Death First.

((from Megan))

Every time I drive past the park down the street I inspect the huge magnolia tree to check on the progress of its buds, hoping the frosts haven’t damaged those fragile petals. We know what’s coming and its about to get SO GOOD.

The problem with spring is how familiar we are to its patterns. It is all repeated by God, so routine to humans. It might be a terribly mild or severe winter, but one way or another central Indiana will light up again with warmth and color and all the people will reappear from hibernation – blinking in the sunlight, my legs pasty as they come.

But before that, death.

I’ll spare you the details, but both times I’ve brought a baby into the world, I’ve looked up at my husband in absolute despair at the end. “I want to die. I don’t want to do this anymore.” And I sincerely meant it. Not to be dramatic, but it’s death. A guttural cry to “please bring death” for me is always the signal to the labor team that the baby is now arriving. Then imminent delivery and life and surpassing joy.

God takes so many liberties to give us these illustrations in nature. (How very like Him, isn’t it?) Revealing Himself through nature like He does, in the stillness and death of winter. Frogs that fall so deeply asleep that their hearts stop beating, respirations stop in the crusted dead frozen mud. Entire colonies of bees die off leaving the queen alone under the earth. Trees that stand naked against the bleak palette of brown and gray. Their patterns are understood with the cyclical unceremonious end.

But we are a resurrection people. Well versed with angels announcing to the weeping women and the disciples’ foot race to the empty cave. Hallelujah that there is an empty tomb that proves the defeat of death! But with eyes on the empty grave.

We are also a Saturday people. One of my favorite children’s Bibles has a whole story dedicated to the sadness and quiet despair of just that Saturday, where usually it is a small little passed over story. “Jesus’ friends cried. They had thought he was the king. But now their hearts were filled with sorrow, and their minds were filled with fear. ‘What happened? Why did Jesus have to die? Wasn’t Jesus God’s forever king? The questions kept coming until the next day turned into night. As Jesus’ followers tried to sleep they thought, ‘We will be sad forever.’” 

We have our own tombs, too. Mine were the years invested in life plans that were pregnant with expectant anticipation and then stillborn when they died.  When we returned to the States after our three years in Japan that represented a whole adulthood of pointing our lives toward a career and building life there, we came back to ashes. Every day where I was looking for a breath, a respite for my soul, instead came more division, more bad news, hemorrhaged finances, broken hearts, careers wiped empty, severed relationships, shame, guilt, and bleak emptiness behind and before us. Against all the right theology stored up in my head for a season of darkness like this, my heart still wept, Will I be sad forever?”  

Our own lives that we must live forward, through winters that only have evidence of death. He is the Author of our faith and wrote in His own blood to cover our wounds. Perennial blades of daffodil bulbs poke defiantly through old leaves and frost that remains. Lets keep our hearts looking back to the empty grave, fully anticipating that the resurrection gives us hope during the Saturday after death, and spring surely comes after the winter.

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