The Sorrow of Death, The Joy of Resurrection and The Reason We Can’t Have One Without The Other
When I think of Easter, a sequence of events comes to mind. Friday is Christ's death on a cross. Saturday is the day of waiting. And Sunday is the resurrection, the celebration of life over death.
But what if Easter was never meant to be so tidy?
Is it possible that we lose something if we allow the chronology of Easter to become the compartmentalization of Easter?
Sorrow separate from joy.
Despair separate from hope.
Captivity separate from deliverance.
A Jewish tradition serves as a beautiful metaphor for the mystery and coexistence of these things.
A Kittel is a white robe worn by Jews on special holidays such as Yom Kippur and Passover. It can also be given to a groom by his bride on their wedding day. Some folks choose to be buried in their kittle. The gown can simultaneously serve as a wedding garment and a burial gown. We could learn a lot from the kittle, the complex intertwining of principles that coexist.
It's counterintuitive to think that we can live when we die. That's not the world we live in, is it? In our world, there is a finality to death. And when there is no hope in Jesus, death is not only final, but life can feel futile.
I'm a Trekkie. I admit (with a wee bit of pride) that I have created fellow Star Trek fans of my daughter and son-in-law. Ideas like other civilizations, space travel, and even time travel fascinate me. I've convinced myself that God likes Star Trek too. He made the stars, and I'm confident He could travel through time if He so chose.
I wonder if I inadvertently box God in with respect to time? Who says that He has to work chronologically? Perhaps as Jesus hung from the cross dying, new life was also beginning. I don't know. I do know that there is plenty in life that does happen simultaneously.
I can be madder than hops with my husband and still love him fiercely.
I can feel peace when the house is empty while feeling melancholy because the people I love are far away.
I can be at the pinnacle of joy watching one of my kids celebrate a birthday and still experience pain because my mother isn't there to see it.
Our life stories confirm something we know to be true. Opposite things can coexist. And so, we arise each morning donning our own figurative kittles.
Our kittle, the wedding dress, signifies a beautiful beginning. Each day untouched and freshly new.
Our kittle, the burial gown, is a solemn reminder that not only will we die one day, but we are also called to die daily.
Dying daily is different for each of us. The cross we carry may look very different.
I have a friend who believes that her decades of extended care for her parents was her cross.
I know a mother who has stood by her son as he journeyed the painful road of addiction. What a rugged cross.
I've visited with young mothers who, with weary voices, express their desire for an uninterrupted shower and a whole night's sleep. Talk about dying daily.
Each of us carries a unique cross, but as Scripture says, Christ did it for the joy before Him, and we can too.
"Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross…" Hebrews 12:2
When we remind ourselves that the "joy before us" helps us carry our cross, it's essential to recognize that Scripture doesn't say "joy within us." Some crosses are heavy and hard. Pretending that they are not would be disingenuous. It doesn't say that Jesus felt joy on the road to Calvary.
What Scripture does say is that Jesus made a decision. He decided, "not my will, but thy will be done." So he showed up, and then walked up––straight to Calvary's Hill.
Our feelings cannot serve as the confirmation that we are carrying our cross as we should. We may feel joy. We may not. What we can know, without any doubt, is that one day we will know incredible joy!
Colossians 3:5 tells us to "Put to death what is earthly…" This could be a long list for me! Scripture gives us guidelines for this list––things like impurity, coveting, idolatry, sexual immorality, and slander. These only scratch the surface. There is plenty we could die to!
But Jesus took it to the next level. He made it clear that the law was never about do's and don'ts. Instead, it was about the state of our hearts. It was about trusting God more than our ability to obey the law.
As Paul said regarding the Israelites:
"…they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him." Romans 9:32
The work has been done. The law has been fulfilled. We only have one thing to do––
Trust God well enough to know that we can confess.
1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
I could head down a steep rabbit hole if I hoped to track my every failure so that I could confess accordingly. But then I would miss the point. Thank heaven what God cares about most is our hearts. We need to keep them tender and turned toward home.
Hebrews 3:15 says, "Today when you hear his voice, don't harden your hearts."
Daily dying to our own desires is about daily listening to God and keeping our hearts in line with his. Tender hearts are obedient hearts, and trust precedes tenderness. Scripture says that our trustworthy God cherishes the tenderhearted.
Psalm 51:17 says, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise."
If you've ever felt locked into a particular sin, receiving forgiveness can feel unattainable. When we're full of self-despise, it's hard to imagine a God who says He will NOT despise us. God simply wants sin to die in us so that we, His beloved children, can truly live.
The kittle reminds us that Good Friday and Easter Sunday are enmeshed. This is a truth that does not minimize the resurrection. On the contrary, it makes it more sacred. This truth does not give more power to death. Instead, it reminds us of how integral death is to life. And so, we seek to die daily.
I like to end these posts with a short prayer but first, how about a few questions for reflection?
What is my cross? Lord, do I know? If so, have I been willing to carry it? Have I been trying to carry it by myself? If I'm not sure what my cross is, may I ask God to give me a willing heart to discover it.
Where am I not free? Is there a burden I carry that needs to be nailed to the cross? Am I living with the consequences of my choices, or am I trying to carry the sin of another person's choices?
How is my heart? Is it tender, or is it tough? Am I giving my heart to Him or withholding it because, if I'm honest with myself, I'm not sure I completely trust Him?