Monday, April 10, 2023

Grace in the Wilderness


Matthew 28:1-10

Easter Sunday / Year A

The prophet Jeremiah looked on as the Babylonian army sacked the holy city of Jerusalem, burned the Temple to the ground, and led of the majority of its citizens into exile.  It is one of the darkest moments in the entire Old Testament.  But he survived and lived to see the dawning of a new day.  The Lord gave Jeremiah this word to share with all the families of Israel:

The people who survived the sword

found grace in the wilderness.

“Grace in the wilderness” – what a beautiful phrase and image.  It proclaims God’s aid and succor can reach us wherever we are and no matter what condition we are in. 

I don’t consider Windsor Castle Park in Smithfield to be the wilderness, but I encountered an example of grace and resurrection there while on a hike a few weeks ago.  Walking through a heavily wooded section I was struck by the signs of death all around me in the form of trees that, for one reason or another, had fallen.  And those trees, depending on how long they have been down, are in various stages of decomposition; a process which feeds and nourishes every living thing around them. 

Well, I passed by one fallen tree just off the path between markers 5 and 6.  Something surprising was happening.  Apparently enough of the tree’s root structure remained in tack after the fall that the truck was able to put forth new shoots.  In fact, more than a dozen new limbs climbed skyward in search of sunlight; some more than twenty feet tall.  The tree literally is experiencing a resurrection – new life after dying.

What I saw in the tree I see in the lives of so many people I know in life and ministry.  One of the things I love about being a priest is people want to tell me about some of the most profound moments in their life.  I encounter people who, whether they know it or not, are experiencing their own personal passion story. 

Some folks are at a Palm Sunday moment in life – everything is going fine, they have great energy and tremendous excitement.  Some are at Maundy Thursday – having a sense everything is about to fall apart.   Some are at Good Friday – dying a death of a thousand cuts and soon everything about life as you have known it is coming to an end.  Some people who reach out to me find they are in a Holy Saturday moment – lifeless, no way to go back and no sense of anything good to come.  These stories are especially difficult to hear because it is cruel to say, “Oh, you’ll get over it” or even worse, something like “Snap out of it.” 

And then there are folks who are at the point of resurrection – grace has found them in the wilderness and they are once again ready to move forward.  For most, this is not a one time, dramatic event like an earthquake that rolls away the stone.  It is more like the Easter season – something unfolding over time.  The scars of what you experienced are still evident, but seem to have a lessening influence on your life as new shoots spring from you and push toward the light. 

Some folks are at or past the Day of Pentecost – they have endured the worst life has been able to do to them (or perhaps they did to themselves), found grace in the wilderness, and now are living into a new purpose and mission in life. 

I have learned from listening to all these stories how our lives only begin to make sense as we understand Jesus’ life.  What he experienced, we experience.  And when we can locate our story within his story we can live by faith, believing just as God brought Jesus back from the depths, so too God will do for us and for all those we love and care about.  As we see our life in Christ’s we can glean wisdom and direction from how he lived, appropriating it as best we can into how we live day by day.

On this day we celebrate Christ’s resurrection.  Because he lives, we live.  Death no longer gets the last word because there is grace in the wilderness.