Sunday, April 20, 2014

Because He Lives

A Forward: 

When I was a little girl my mom would tip toe into my bedroom after I’d snuggled under my comforter, sit on the edge of my bed, and rub my back while singing the old hymn, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow…”

At the tender age of eight, I’d never had to “face tomorrow.” “Tomorrow” was full of tree forts, mud pies, homemade kites and jellybeans. I loved tomorrow. It stood sparkling on the horizon, all swollen with starry-eyed hope.

But then I grew up, and my “today” began to sag and crack under the weight of adulthood: a broken engagement, a virus that kept me bedridden for the best of my twenties, a pile of overwhelmingly large medical bills. “Today” extinguished tomorrow’s sparkle, and most days tomorrow didn’t seem worth living.

But in the darkest of moments I’d remember my mom singing the hymn from my childhood: “Because He lives I can face tomorrow.” It’s a promise I’ve clung to these four hard years, and it’s proven to be a sturdy promise strong enough to stand on and bold enough to whisper truth in my ear: “There are worse things than a sick body…”

Humankind, with all its goodness and beauty, is infected with something dark and sinister. We lie, cheat, and steal; we harbor hatred and perpetuate injustice; we often love ourselves better than we love other people. No matter our resolve to live and love perfectly, we fall short.

And it gets worse. One day, we will all most certainly die. There is no circumventing or reversing this reality. It’s a curse we all labor under: eventually the universe will crush us, and we know it.

Death and a soul that’s marred by badness: These are worse than a sick body. Sickness comes and goes, but I’m stuck with my soul for life. And then I’m stuck with death forever.

Tomorrow’s not looking so great…

Except that today we celebrate Easter.

Today we remember the historical moment thousands of years ago when the Roman guards looked in Jesus’ tomb and saw it was empty.

Today we remember the hundreds of eyewitnesses who saw the crucified Jesus walking around, breathing easily, fully alive.

And today we celebrate the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection: because he lives, all the bad stuff in our souls doesn’t have a future. Because he lives, death won’t have the last word. Because he lives, we can know God. We can face yesterday, today, and a string of 10,000 tomorrows with God at our side, on our side. 

It’s a story for the ages that’s changed my life. It could change yours, if it hasn't already. I’ve posted this story today — a post from the archives— as has become tradition each Easter:


Late Saturday night, the day before Easter, I was about to climb into my childhood bed when my mom came to the bedroom door with light in her eyes.

"Guess what we need to do?" she asked me and my little sister, who was spending the night

"It's tradition!" she said, "And this is our last chance to do it before Aaron moves."

My mom has always tried to cultivate a culture of celebration in our house by creating traditions.  Our Easter tradition is one of my favorites.

Every Easter when we were kids my mom taught us about trees. Sturdy trees, slight trees, blossoming trees, and a forbidden tree.

She explained that long before the pine trees stood erect on the distant horizon, or the willow trees bowed beneath the blue sky, God existed, all by himself.

He didn't need people, or planets, or atoms to exist, but he wanted to create people and planets made of atoms, so he used words to make things appear from nowhere.

His life-breath spread stars across the sky, coaxed trees from the ground, and kissed life into man.

He loved the things he spoke into existence, but he was especially fond of the man and woman he created, my mom explained.

He showed them his love in many ways.  He gave them special names, Adam and Eve, and he let them live in a verdant paradise teeming with magnificent animals. It was cool, lush, and full of trees laden with fruit popping with color and exploding with flavor.

He also gave man and woman souls, created in His image.  Their souls were marvelous; they could create, and imagine, and recognize beauty, goodness, and truth.  But most marvelous of all was their ability to love.  

They could choose to love and enjoy God's goodness, truth, and beauty, if they wanted, but God would never force them to love him. Love never forces others to reciprocate.  And Love is most delighted when the people he loves choose to love him back. So he gave them an opportunity to choose Him. He created a tree loaded with fruit that he asked Adam and Eve not to eat.  He hoped that they would love him enough to trust and obey him.  

But Adam and Eve decided their ideas were better than God’s, and so they chose to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. Their love for self became the thing that motivated them, rather than a love for God, and when their focus became inward they turned their backs to God.  

Anyone who rejects God is shunning the source of life and goodness, and choosing death and badness, my mom explained. That's why eating the fruit from the forbidden tree changed everything. Death, badness, ugliness, and lies—all the opposite of God—infected all humans and the earth they lived on.

It grieved God's loving heart.

Humans chose death and separation from God, and God's justice demanded they got what they chose. But God’s mercy drove him to make plans involving another tree. He would die in our place on this tree in order to satisfy God's justice, making it possible for humans to enjoy God's life and love forever, once again.

My mom wanted us to remember how Jesus hung on the hard, splintery wood of the tree, his broken body food—Bread—for us; Bread that, if we choose it, would satisfy our deepest soul hungers, giving us life and restored relationship with God.

And so every January we would cut the branches off our Christmas tree, and then saw the trunk in half. As our tiny fingers stripped the tree of its branches we would remember the day Jesus put on skin and came to earth so he could give us Life, Himself. 

We would store the trunk’s pieces in our garage until the day before Easter when we would fashion the two pieces of the trunk into the shape of a cross, and stick it in a bucket full of dirt and rocks.

My favorite job was placing flowers in the bucket at the base of the cross, a reminder that neither of the death-bearing trees had the last word.  The Bread of Life gives us new life-that-conquers-death.

Then we would fasten a sign to the cross declaring "He is Risen!"  

And we would put the cross in our front yard.

Early the next morning the Easter sun would spill over the tips of the pine trees and cut through the darkness, 

an announcement to the world that darkness and death are no longer the victors, 

because He Lives.

© by scj

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