Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ornaments of hope: The God who shows us how to see in the graveyard

photo credit

I thought I was finished with this unofficial Lent series, these ornaments of hope. But apparently I'm not. 

And this is my little disclaimer: I don’t want to detract, in any way, from the magnitude of Christ’s suffering, of the despair and darkness of his death, or those three days his body lay in a tomb. It’s not my intent to plunder the unfathomable riches of his resurrection - the climax of Easter - by taking either his death or resurrection and squishing them down into metaphors that serve my own purposes. That aside, it’s with some trepidation that I proceed with these words, hoping they aren’t everything I just said I didn’t intend.

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As someone who loves Christ, it’s impossible not to see reminders of death and resurrection, images in our world and in the everyday, in the privacy of my own home or the closets of my heart, during this season leading up to Easter. As a writer, this tendency is compounded. Everything becomes metaphor. And this speaks to me, in a language I can understand, blood through my veins.

There are layers upon blood-stained layers to the reality of how Christ’s death and resurrection infiltrate my life.

And I’m going to venture out here and confess something to you: In my life, I often see a valley of tombs more than I see empty graves.

I’m more comfortable with death than I am with life; more comfortable, perhaps, with discouragement and despair, than I am with hope and joy. I wish for these - hope and joy - not to seem like strangers, visitors, and yet, they so often do. I open the door to welcome them inside and it is as if they spend the night in the guest room and leave in the morning. But I want to sit down and eat breakfast with them. I want them to live here, to call this address home.

And yes, I write and speak, sometimes like a broken record that plays only one song, of seeing beauty in the ugly, wonder in the everyday-ordinary, because I am continually having to come back and wash these mud-crusted tombstone eyes. I'm still acquiring a new way of seeing.

So now that I'm here, may I venture a little further with you in these deep waters of vulnerability? Our financial situation is just one area that often seems like a sealed tomb. After conversations with my husband about our circumstances, I usually sit in a stupor of hopelessness. Like we might as well write an epitaph on the gravestone and place flowers on the ground beside it, because we’re not leaving this cemetary.

Can you relate?

I’ve found that my response (or more accurately, reaction) to financial hardship is one of the quickest ways to finger the pulse of my faith. When I can’t see the way out, the neck of my faith is put on the line and I realize how quick I am to surrender my faith to circumstances.

It’s also one of the quickest ways to expose my incessant need to be in control of my life - and my frustration when I remember I’m not.

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This Saturday morning, I went for a walk with four girl friends, and at the end of our time together, I ended up sharing some of my heart, what it's like in the midst of our financial situation. By the time we said goodbye, I felt overwhelmed - and disturbingly aware. This Saturday, the day before we celebrate Christ’s triumph over death, the day when we also remember that his body still lay cold in the tomb, I realized something big. Something elementary, fundamental.

With the reality of Christ’s resurrection, there is no area of my life that a tomb can have the final word.

I’m not saying there won’t be deaths. People die. Marriages die. Careers die. Dreams die. Physical and mental health fails. Economic deaths happen. But if my faith can take me so far as believing with an absurd degree of faith that there is a God who devised a rescue plan for this world that he loves so much, that led to him leaving his home in heaven to live in the muck of earth, to give his own life and shed his own blood to pay the crushing debt of our sins, and then triumphed over death by rising again - a God who still refuses to give up on the world and lights resurrections fires in tombstones of the gravest tragedies and suffering and injustice - who declares none of this is the end of the story - I can believe here, in this place of limited sight.

I can believe the end of our financial situation is not a tomb, but resurrection.

If in the darkest moment in history, the moment when we human beings crucified God himself, God broke open the grave and death itself and arose with the greatest beauty and hope and power this world has ever known, I can look at each tombstone in my life and believe there is beauty and hope and power beyond my ability to see.

I can read the paper and watch the news and believe there is resurrection at work, behind the scenes: in that mudslide; those lives lost in the sinking ferry; those nations in political unrest; on the brink of war; in the midst of long, dragged out wars; those shootings and earthquakes and fires and tornadoes; lives lost to cancer, AIDS, malnutrition, starvation. 

God is at work, behind the scenes, inside the tombs themselves, redeeming and beautifying this earth, even when we cannot see. Death will not have the final word, even as suffering persists and evil is real and tragedy colors our world red and gray.

This Easter Sunday, when we think about the one who rolled away the stone and scandalized the world then and now and throughout history with an empty grave, can we look into the graves in our own lives and see them empty? Maybe not now, in this moment, but maybe in three days’ time, or three months, or three years. Not in a wishful thinking, positive-outlook kind of way, but in the strength of God’s grace that courses through our veins and gifts us with the faith to believe in resurrection in the first place? The grace that rises up as fire in our eyes and refuses to limit God by what we see before us or behind us, or what we cannot see stretching ahead of us.

The same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in our lives, moving and rumbling among the tombstones, declaring there is more than what we see. And who knows when resurrection will happen, or how it will look, but we can count on Love having the final word.

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This is my unofficial blog series for Lent, "Ornaments of hope," where I want to learn to sing like the birds and hang these songs as 'ornaments' on the trees.  I don't know how often I will write, but I'm committed to writing out this forty day journey in some way.  And you? I know you're on your own journey, and I'd love to hear about that. But if you resonate with any of this, I hope to see you around here this Lenten season. Singing with the birds and hanging our ornaments of hope as we journey from darkness to light. Maybe we'll even form a choir.

Ornament 1
Ornament 2

Ornament 3
Ornament 4 

* Linking up with Jennifer for Tell His Story.


  1. I. Love. This. "The same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in our lives, moving and rumbling among the tombstones, declaring there is more than what we see" Oh hell's to the yeah!

    1. LOL. "Hell's to the yeah" back at ya ;-)

      I felt his rumblings as I sat down to write this, which is always a good sign it's not just my own thoughts...

  2. It is late and I got your email but had to read this and I'm so grateful I did. This means so much to me especially with what our family has gone through this past year. Thank you for putting words together so perfectly this Easter eve. It is a blessing to know that we can continue to be an encourage one another to see resurrection in our lives. God is at work everywhere and we just have to humble ourselves to see him more clearly.

    1. Jen (who I didn't even know had a blog, Juniper???), you have become an encouragement in my life and I'm thrilled, really, to have you as a literal neighbor. I look forward to more walks by the lake and times sharing our hearts and good food :-) And I love these words: "God is at work everywhere and we just have to humble ourselves to see him more clearly." A huge amen to that. May we encourage each other in this humbling and seeing of him along the way.

  3. Wow, Amber. I love this piece. You will be in my thoughts and prayers.

    1. Thanks for popping over here, Gail. I was so happy our mutual friend, Karmen, pointed me to your place. I'll be back.