molding the cookies with a special cookie mold. Mom has a wooden mold for “stamping” large cakes of shortbread, and she has several smaller molds for “stamping” shortbread cookies. Shortbread is funny, though: it holds the shape stamped onto it in a quiet, almost subtle way. As the shortbread bakes, the sharp edges smooth out a little as the cookie spreads. But when the cookies are done, the image is still visible, just softer. When we are born again into God’s family, He stamps the image on us of Himself. This stamp is not like a cookie-cutter making everyone exactly the same and boring; no, it’s a softer image that looks a little different on each individual. Still, we all bear that same family resemblance, a better one than the one we come into this world bearing. And, like a baked shortbread cookie, the image cannot be changed. Once we have His image stamped onto us, it is permanently ours. Because Jesus was born into Humanity’s family, because He died to pay for Humanity’s sin, any human being who chooses to may be born into His family. And with that birth comes a new family resemblance: His. The miracle is that God can take us and re-bake us. With His power, the old image of Adam does not have to be permanent. It’s a miracle beyond our total comprehension. But isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see That without dust the rainbow would not be. ~ Langston Hughes

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