But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead!

1 Corinthians 15:17-20 If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead! He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

On this last day of Easter season (Pentecost is tomorrow), we come to “the” chapter about the resurrection of Jesus, 58 verses of some of Paul’s most enthusiastic defense of our faith.

Valerie quoted from verses 42-57 in her blog post Feb. 5, 2014, the day Karis died. So of course that’s the first thing that comes to my mind as I re-read this chapter. The foundation of our confidence in the transformation of Karis’s weak, broken body into a body that will never die is Jesus’ own triumph over death, and his promises that we too will be raised to unending Life—our experience here just a shadow of the real thing. It’s why we can smile as we think of Karis now, in the joy of her victory over death, made possible by Jesus’ resurrection. It’s the joy at the center of the universe, the “deeper magic,” as C.S. Lewis described it.

Paul illustrates the transformation of our bodies with the analogy of what grows from a seed that is buried

But today what is on my mind is the hope we have for the many friends dying from Covid in Latin America and Brazil, more every day. Since our work is with pastors, those are the ones we primarily hear about from the safety of Pittsburgh. Hundreds of pastors across South America, caring for their people without PPE, without vaccines, and without adequate medical care, literally laying down their lives for their sheep (John 10:11).

I want to honor them today, even as we pray for their families and congregations and friends, left behind for now. They did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die (Revelation 12:11).

Because of our confidence in the resurrection, Paul says to us, Be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless (verse 58). And borrowing from chapter 16, verse 13: Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.

But God’s love strengthens us, by Chris Daly

1 Corinthians 8:2 But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.

Psalm 23:6 Goodness and grace will pursue me every day of my life.

Death’s Dark Ravine

Ilyas Orasbayev: Shutterstock

Alzheimer’s had robbed my mother of nearly everything over the last ten years of her life—speech, mobility, even her personality. But not her soul, who she really was.

Sitting by her bedside in March 2020 while she was drawing near to heaven, I began to read Psalm 23 to Mom, hoping it would be a comfort to her heart.

In my quest to let this well-loved portion of Scripture really rest with us and let the Lord speak to us through it, I read Psalm 23 to Mom, day and night, in every version of the Spanish and English Bibles I found on YouVersion. Spanish was Mom’s first language, so I had started a few years earlier to sometimes speak, play music, sing, and read to Mom in Spanish– in case it still connected with her soul.   

I began to write my own paraphrase of Psalm 23, and in looking at ten or eleven versions of the Bible, the Holy Spirit gifted me with a personalized vision of His Shepherd’s heart for me and my mother. His joy and hope gradually soaked into my deepest being. My heart was saturated, just as Jesus promises in verse five! “You honor me as Your guest, and you fill my cup until it overflows.”

So, in spite of exhaustion and profound grief at seeing my mother withering away in front of us, I experienced God’s presence in a way I never had before. I felt a gentle refreshing of my soul. The Lord hand-fed me with cool restorative water, and gave new life to my desiccated heart. “He leads me by quiet water, He restores my inner person.” (verse 3) 

My Shepherd opened my eyes to understand for the first time that the “enemy watching” was Satan himself. The devil was witness to the feast being spread before me, while Jesus, the Bread of Life, was feeding me Himself to strengthen and renew me.  “You prepare a feast before me, in plain sight of my enemies.” (verse 5)

“Even if I pass through death-dark ravines, I will fear no disaster; for You are with me…Goodness and grace will pursue me every day of my life.“(verses 4, 6). Jesus revealed to me that His compassionate love and His goodness wererunning after me, not passively standing behind me. I had always previously pictured verse 6 to mean that His faithfulness and mercy were following me, lagging behind, casually loitering. But, no! Jesus was chasing me down with His chesed (the Hebrew word that means permanent, covenantal, faithful love), actively running with me through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

It was an enormous, bleak, sometimes pitch-dark valley. But I experienced His tender companionship as a sweet and kind gift–the steadfast love of our Father. (verse 6) And now Mom is enjoying Him face to face, now and forever.

But Jesus was angry

Grief. It can skewer you, swamp you, sabotage your self-control. It can be hot or cold. It can leave you bubbling over with the desperate need to talk, share, let others know how you feel. Or it can empty you, dry you out, isolate you. It can fade softly into the background yet knock you down with no warning. I once at the grocery store threw myself sobbing into the arms of a woman I barely knew. No, not typical behavior for me.

As I walked early this morning, the wind blowing my hair because in spring angst I left my hat at home, I thought, “Grief is like the wind.” On the car radio I heard we may have gusts up to 60 miles per hour today. We may lose power; branches may crack off our trees.

Have I felt grief that powerful, draining all my energy, stripping me, changing me permanently? Yes.

The news announcer went on to tell me eight tornadoes ravaged Alabama yesterday. Have I felt grief as devastating as a tornado? No. But I know some people have.

On still days, we don’t think about the wind. On hot days, we relish a breeze. It’s something we share with everyone in our neighborhood, whether we know them or talk with them or not. It’s part of our shared experience. Grief has become like that over the past year, not just locally or nationally, but worldwide. We all have something or someone (or many somethings or someones) to mourn. Can we let it unite us, strengthen our empathy, soften our reactivity?  

Some of us have loving, understanding people around us. Some of us suffer alone. As hard as things have been in our country, the resources we have are abundant compared to many parts of the world. I’ve talked with several people this week who told me, “Vaccines? We have no idea when they will reach our country. And once they do, it will be months or years before they are available for people like me. Meanwhile, our health care system is totally overwhelmed. Our recourse is prayer. And doing what we can to care for each other.”

I’m glad Jesus knew grief; I’m glad he wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus. In 1551, when Robert Estienne defined a verse structure within the chapters of the Bible, he decided “Jesus wept” deserved its own verse. I’m intrigued that Jesus’ weeping was apparently fueled by anger at his friends’ suffering. Could some of his emotion have been linked to his own impending death or, closer to hand, the Jewish leaders’ reactions to this high-profile event (From that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death (v. 53)? What do you think about Jesus’ anger?

As I finished my walk, an image of wind turbines marching across Pennsylvania hills flashed into my mind. Lord, I offer you, once again, my grief. Please harness it for your own purposes, beginning within my own soul. Make it a resource. A gift. Another miracle, Lord. Thank you.

Image from cancerhealth.com