What is on my mind today? Love.
Today is a day to think about love and those we love. And, perhaps pray for a few that we don’t.
As it would happen this year Valentine’s Day is the same day as Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian observance of Lent.
Ash Wednesday is more than a time to stand in line and get black ashes in the shape of a cross temporarily tattooed on our foreheads. Or, a time to make fun of people who wear the mark of their Christian faith in public.
On Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge that our God given human lives on this earth are just a wisp in time. From dust we were made and to dust our bodies will return. Lent and death are serious business.
Lent is not the time to invest in fish and tofu futures or McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish stock. Most of us know someone who observes Lent by giving up doing or eating something they enjoy or who do not consume meat on Fridays. However, I believe that Lent is not so much of a time to do without, as it is a season to seriously feed the soul.
Lent is a time to walk with Jesus the Christ and experience the love, mercy, acceptance and forgiveness of his ministry. It is a time ponder the suffering and death on the cross of a truly innocent and just man. It is a time to feel the devastating despair and disappointment of his disciples when they fear all is lost as Jesus’s breathes his last and his pale blood-spattered lifeless cold corpse is taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb.
Lent is about being human. One of the most amazing things about the Bible is the humanity of its humans. Good, bad, warts and all. Jesus’s chosen disciples were absolutely and imperfectly human. No heroes here. In his time of need, they deserted Jesus and scattered like frightened sheep.
Have you ever wondered why these normal cowardly people changed and courageously, without compromise spent the rest of their lives, most dying very nasty deaths, proclaiming the divinity of the risen Christ? What steeled their spines?
After all, they had seen Jesus flogged and beaten to hamburger, hung on a cross with spikes through his hands and feet, breathe his last, his dead body put into a solid rock tomb, the only door of the tomb sealed by the authorities with a huge boulder and guarded by soldiers. The authorities were determined to end, once and for always, the heresy of this man who proclaimed himself the Messiah, Son of God…Jesus of Nazareth.
Reality oftentimes is a very dark thing and so it must have been for the followers of Christ immediately following the Crucifixion. At that moment in time those men and women were surrounded by darkness. Darkness of the heart, mind and soul.
They had to be questioning everything. Had they been betrayed by a smooth talking impostor? Lunatic? Or, worse yet an evil magician? Jesus had died! Where was their eternal king? Where was his kingdom? Dead kings can’t rule! Why didn’t God send angels to save Jesus? He just let him die on that cross!
Jesus was gone! His comfort was gone, his miracles were gone, his strength was gone, his love was gone! Death! Yes, they were well acquainted with death and their Jesus was dead! And, now their very lives were in danger.
Would anyone who valued their lives as much as you and I, give up their lives for a liar? Fake? Madman? Magician? I wouldn’t. I bet you wouldn’t either. And, neither would those men and women who personally knew Jesus.
What was it then that changed them into courageous lions for God?
They actually, and really, saw the risen Christ! Been there! Done that!
Nothing short of that could have created such great change in ordinary frightened powerless people. His early followers preached, were persecuted, tortured and often died violent deaths, because they had personally witnessed Christ’s resurrection from the grave.
I think it is sad that the disciples did not truly believe he was the Son of God until they saw him alive after death! Sad, but true. However, it would have been the human thing to do. It is probably what I would have done, in those same circumstances.
It is obvious to me that they did not fully believe when they lived with him, walked with him, were taught by him and were told by him that he was the Son of God. If they had understood that he truly was the Messiah, they would not have mourned his death.
Jesus spent his time with his disciples planting seeds of faith. So many parables. So, many little tiny mustard seeds. His resurrection was the disciples “AH HA” moment. The arrival of the Holy Spirit nourished all of those seedlings of faith Jesus planted to maturity. Preparing the disciples, minds, hearts and souls to fearlessly spread the Gospel and harvest for heaven.
Some of the disciples, just like so many of us, were skeptics. Even seeing Jesus alive again, was not enough. So he spoke with them, walked with them, ate with them, let them touched him where the nails from the cross had pierced his hands and feet, appeared to additional multitudes of people so that there were hundreds of witnesses to the resurrection. Then, they even watched Jesus ascend into heaven.
Regardless of the vast amount of persecution of those early Christian believers the Gospel spread and the church grew. It grew without social media, the internet, television, radio or even printing presses. It was over a thousand years after Christ’s death before a man in Germany in 1440, named Johannes Gutenberg, invented the “Gutenberg Press” and made God’s holy word, the Bible, available to the public.
Lent is a time to get those Bibles out, if necessary dust them off, and read about these very ordinary people who were chosen by Jesus to be his followers. It is also a time to anticipate the joy felt by the women who came to embalm a dead body only to find an open tomb and a living Jesus on that first Easter morning.
It is good that today is both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. The message of the whole Bible can be condensed into one word…love. Our love of God and his undying, merciful, forgiving, love for us. So, why did Jesus die on the cross? It was for love.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” John 15:13.
We will never know a greater love than the love of God.
Today and everyday is the perfect time to celebrate and share love.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35.