Today is the pinnacle for true Christ-followers: Jesus defeating death was the biggest game changer in the history of humanity.
He arose, placing death in the very grave in which we tried to bury His dead-but-soon-to-rise body.
In this one death-defying act, Jesus robbed death of its permanent status. Christ’s death and resurrection are of ultimate value for all of us, especially those of us forced to grapple with our own mortality more than most. Four and a half years in to my waxing and waning chronic illness, I have encountered a few scary “dead-ends.”
While physical mortality still lingers like a shadow over all of our shoulders, faith reminds us that we have only just begun, and this life on earth is simply a quick gasp in the beginning of eternity. We haven’t seen it, but we are convinced that we are merely scratching the surface of what true life really is in Christ.
In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. John 1:4
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:16
This is love: Not that we loved him, but that He loved us and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10
Jesus’s death and resurrection give us three gifts that we can celebrate today:
LIFE: This day holds so much life. It’s the absolute triumph of life over death.
LIGHT: As the sun rose, three days after darkness covered the earth, the angel declared to the women at the grave, “Why do you seek the living in a place for the dead? He is not here! He’s alive!” (Luke 24:5).
LOVE: All for love of us, the ones who crucified Him, He came, He suffered, and He died.
We spilled His blood, and He bathed us in it: Absolute, perfect love that when infused into our spirits, empowers us to love.
For the first time in three years, I joined my husband in our sunrise service at 6:30 AM at our zoo’s elephant enclosure. It was absolutely lovely. And cold. And windy. My whole body went into allergic mode the minute I stepped foot out of our car at the zoo. Also, the way my meds are scheduled, if I get up at 6:30-7 AM, I take my morning medications when I get up. If I must rise earlier, like two entire hours earlier, I have to feel like a corpse walking until I can take my medications. So despite my inability to regulate body temperature, allergies, heart rate, blood pressure, and chronic pain, I thought that leading worship at sunrise would be an excellent idea. Really, it was. I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. And, it hurt. My body has not yet recovered, 15 hours later. It may take days.
But with the power that can only come from the Spirit of the Most High God, I sang through the hives, the joint pain which seemed to encompass each joint in my body, the running eyes and nose, and the cold-onset fever caused by my thermostat overshooting. And here’s the awesome part: Singing at our Easter sunrise service wasn’t a matter of white-knuckling it. I did it because of the joy that comes from pouring out praise to our Lord and King. And so we sang:
I raise a hallelujah, in the presence of my enemies; I raise a hallelujah, louder than the unbelief; I raise a hallelujah, my weapon is a melody; I raise a hallelujah, heaven comes to fight for me. ( I Raise a Hallelujah, David & Melissa Helser, Bethel live, 2018).
Heaven did fight for me this morning. My voice was strong. I made it through sunrise, and then sang again at our normal 10:30 service, and the hand of the Lord sustained me in my itchy, messy, weakness. I carried my cross, my thorn in the flesh (1 Corinthians 12:7-10) with me, because it is my greatest joy to raise the name of Jesus through song and thanksgiving.
And this evening I find myself now lying in my bed, eyes swollen with allergies, covered in hives, every joint throbbing, shaking in feverish chills, heart racing, longingly listing to the giggles of two sweet kiddos hyped on Easter candy. All of this after after a morning of belting from the top of my lungs anthems of miracles, joy, raising hallelujahs, and new life.
It is the day where we celebrate the God of the universe performing the greatest miracle of all, and I’m still sick, waiting on my miracle of healing. I wept bitterly tonight, out of sheer exhaustion, and as usual, my husband and I returned to the drawing board of how to balance being sick and living out the callings, passions, and responsibilities of my life without living in constant over-ride of my body.
I still can’t make it a day without crashing hard. I’m still carrying this cross, and living under the shadow of a broken world: In the already-but-not-yet kingdom of God as my seminary training at Asbury taught me.
We all have the tension. Every single one of us has been touched by the longing for more, the ache of a broken heart, a broken body, broken relationships, and crushed dreams. So what do we cling to in the midst of the tension? Pastor JD Greear of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham North Carolina once made this statement:
Faith is where the unexplainable meets the undeniable.
I can’t always explain suffering in light of a good, sovereign, loving, intimate God. I can’t explain why what has seemed like words from God go unfulfilled in regards to my physical healing, or why what God seems to be calling me to exceeds my physical capacity at this point in my life. I can’t explain how in the world on Holy Week, the Notre Dame Cathedral ignited, or how on Easter Morning, a series of explosions in Sri Lanka killed at least 208 individuals and injured more than 400 others. I can’t explain why there is a three-year-old little boy who may never remember his father who died of cancer this year. I can’t explain why a precious lady in our congregation has begun what she has been told will be a losing fight with terminal cancer. I can’t explain why the church that I love is crumbling before my eyes because the enemy started whispering in some leaders’ ears, “Did God really say…? (Genesis 3:1), and now they don’t know what to make of Jesus’s statement, “I am the way, the truth, and the Life: No one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6).
No one is immune: to suffering, grief, death, confusion, terminal diagnoses, or seasons of waiting that wind up becoming lifetimes of waiting.
But what do we do when the unexplainable meets the undeniable? What do we choose to believe when our circumstances seem to bear witness against the promises of the Risen Lord?
How do we approach Easter in the midst of suffering? In my experience, there really only is one option: I trust the character and person of the God who humbled Himself, emptied Himself, carried upon His incarnate frame the weight of all of our suffering and sin, and bled drops of blood that would wash us clean. I also trust that I don’t have the whole picture. I am unable, in my finite knowledge, to span out, off the linear path of chronological, earthly time, and take on the Divine vantage point of eternity (a plane in existence outside of time, having probably more dimensions than we have the capacity to count). It’s too great for me to grasp: Just like the love that led Jesus to wash His murderers in His blood, just like the light that eradicates the darkness once and for all, just like the life that makes our earthly vapor-life look like the head of a pin. And I trust that one day, when my brain advances to its heavenly status, all of these ashes will all transform to beauty.
I believe in the Christ of Easter. He’s undeniable. I’ve experienced His goodness and tasted His sweetness too often for me to shrug Him off in the face of the unexplainable.
I believe in the suffering Savior, who knows my hurt. I believe because though pain can be blinding and the suffering depressing, I’m still held in that nail-scarred hand, engraved with my name.
Two years ago, on Holy Week, near death, I gazed into eternity when my body went entirely hypoxic, my stats nearly flatlined, and my husband stood helpless at my hospital bedside. As I defied death and settled back firmly on earth, I struggled to make peace again with being earth-strapped. But the event reminded me that I am indeed heaven-bound, and when the time comes, my spirit knows what to do.
In the mean time, in the tension of this limbo of a life, sometimes heaven looks agonizingly appealing,
I’m still here, however. And so through the pain, I will keep raising hallelujahs, testifying of the miracle of the empty grave, and speaking the name that makes the darkness shudder: JESUS.
He changes everything. I speak from experience.