Saturday, April 7, 2012

Death: Defeated...or Redeemed?

Tomorrow, He rises. Have you known Him in the grave? (see last post)

When He rises, we celebrate. We dance. We rejoice. And we say that He has defeated death.

I don't buy it. I don't believe that death is defeated; and I don't think that's a bad thing.

I'm looking at His last few minutes in the tomb. I'm looking at what we can assume was His final act before walking out and heading toward the upper room. I'm looking at folded grave clothes.

How excited would you be at victory? How thrilled would you be to wake up and walk again? How uncontrollably ecstatic would it make you to feel your heart beat after three long days in darkness? had some time to kill while waiting on that angel to roll away the stone, you might test the echo of the chamber. Or pick up a sharp rock and carve "I was here" in the wall. But you would not fold your grave clothes.

You'd tear them to shreds. To Hell with those grave clothes. Who needs 'em?

But Jesus folded them. Why?

Because in that tomb, He had come to know death. He knew its power. He knew its hold. He knew the crushing weight of its burden. He came to understand something about death that our hearts are able to comprehend, in light of the light, but words are hard to come by. In those final moments before turning His back on the grave, with tenderness and grace, He gave death the dignity of folding His clothes.

That doesn't speak defeat to me. God defeated the Amalekites; He tore their towns to rubble, slayed their men and women and children, sacrificed their livestock. He didn't leave anything for them to come back to. They weren't coming back. They were standing between God and His children; they were wholehandedly defeated. Crushed. Wiped out. Eliminated. Exterminated. Toast.

The grave clothes, He left behind. He didn't tear down the grave. He left it standing. Why? Because rather than defeat it, Christ entered death to redeem it.

Think about your life. Think about your tough times, your trials, your troubles. Think about your darkness, your grave. Think about being shut off, shut up, wrapped tight, locked in your flesh, hopeless. Think of the time (all the time) you spent praying that God would crush your darkness, defeat your despair, give you a life to walk back to, a grave to leave behind.

Oh, I know those prayers. And as someone who has seen the freedom, mercy, and grace of Christ work indescribably in her life, let me tell you - He wouldn't crush it. He refused to defeat my darkness; it was meant to be redeemed.

You've heard it said that the place where we are most able to help others is the place of our own woundedness. That is redemption. That is God taking the broken places in each of us and using them to grow our love, compassion, and touch for the broken places we find in others. Had He defeated our darkness, He would not be molding us to be better. To be healers. To be friends, brothers, sisters, strength for one another. He would just be making life more pleasurable, and He's not that kind of God. He's a God who wants to use you.

So we need the darkness. I need mine; it makes me less biting. Less grumpy. Less entitled. And less arrogant. How about you? But we (and He) need our darkness redeemed, too. We need to treat it with the tenderness, mercy, and dignity of folded grave clothes. We need to acknowledge what it has grown in us even as we walk out of the open tomb. When I've had the chance to use my brokenness to touch the brokenness in someone else, I am always grateful that God led me out gently, with that quiet respect for the hollow place. If I had come out screaming, dancing for joy, and cursing what laid behind me with a tone of disdain, scorn, or supremacy, I would not be able to see it graciously as God's petri dish, in which He cultured gentleness, tenderness, and mercy in me. I would not be able to respect, in this full way, the way God has grown me through even those times. If I can't respect it, how can I respond to it? Respect and perspective matters.

Had God defeated death, we would never die. But He asks us to die. He uses death to hallow us, both the living death of our living sacrifice and the mortal death of a body to be transformed. If we do not die to self, we cannot live. And if we do not die in flesh, we can never inherit our earthly bodies.

It is death that lets Him most speak to our heart, in the hollow place of darkness and defeat, under the crushing weight of despair, amid hopelessness and heartache and impossible odds - this is where He sanctifies us.

And in the case of His Son, He used death, too. He used death to show His loving compassion, His eternal tenderness, His absolute truth, His presence, and His promise. He used death to inspire in us hope. Not comfort - that we never need worry about dying. But hope - that we, too, walk out of the grave. Because when death as we know it comes knocking, He will use that, too, to show His compassion, His tenderness, His truth, His presence, and His promise. He will use that to say, "This one's mine. I told you so; and now it is."

Death isn't defeated; it is redeemed. I think it's better that way; God is about to use it. In me. In you. For Him.

Tomorrow, as He rises, come out of the darkness with Him. Let Him lead you from the grave. Open your eyes to what lies before you.

Just remember to fold your grave clothes. Grant some dignity to the hollow tomb where He has hallowed you.

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