Tag Archive: death


Easter: Beyond Eggs and Bunnies

As this Easter season draws near, I hope the local Easter egg hunt isn’t the only event that comes to mind. Because Easter didn’t begin with a game of eggs and bunnies — it started with a cross and climaxed with an empty tomb.

This Easter marks a special 1-year anniversary for me: It was the day before Easter a year ago that I first wore my cross pendant. Every day since then, with hardly an exception, I have worn that cross. It is a beautiful thing, gold-chained and glinting with diamonds (or so I speculate that’s what those stones are).

But did you know that what I’m wearing around my neck is an instrument of torture and death? Today we see bejeweled cross pendants all the time, often gracing the flesh of superstars singing steamy lyrics. But two thousand years ago, the cross was the most hideous of the hideous — its silhouette upon a hill would bring both chills and shouts of derision, for it was the choice of the Romans for public execution. Those traitors and criminals unlucky enough not to have Roman citizenship were subjected to this most humiliating of deaths: First each was beaten until the internal organs were exposed (many died during this stage); then each had to carry his cross all the way to the site of execution, with crowds jeering; then each lain down upon the cross and had nails driven through wrists and feet, crushing sensitive nerves; and then each was hosted up to hang naked upon the cross for all to see. Besides the extreme pain of the beating and the nails, the person would have to lift himself up with his feet in order to breath, for his particular hanging position would prevent breathing otherwise. After hours had passed, however, his exhaustion would overtake him, and he’d die of suffocation. Many times, the Romans would leave his body as food for the birds.

It is a far cry from diamonds and gold. Why do I wear this wretched symbol?

Partly, because my Lord and my God suffered upon the same instrument of death as those criminals thousands of years ago. His name on earth was Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter-turned-preacher in ancient Israel. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and preached to the poor. And He revealed Himself to be God, the Creator clothed in human form: “‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us'” (Matthew 1:23). God came down to dwell with His creatures as one of them. His extraordinary deeds and claims are recorded in the Bible, which has been proven time and again in history and science as the reliable and extraordinary record of God’s Words. Hundreds of years before, God predicted that He would suffer death for men (Isaiah 53, etc.).

Why did God suffer on the cross? I would say that the cross is the most brutal and humiliating of deaths devised by man — why did the Creator of the universe let Himself be subjected to it? The answer lies in the saving purpose of God: “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). For “all of us like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:6).

We all have committed wrong and hurt God and our fellow men, who have been created in God’s image. Yet this God, instead of judging us all to our rightful punishment according to justice, laid the justice upon Himself in the form of Jesus Christ. He stepped into our deserved place on the cross.

Isn’t it unfathomable! The very thought has often brought tears to me as I stare outside a window, contemplating God. The Creator of the universe, the King of heaven and earth, owes me nothing and I owe Him everything. He could have wiped the slate clean the moment man did wrong and hurt others. He could have judged us all on the spot. But no — He brought Himself to suffer in our place — in the place of criminals and evil men! God suffered for us His enemies — it is beyond beautiful, beyond words!

But the cross is only half the story. If Jesus died and that was that, He would be like all the rest of religious leaders throughout history. Today we find their tombs and many venerate their final resting places. But not with Christ. Because on the third day, on that Sunday morn, Jesus rose from the dead. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Against the wishes of the religious authorities and the guarding of the tomb by Roman soldiers, He conquered death, the final enemy, and appeared to His disciples and over 500 people after His resurrection (1 Cor 15:6). The enemy of man, death, was no match for the God of life. And because Christ rose from the dead, we can be assured that we who believe will conquer death, too. We will rise and be with God for all eternity, because He rose from the dead.

For not only was the ticket of our sin paid in full on the cross, but our ticket to life was insured by the empty tomb. Christ rose, and so shall we. That is why I wear the cross, and that is what we should remember come this Easter morn.

Advertisements

Life in Death: a play

by inhonoredglory

A dim-lit room is occupied by two men: Joshua in a bed, facing the audience, and Thomas standing by his side. A window in the upper left of the room has its shades open, but clouds cover the sunlight. Overcast light shadows the room.

Joshua (weakly): I know it’s been a long time, son.

When the dark reveals the light

Thomas: Yeah, Dad.

Joshua: But I’m glad you’re here, now; it’ll make me feel better.

Thomas: Let’s not talk about it. Happy times.

Joshua: I understand, son. But—

Thomas: Like the reunion at Jim’s. Or—

Joshua: Thomas.

Thomas: Dad.

Joshua: Thomas. (pause) Thomas, I know it’s uncomfortable. I know we’ve never wanted to talk about it. And I understand that. It’s just . . . I’m not going to be seeing you.

Thomas: Do you really want to talk about—

Joshua: Yes, Thomas. Yes, before it’s too late. I want you to understand something. I want you to know the peace I’ve—

Thomas: I know where you’re going with this. Please, Dad, I want this to be happy. Let’s not go there.

Joshua: I understand. (pause) Thomas, I’m going to do something to spare you pain later.

Thomas: What—?

Joshua: Remember your grandfather?

Thomas: Well, uh, yeah. Yeah I remember Gramps.

Joshua: He died in our house, you know. I was there.

Thomas: And how does this relate to, to what you said?

Joshua: Patience, son. Well, Father – you’re grandfather – I was with him in his last moments. You could never see so much agony. Because he was unsure – he didn’t know where he was going.

Thomas: Dad, stop.

Joshua: He wanted to believe. He wanted peace. But something kept bothering him. He couldn’t give his heart to God not knowing how to answer the pain in his life, the evil in the world, the suffering. (pause) And I know you think the same way.

Thomas: Dad, stop it.

Joshua: That’s why you’ve never wanted to come up after your mother died. Maybe that’s why you joined that group in the hills. Maybe that’s what’s giving you pain. With the divorce. . .

Thomas: Please, Dad, I’ve got my own life.

Joshua: Maybe, but you haven’t got your own happiness; you haven’t got your own hope. You haven’t got your own peace and love inside.

Thomas (quietly): Dad?

Joshua: Son, I understand what you’ve been through. I walked down your road when my father died. I cursed God, just as I’m sure you have. How could He take him from me, I asked. How could He be good if He did that.

Thomas (quietly): God doesn’t care.

Joshua (coughs): That’s what I said.

Thomas: But what’s left? I didn’t know what to do. Clara brought me to the Society. I wanted it to fill me, but it didn’t. But God didn’t care. What could I do? Where could I go? The world is empty. Dad, what’s the answer? How could God do that? You said you’re at peace— How? How could you when the world is nothing, all evil?

Joshua: Son, Thomas, I know the answer. God knows the answer. We just must listen. I was angry at God because I didn’t stop and let Him tell me His point of view. I was just thinking of my position. (coughs, then continues exasperatedly) Son, let me tell you. No, let God tell you. (He takes a thin Bible from under his bed covers and taps it lightly.) We pass judgment on God without letting Him take the stand. But He tells us why. He wants us to know. That’s why His testimony is everywhere – in this Book.

(coughs hard. Thomas holds his jerking body.)

Thank you, Thomas.

Thomas: But how can God explain it?

Joshua: Thomas, I am ill, only because I know what is health. The blind from birth cannot understand vision because they have never experienced it. Son, God does the same. How can we know love and good and beauty if we are not given pain and evil and ugliness? We cannot know the light without the dark. We cannot find the truth without there being lies for us to avoid.

Thomas: Why didn’t He make us all perfect to begin with?

Joshua: He couldn’t. God’s people would be blind then. They could not appreciate His great goodness without knowing the abhorrent evil that is not Him. Even the angels, unknown to sin, must be shown the panorama of mankind, in order to learn the evil of the other side, and the beauty, holiness, and grace of God.

Thomas: What about good people? Why are they punished?

Joshua: We are all children, even the men and women who know the truth of evil. We sometimes go wrong, forget the blackness of the mortal world, lose faith in God, maybe forget about Him and begin trusting ourselves. God is like a parent – our Father. He teaches us through circumstances. He wakes us up with pain. Happy times don’t get us thinking; hard times do. Maybe we need a slap in the face, to get us thinking about the eternal things, not mortal ones. We need a reminder of the unworthiness of the world and the worldly; we need a reminder that God is the only One we must depend on, the only One who gives us peace and hope. (coughs hard) You see, son, God knows everything. He knows us. Oh, He knows us all too well. He knows we are doubtful, that we question Him. He knows our hearts, our fear of Him, often our hate of Him and His watching of our personal evils. He knows that if He didn’t allow evil people to demonstrate that evilness, we would never understand His punishment of their hearts. We would never understand His justice against that blackness in the world. We would never understand the holiness that is required of coming to Him. (inhales deeply and reaches feebly for a glass on the dresser)

Thomas (quietly): But why mother?

Joshua (holding Thomas’s hand tightly): Thomas, it’s very hard, but we all need to experience evil. We all need to feel the power that it possessed in a world against God. Through our closest losses, we know that no one is separate from sin, that sin is what takes us all away. But such a loss is also an example to us; we understand just a little of the sacrifice of God for us – sending His only Son, the closest One to Him, to die for us. We can grasp the greatness of His love to die for someone who is not even worthy of salvation. We know at last that, though sin kills, there is Someone Who is greater than sin, Someone Who has led that powerful evil captive.

(Joshua coughs hard. Light begins to emerge from the window. Thomas looks down from Joshua’s eyes.) Son, God told Ezekiel and Paul that we shouldn’t ask God for explanations of the evil in this world. But even still, God tells us. God wants us to know Him, but He also wants us to know ourselves, too, that we are bad, in our very hearts. Even the most holy men recognize their unworthiness in the face of the great goodness of God. But God has chosen a portion of the wicked clay to mold into vessels of glory for Himself. He knows that we could never understand His eternal plans; we are mortal. But God never does something without a cause, even the evils, He tells Ezekiel. He provides us reasons for the things we can’t understand. He gave us a Book; He gave us His Word; He gave us His Son. Don’t ignore it, son. You can believe in God and in the sacrifice He made to set us free.

(He grasps his son’s hand.)

Thomas, believe.

Thomas (looking into Joshua’s eyes): Dad.

(The light from the window becomes brighter. A warm smile breaks over Joshua’s face. Then, as he is looking in his son’s eyes, the focus leaves his own. He stares softly, with a smile, into his son’s face.)

Thomas: Dad? (looks closer) Dad? (touches Joshua’s face) Dad, it’s not— not when you’ve just— Dad, (kneels beside bed, arms around Joshua) not when I can now see, now know. (looks up into brightening light and down to his father) God, forgive me. Dad. Oh, Lord. Father.

(The curtains move slightly; the light brightens around the bed, around the thin Bible near Joshua’s hand. Thomas pulls the Bible closer to him; it slides from under Joshua’s hand.)

God, forgive me. I have peace now, of knowing. Dad’s with You, Lord.

(He looks back at Joshua, suddenly smiling through moist eyes)

And, God, so am I.