Easter exultation

In honor of the day, an excerpt of “Jesus Makes Sin Forgivable” by Anne Graham Lotz in Just Give Me Jesus (2000):

The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him
but found they couldn’t stop Him
Satan tried to tempt Him
but found he couldn’t trip Him
Pilate examined Him on trial
but found he couldn’t fault Him
The Romans crucified Him
but found they couldn’t take His life
Death couldn’t handle Him
and the grave couldn’t hold Him.

*******

And a happy Easter haiku for you:

I have no more eggs.
As of this morning, new life.
Dawn exultation.

Deep

A Spiritual Journey/Slice of Life Story Challenge Offering

My Spiritual Journey group writes on the first Thursday of the month.
Margaret Simon is our hostess today.
Our theme is March Spirit Wind.

On the evening news, on the second day of March: We are entering our severe storm season…

In central North Carolina, that means tornadoes. Schools will conduct required drills next week.

Metaphorically speaking, though: When is it not severe storm season? Potentially? Consider this past year, March to March…without warning, we found ourselves in uncharted waters. We faced the unknown. We weathered the weird (monster snow in Texas?). On every side, things dangerous, destructive, and deadly threatened, still threaten, our existence.

Sometimes it seems relentless. Endless.

Sometimes our spirits fail. We grow tired. We want to trust, but we wonder if we can make it through.

So it is for the disciples, when the miracle happens.

The Sea of Galilee, almost seven hundred feet below sea level, is subject to violent downdrafts and sudden storms. On this night, the storm is fierce. It is also long; in the fishing boat, the disciples have been battling the wind and waves for nine hours. They are exhausted, physically and mentally. They know death can come for them at any moment. They are afraid. This turns to sheer terror at the vision of a figure walking on the water: “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear (Matthew 14:26).

Jesus responds immediately: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

That’s when Peter—impulsive, passionate Peter—asks if it is really the Lord out there on the waves, and, if so, then command him to walk on the water. Jesus says Come. We know what happens. Peter climbs out of the boat, starts walking on the water, suddenly loses his nerve, and begins to sink. He cries for the Lord to save him. Jesus reaches out his hand, grabs hold of Peter, and chides him for his “little faith”—I cannot help hearing an exasperated tone, like that of a parent to a child: Why did you doubt?

Here is what I find interesting: The storm is raging this whole time. The furious winds don’t stop until Jesus and Peter are in the boat together. Peter’s desire to trust is obvious. I sense his earnest belief. Peter was a fisherman; he’d seen these kinds of storms all of his life. He probably knew the Sea of Galilee was littered with broken vessels (one dating to the first century was found there in 1986). Peter loved the Lord and knew he had exactly what he needed to accomplish this supernatural feat—in fact, he asked for and was granted the opportunity—yet his human nature failed him. Why?

When he saw the wind, he was afraid (v. 30).

It wasn’t the wind that threatened to annihilate Peter. It was his own fear.

You may know the haunting song that alludes to this story. I didn’t until my musician son mentioned hearing it in a dream. My boy has faced mighty storms in his young life with exceptional courage and unfailing compassion for others, even when others haven’t treated him well. He’s one of the gentlest, bravest souls I know, constant throughout moments of deep anguish. After the death of a friend— he’s lost several, suddenly and far too early—he dreamed he heard her singing in the darkened church:

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

The storm season may be severe. Relentless, exhausting, depleting. Fear’s going to run deep, sometimes. It’s natural. As natural as the wind and the sea.

Faith running deeper…that’s supernatural. A boat can’t come close to containing it.

Which I believe, in the deepest part of his heart, Peter knew.

Lyrics are to “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong United, performed here on the Sea of Galilee.

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 4, I am writing around a word beginning with letter d.

Note this, in connection with “deep”: After years of drought and levels so low that irreversible damage was imminent, scientists now consider the Sea of Galilee to be nearly full.

Lead photo credit: Stormy seas. Ishature Dawn. CC BY-SA

Take heart

For Spiritual Journey Thursday

As it’s February, the word heart came to mind when I prepared to write for Spiritual Journey Thursday (the first Thursday of each month).

No doubt Valentine’s Day conjured the word. Still feels a bit early for that, although I saw grocery shelves being stocked for it back before Christmas.

I began thinking more along the lines of taking heart. As in courage, which derives from Latin cor, meaning heart, and encourage, from Old French encoragier, to make strong, or to hearten.

One of my favorite images of courage and being encouraged is a scene from the Chronicles of Narnia. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, young Prince Caspian’s ship has sailed into a mysterious, enchanted darkness where nightmares come true. Lucy prays to Aslan, the Narnian lion-god: “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us, send us help now.” The darkness doesn’t change but Lucy senses an inner change. She sees a speck of white materializing above. It comes closer and closer. An albatross, which whispers in her ear as it sweeps past: “Courage, Dear Heart.” And it leads the vessel through the infernal, terrifying darkness to the light just ahead.

We are nearing the year mark of nightmarish things come true. The COVID-19 pandemic rages on. Numbers are still high. New and more virulent strains are developing before vaccines can be obtained. Schools closed last spring and are still in various stages of reopening. There’s been turbulence in the streets, at the Capitol, a heavy toll taken on people’s lives, livelihoods, psyches, and souls…a long, long darkness.

Yet there is faith. And prayer.

Even when it seems eternal
Night cannot last forever.
Courage, dear hearts
One guides you onward
Until the morning comes.
Remember you are never
Alone.
God Himself walks alongside you
Every step of the way
.

While the darkness may not have lifted, we can always sense the light.

There are, after all, the children.

They are unique encouragers. At the end of some of my remote learning sessions, students have signed off by holding up “heart hands.” My own heart lightens as I give heart hands back. While our church was closed, kids mailed handmade cards covered with crayoned hearts to my husband and me: “Pastor Bill and Miss Fran, we miss you!” Years ago, long before I entered the education profession, my oldest son, around the age of five, spent his own money to buy me a little piece of artwork bearing this quote on encouragement: A teacher in wisdom and kindness helps children learn to do exactly what they thought could not be done.

That is true. For it is exactly what the Teacher did for His students, otherwise known as the disciples, just before the the darkest days they’d ever experience. They could hardly have imagined the light ahead. Nor, I imagine, can we. But the heart, it senses. And clings to that hope.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. —John 16:33

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A Jesus moment

Up until COVID-19 closed the churches, my choir and my son’s choir were practicing for a combined Easter cantata, one of his childhood favorites. His idea: “Your choir knows this, mine knows this, so we can just do it together at each church. I’ll lead the music. You can take care of the drama, Mom.”

Thanks, Boy.

But I got rolling.

We were one week away from the performance when everything shut down. Will we be able have the Easter production later this year? We don’t know … which reminds me of a complication the first time we attempted this drama about Jesus …

With no Jesus …

*******

Once upon a time, I started college to major in theater arts. I’d performed in plays all through high school, which lead to community theater. That’s where I met my husband. Never got that degree … a story for another day. My husband went into the ministry two years after we married and my love of theater took the form of small church productions.

Which grew bigger.

And bigger.

One year our choir director asked if I would help her look for an Easter cantata with a play: “People don’t come for plain old cantatas anymore. They’ll come if we add a play …”

We found a cantata we loved, but … only narration, no acting.

“Can’t you write one?” the choir director wanted to know. “I’ll handle the choir if you’ll handle the play.”

I opened my mouth to say No! but before I could speak it, something tugged on the sleeve of my mind (that is not a mixed metaphor, it’s what happened) and so I said, in a teeny-tiny voice:

“I’ll try…”

I listened to the songs over and over; they happen to form an ideal sequence for the last week of Jesus’ life. As I listened, I wrote the scenes as they materialized in my head … no speaking parts, just stage directions based on lyrics while the choir sings. Beginning with the busy streets of Jerusalem, people greeting one another, lining up with palm branches as Jesus walks through—Hosanna! Hosanna!—moving into the Last Supper with the twelve disciples, the garden scene, the betrayal, the arrest, the Roman soldiers gambling for the robe, the mourning of Mary the mother at the Cross with John, the distress of Mary Magdalene, the tomb, the Resurrection, Jesus reuniting with his disciples, even a scene of martyrs for the faith and a grand finale …

I figured out set pieces that would have to be made. Props that would have to be acquired. I came up with a head count of people—twenty-five!— seventeen of them men—Why were there SO MANY disciples?!—and asked if any ladies at church would be willing to make all these Bible costumes. Six of them took it on. Everything fell into place. I cast the parts …

All except for Jesus.

Which is kind of a problem.

My main issue: I didn’t want a fake-looking Jesus. If we had to put a wig and beard on some guy … it was going to detract. It would cheapen the whole thing. And: Who was going to be comfortable playing this part, anyway? In such a case, how does a church go about finding a Jesus? A believable one? It’s not like you can put an ad in the paper: Wanted: Church seeks Jesus … people would read that and purse their lips: “Tsk tsk, you church people, you oughta have Jesus already …”

I grew more nervous with each passing day: We still don’t have a Jesus

And then one Sunday, from my vantage point in the choir loft, I spotted visitors out in the congregation. A woman and a man.

A man with long brown hair.

And a beard.

He was kind of olive-skinned …

When they came back the following week, I could have sworn he was wearing sandals.

I said to my husband: “Give me that guy’s number off the visitor’s card.”

“He’s only been here twice! How are you going to just call him up and ask him to be Jesus in this thing!”

“I am just going to do it. The worst he can say is No.”

And so I called. The conversation went something like this:

“Um, hi, I know you don’t know me, I’m the pastor’s wife at the church, we’re glad you and your wife have been joining us recently … welcome, welcome … I have sort of a question for you … see, we’re preparing to do an Easter production and it’s all set except for one little thing … we, um, don’t have a Jesus … when I saw you last Sunday, I knew you’d be perfect … was wondering if you would help us … there’s no lines to learn or anything, it’s really easy and fun, just reenacting the last week of Jesus’ life while the choir sings …”

He chuckled. “Okay, sure.”

“Wha— I’m sorry … did you say yes?”

“Yes, I’ll do it.”

“You—you will? Wow! Thank you! That’s awesome! I think you’ll enjoy it. I mean, we wouldn’t, like, really hang you on a cross or anything …” <relieved laugh>

Another warm chuckle: “It would be okay if you did. I’m full of nail holes anyway—I’m a carpenter.”