The Power of an Empty Tomb: God of surprises.

Although we are in the fall, I thought I would share an Easter story. With all the leaves falling and the days are drawing in, we need a bit of good cheer!

The God of the Bible is always active, always making new, consistently doing a new thing. It is one of the ways God is different from idols, those things we make who do not move, speak, or do anything at all. By contrast, the God whose story is told in the Bible is continuously creating and recreating. It is why God is surprising, the God of surprises.

Of course, not everyone likes surprises. However, a quiet, dependable sure and steady life is what many desire, particularly after the drama of COVID 19. In enjoying quiet, dependable sure and steady life, we feel secure; at least we know where we are. Anyway, even those who profess to like surprises must acknowledge that not all surprises in life are pleasant and welcome, and some surprises come as a shock!

So, recalling that part of John’s Gospel 20.1-18 (please read), we might imagine how it was for Mary Magdalene. She was deeply in love with Jesus. He was the one who had given her back her life, love, and dignity. Yet, she comes on the Sunday after Sabbath to his tomb in the grief that goes with profound bereavement. The one she loved is dead and buried. That is a hard enough reality to bear. But how will she live without him?

(Dear friend, if you are struggling with grief, please check out my book ‘Nothing Good About Grief’ available at Amazon).

Getting back to Mary, who finds her way to the tomb. She expects to find everything as she left it days ago; after all, there are no surprises in death. It is all so predictable and final, except that she finds the tombstone is rolled away. This must have been for her an upsetting experience, a cruel and wounding surprise. She may have been wondering- ‘Can Jesus not be left in peace after all that has been done to him?’ She feels a knife being turned in her wounded heart.

She goes to find Peter. Her first word of witness on Easter Day is of sorrow and anger, and she cries, “They have moved his body! They have taken away the Lord! “It’s scandalous. She speaks in sorrow and burning anger. Her message is bad news indeed.

On hearing this news, Peter and John race to the tomb, with thoughts confused, they may question- “Can this indignity be true? ” When they reach the tomb, they find that Mary’s testimony, unfortunately, is the truth. The grave is empty. Strangely the grave clothes are in their place. Are they not needed anymore? Someone must have moved the body. It is the obvious but bitter explanation.

The Gospel writer says that John is outrun by Peter, nevertheless, goes into the tomb first. Then, says the evangelist, he saw and believed. Believed what? We are not told. However, the evangelist does tell us that they did not understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead. This possibility is not available to them, and all they have is an empty tomb, and there may be many reasons for that; grave robbers, a meddling gardener, who knows? So, they go home.

 So far this story, is not much of a good news story- where are the angels and the great hallelujahs? It’s what we latter-day readers expect, but to this point, the text is bleak like it was for Mary and for many in the face of death. What a disappointment this story of Jesus has turned out to be! We are left with emptiness in several senses. But, like the disciples, we are left with a puzzle. 

 So, Mary is weeping and looks deeper into the tomb. John says she saw two angels in white. They ask her why she is weeping. She tells them, “they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him. ” That is reason enough for tears. She turns away to hide her grief, but she is aware of another standing near in this morning of surprises. It must be the gardener. He asks, “why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”

 Perhaps this man has the answer to her cruel puzzle. She replies, “Tell me where you have laid him.” And the man says, “Mary.” this is when she realises that it is the Lord! The calling of her name is the start of Mary’s resurrection because Jesus is not dead and gone. The tomb is empty, and Jesus has come to her in his risen love and grace. Now she has a different testimony. I have seen the Lord in her experience and announcement to the disciples.

This is how John tells the Easter Day story. No one expected this, despite what the ancient scriptures said of God. Easter is a surprise. It is the good news we proclaim today. Both the approaches in John’s witness are essential. Does the empty tomb story matter? Yes, because we are not talking about something in a private otherworldly sphere of inwardness.

 The empty tomb matters because it speaks of the new creation, of that work God is doing with the matter he first created, how he is doing a new thing. Christians proclaim that the tomb is empty, and the new resurrection body is recreated by God. Death is not the end, not even for this vulnerable creation that waits for renewal.

Although scientists today speak of many dimensions, life on other planets and parallel universes. We can hardly imagine what this means, and the Gospel proclaims that here is the work of God, taking our failure, taking the love of Jesus, and from it, bringing forth something new and wonderful. It is a miracle, a work of God. 

Some of our teachers speak of a miracle as an overflowing love at the heart of creation. The love that was in Jesus, even unto death, is met by the endless love of God for his creation and, in the dynamic, new, and beautiful things happen. Death is not the end.

As we have seen, however, the empty tomb is not necessarily good news. It needs setting in a context. That context is God’s work from the beginning, in the creation and the call of Israel, in the coming of Christ and his remarkable life of suffering love, breaking the cycle of sin and violence in his sacrificial death on the cross. It is over this Christ that God speaks the great “Yes” of resurrection. He is let loose again in the world, and Mary and countless others will speak of being restored, healed, renewed by his presence.

God raised Jesus from the dead. For Mary, this means her grief is turned to joy as he calls her name. For Thomas, it means his doubt is turned to faith as he meets the risen Lord in the company of the disciples. For Peter, who denied the Lord, resurrection means being welcomed again by Christ and entrusted with new and vital work. John wants us to understand that resurrection is not just something that happened to Jesus. It is God’s work for us.

It means that each act of worship, each gathering at the Lord’s Table, is an encounter with Christ Jesus. It means that far from life being full of boring predictability, there are the surprises of God who raised Jesus from the dead and is ever seeking to make all things new. It means that our death, even the decay of our planet, is not the end, and the tomb of Jesus is empty because God is at work. So, Christ comes to us with grace, forgiveness, love, and laughter. The Lord has risen! He is risen indeed!

Thank you for visiting me here; I hope this post was helpful.

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Virtual hugs, I look forward to your visit to my next blog postxx

 Paula Rose Parish💕

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Traces of Grief

Do you see me_image

Traces of grief may always remain, it changed me,

                             the real victory is not in the deleting the effects,

                                                but in the triumphing over them.            Paula Rose-Parish

When we plan to take a journey of some kind, we take time to prepare. We are savvy travellers, so we ensure that we have our navigation tools in hand, ensuring that they work as they should. We then become familiar with them before we get on the road. The visit to the fuel station guarantees that we will complete our journey. If we don’t, there is a good chance of getting lost, taking a detour, or not getting to our intended destination at all. Now we have a goal, we have a plan, we are ready to begin our journey. Approach this chapter in this same way. Use it as a preparation for your journey through this book. It will get you started on the path to recovery. I write in a particular way, and in this chapter, I reveal why. The usage of the Psalm and my specific application of words are explained. When we are bereaved, we can get exhausted. Therefore, I want this journey through grief to be straightforward as it possibly can be for you.

I am a child of the 50s and have seen a lot of life. I’ve lived and worked in four countries and visited a whole lot of others. The journey through life, from the very beginning to end, make us who we are. I must have been about ten years old when my very favourite saying became ‘Good Grief Charlie Brown!’ I would say it all the time, and it became somewhat of a trademark for me, it was my catchphrase. I didn’t know that I had dyslexia (not diagnosed until in my late 40s). Dyslexia was unknown within the educational system at the time. Therefore, there was no provision for remedial teaching. Without the support I needed, I hadn’t read a book in full until I was well into my 20s. Reading exhausted me, so I gave up in the first few pages, unable to comprehend the storyline, context or the words. Thinking back, I seriously tried my hardest at school, but not everyone saw it that way. I could read a little bit, but not enough to keep up with my grades. My teachers reported to my parents that I was lazy, which would add to my overwhelming sense of failure. Tearfully I shouted, ‘I am trying, I just can’t read, I just can’t’, and they would fire back at me ‘there’s no such word as can’t’ and told me to try harder. I was doing so badly that I had to repeat grade two twice! Then I failed in every year of primary school as well. I didn’t have the grades I need to attend high school, but because I was older than my peers; I was ‘put up’ to secondary school – as they called it. To be expected, I was put in the lowest set. Having an awful time, I only lasted there for six months; leaving in favour of the workplace at the age of fifteen years old. Try as I might, I just didn’t get hold of what was going on in the classroom. I couldn’t follow the thread of ideas, and the bullies duly took advantage of my weakness.

On several occasions, a group of boys and girls were waiting for me at the school gate and chased me all the way home after roughing me up. Growing up in the Australian school system in the 1950s and 60s wasn’t easy. We had to be tough enough to defend ourselves when needed. And it would always help of course if you were a fast runner, and I was. My inferiority heightened when my classmates and family devoured books like they were going out of fashion. They would tell me how easy it was to read, so why couldn’t I? Feeling very alone and misunderstood, I began to withdraw into myself. No way would I visit the school library except for a compulsory session in class. I didn’t understand why I had to attend the library when I couldn’t read properly. The whole system confused me. I quickly became overwhelmed by the hundreds of books housed on myriads of intimidating shelves.

Then one day, while trying to avoid the bullies, and I found myself wandering into the school library, and it was there that I discovered a small book. It was brief enough that I managed to read it almost to the end. I loved that little book, with its cute cartoons on every page which portrayed the adventures of Charlie Brown. I liked Charlie, he was an unusual little boy, and I found that I could relate to him, bless him. In Charlie, there was a small reflection of myself. Like me, Charlie was of short stature, inconspicuous, ordinary, and unremarkable. And like me, he was misunderstood. Charlie had a habit of making silly mistakes, he would say stupid things and did things out of the ordinary, and that is when his friends would exclaim, Good Grief Charlie Brown! I definitely could relate to him.

I suffered my first real experience of grief when I split from my fiancé of three years. I was still saying ‘good grief’ as my catchphrasebut now I knew that grief had nothing GOOD about it. In the end, my favourite little motto became a thing of the past -sorry Charlie! Whether it’s death, divorce a job loss or anything else that causes us to grieve, all are difficult to cope with. Whatever the circumstances, grief forces us to say goodbye to someone or something we hold dear. Grieving is such a personal and individual thing; we all experience it in our own way. I remember the sorrow I felt when I left my home country of Australia, creating a new home overseas. The anguish of saying goodbye to family. My obligations in ministry took me around the world, so I repeatedly had to leave dear friends behind, and sadness became a familiar figure. I was living 15,000 miles away from Australia, when my mother, who lived there died. I felt sad when I couldn’t be with her in her last days. The sorrow deepened when I couldn’t help my sisters to care for our aged Dad – there’s nothing good about grief.

You, Will, Have Troubles

  I share a little my own story throughout this book, so you know that you are not alone in this. I want you to see that there is someone who can empathise. My purpose is to help you understand your own Troubles and learn to manage them, so you can live a happy and fulfilling life. No real language exists, that clearly expresses the reality of the deep pain of grief. In 1976 I came to faith in Christ and began to attend church and was told by well-meaning people, that all my problems have ended.

I believed them. They assured me that I had found a trouble-free life! It wasn’t long before I found out that this idea was terribly dishonest. When the problems began, I was convinced that something was wrong with me. This wasn’t supposed to happen! Discouraged and very confused, I believed that I must have done something wrong, it was my fault somehow. I already had low self-esteem, and this only compounded my sense of helplessness and hopelessness. My God encounter was genuine. I hung on tightly to that experience as the turmoil swirled around me. I began to research God’s word for myself and found the truth of the matter. What I was told was a lie, things do go wrong for people of faith. Bad things happen to good people. And that is OK, that’s life! Every human being on the planet lives through sorrow in different ways and measures, and always will. You can imagine my relief to find this was nothing unusual and that there was nothing wrong with me after all. Many teachings in the Scriptures point out that we will have troubles in this life, especially if we follow Christ closely as His disciples.  Don’t be surprised by what you are experiencing, God is with you. The real problem arises when we don’t know what to do with our troubles. We wonder how on earth will we get through this! And how do we survive this phase of mourning, and not allow it to immobilise us in some way? How can we make sense of what is happening?

 In God’s Name

To be able to embrace God as a friend as we journey through the valley of the shadow, we need to identify who God actually is. One of the ways we do this is by looking into His Name. This is because God’s Name reveals His character, intention, and fundamental nature. When we name our children, we give them a first and surname, and sometimes more. And we often don’t consider what the meaning of it may be. However, this rule does not apply to God. Meanings of names are particularly important. The babies of the bible were named according to the particular meaning of that name.  Some people may not realise it but, there is no first name or surname that is applied to the Creator of the Universe. God is not a John or an Eric or even a Fred, for example. But what we believe are names for God are actually descriptions of Gods nature, character, and actions. For instance, Jehovah-Raah, which means The Lord, my Shepherd. A shepherd is a role description, not a name of a person. Jehovah is not a name either. Translated as The Existing One or Lord. So again, it describes who God is. Also, it suggests becoming or specifically to become known. This implies that God always discloses who He is. A shepherd is the one who feeds or leads his flock to pasture (Ezekiel 34:11-15). An extended translation is a friend or companion. This indicates the intimacy that God desires between Himself and His people and can be understood as The Lord, my Friend. Untangling the Name like this reveals to us that God is our friend, guide, companion and is the ever-existing One. The One who loves and cares for His sheep. The Lord, my Shepherd.and we see who God is in the Good Shepherd who is Jesus Christ.

💗xx

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