“Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25-26)
"You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead." (Acts 3:15)
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (1 Peter 1:3)
For the greater part of a year now, I have looked forward to sharing Holy Week with you, from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday. However, the world has drastically changed, and we cannot meet. Initially, I thought to post sermon notes for what would have been preached, but it feels wrong somehow today, like serving old mana. Instead, I would like to share a personal story, so please endure the overabundance of personal pronouns, as there is a purpose at the end.
Back in 2016, as the early morning hour turned into Christmas Eve, my dad died. As we went into the next year we mourned him and planned to take and spread his ashes in the mountains that he loved. We dedicated the days around Easter break to do this, and held on to his ashes until the following April when we began the process of planning this event to memorialize him.
As the day approached, I remembered all of the time that we would spend together in the mountains, each trip like some sort of epic quest to our young minds. In his prime, He would take us to some location to camp and then from there lead us to some hidden canyon to climb and see places that no eyes had seen. Often these places were lush and green, made beautiful from the snow-melt. Those times and places represented the best of who he was, and if I were to see him again in heaven, that was the man that he was likely to resemble. Towards the end of his life (in hospice), my dad repeatedly insisted that I take the old knife that he carried for decades. This was a strange family heirloom that I was very familiar with, knowing every scratch and blackening rub on the thing, going back to my youth. I think somewhere in the back of his mind, he remembered giving a very young me a different knife of great value, which I lost while fishing.
Regardless of this gesture and familiarity, I did not want it. Primarily because it was corroded, it smelled like smoke, and it reminded me of the condition that he was in-- making me think of things that were, and things that could have been, and those thoughts complicated and compounded my grief.
However, after his passing, I found that his wish that I take the thing became strangely valuable, and I purposed within myself to drive it (like a spike) into something near the spot that we spread his ashes as a burial marker. Unfortunately, the blade was dull, another depressing end-of-life metaphor that drove me to grief, and I thought that it would likely be hammered into a tree easier if it were sharper. With this in mind, I took it to a knife sharpener out near Pasadena to get it prepared for the upcoming event, and after describing things to the craftsman, I noticed a subtle gleam of interest and reverence in his demeanor. I was grateful for this, as his treatment of this ministered to me. Surely he would take my instructions to heart so that act of hammering a piece of our childhood into a location in the wilderness would be as smooth as possible. We were to leave the Monday right after Easter Sunday, so I returned to the craftsman on the Saturday before Resurrection Sunday. The craftsman was not there, but he left it for me in a sealed brown paper bag, and I signed for it and walked back to where my car was parked. Before placing it in the trunk, on a whim, I took it out of the paper bag to examine the edge. I was startled when the entire blade lit up and glittered brilliantly in the spring sunlight.
It was my dad's knife, yet it was not the same… It faced stresses and it experienced a friction-filled refining process and came out as something redeemed, though it still has some marks and character of its former form.
It had less physical material, yet it has (immaterially) more worth.
It was no longer dull and dirty, but razor-sharp and it danced cleanly with reflected sunlight. I knew immediately that I could not leave it to rust away in the wilderness, abandoned at a grave site, but it would be present with me for the rest of my life and it would see another era of journeys and joy.
What a picture of the Resurrection, dear Church.
One day, the sin that dogs us in our current natural life will be removed from us. The physical ailments and deficiencies that hurt and dull us will fall away. We shall retain the uniqueness of our personality and character, yet be changed, and we will dance cleanly, reflecting the Son’s light. Hold fast to this scripture:
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–23).
That great passage from 1 Corinthians, in light of our current state of affairs, reminds me of an old Victor Hugo quote from Les Misérables:
“Should we continue to look upwards? Is the light we can see in the sky one of those which will presently be extinguished? The ideal is terrifying to behold... brilliant but threatened on all sides by the dark forces that surround it: nevertheless, no more in danger than a star in the jaws of the clouds.”
Death may be coming for all of us one day (should the Lord tarry), but against the might and reality of our Creator God, ours is a subjective view warped by our mortality, and its sting is but an illusion. A bad dream before waking to a home filled with love, light, and joy. In reality, if you are in Christ, your destiny is untouchable by such a departure. We love and miss you all.