Grab a plank and hang on for dear life
Acts 27: He gave orders for anyone who could swim to dive in and go for it, and for the rest to grab a plank.
Paul’s trip to Rome starts out peacefully enough but ends in shipwreck. The attempt to move the ship just a few miles to a better winter harbor results in disaster as a huge storm sweeps in, driving the ship out to sea. The sailors do all they can to save themselves and their passengers but it appears that their worst nightmare has come upon them and that all 276 on board will be lost. Then Paul reports that for a short time overnight there was not, 276 passengers, but 277 on board. The Lord sent an angel to encourage Paul and give him a message for the entire ship’s company. The ship will, indeed, be lost, but everyone will survive without a scratch. Soon, it’s “land-ho” as an island is spotted. The ship strikes a reef and is being torn apart and the order is given to “abandon ship.” Swimmers dive in and the land lubbers find bits and pieces of the ship and float to shore. As a person who isn’t much of a swimmer I can identify with those “plank grabbers.” No doubt, I would have been one of them. Spiritually speaking, we’re all, to some extent headed for shipwreck. After all, no one’s going to get out of this world alive. The only hope I have of surviving this shipwreck is to hold on to some wood that will get me to shore. That wood just happens to be in the shape of a cross.
Take Away: I’m holding on to that cross for “dear life.”
At the tomb
Mark 16: He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer.
The resurrection account in Mark is brief, to the point. The women go to the tomb to finish the burial tradition, find the tomb open and encounter a messenger of God who tells them “He’s been raised up.” It is thought provoking to realize that a message with such a huge impact can be stated so succinctly. This message reshapes the world and eternity. The horrible death of Jesus on the cross wasn’t a meaningless act of inhumanity. The resurrection transforms that awful event into the greatest good ever done. Rather than it being just another example of the inhumanity of humans it becomes the watershed event of history. The angel nails it all with “He’s been raised up; he’s here no longer.” Today, this event is both old and new. It’s old because it’s the old story I know so well. It’s new because, right now, even as I type these words, it’s real to me. My life – my forever – is changed because of it. The resurrection transforms the crucifixion and the crucifixion is the instrument used to transform me. And it’s all summed up with: “He’s been raised up.”
Take Away: My hope is founded in the resurrection of Jesus.
At the cross
Mark 15: Jesus groaned out of the depths.
The Gospel writer takes us to cruel Golgotha, a place of torture and death. This is no well-intentioned passion play in which the special effects man tries to convince us of the pain and suffering while keeping in mind that some precious souls in the audience don’t want it to be too real. These are real nails being driven into real flesh. This is real blood, real suffering. Our Lord is not only being killed in this horrible way but he’s carrying a spiritual burden of sin and separation from his Father that’s beyond my understanding. Before Pilate he remained silent, but now, out of the depths of his suffering he groans under the weight of it all. I want to look away and think about other things but that groan draws me back and I look up into his face, into his eyes. He mouths the words, “I love you.” My eyes fill with tears as he breathes his last.
Take Away: For me he died.
Broken body, shed blood
Mark 14: Take, this is my body.
They’ve eaten the Passover all their lives so they know the ritual well. Now, as they gather in the upper room Jesus takes his place as “father” and the meal begins. To their surprise, he doesn’t follow the well-known script and, instead, comes up with his own version, the now familiar words of the Communion ritual Christians have used for 2000 years now. The bread and wine become, in this new ritual, symbols of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord. These things, in turn, represent the New Covenant God has made with the human race. Under this covenant, salvation is dependent on faith in the Son of God who willingly gives himself for us. The Gospel of Mark moves quickly through the Last Supper and I immediately find myself at Gethsemane where Jesus wrestles with the reality of “broken body and shed blood.” Every time I receive Communion I’m taken back to the New Covenant and the sacrifice that seals it with blood. This ritual is rich with meaning but it all starts with broken body, shed blood.
Take Away: My hope of salvation is bound in what is remembered each time I receive communion.
Matthew 27: Many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised.
Like any normal person, I don’t enjoy reading about the crucifixion. I understand that it’s the finest display of God’s love possible and that my hope of salvation is right here in this event. Still knowing it is all real causes me to read quickly. I don’t want to linger here. Matthew states a detail that the other writers leave out. I haven’t thought much about this “resurrection” because, as I say, I’m generally hurrying on to Easter morning. However, Matthew says that as Jesus breathes his last that there’s an earthquake that opens some sealed tombs. Godly people buried there come forth, alive! Apparently, these are not the long dead, but, like Lazarus, are people laid to rest more recently. Residents of Jerusalem know them and respect them as people of God. Matthew tells us that this “mini-resurrection” can be confirmed by many who saw them. With that, the story hurries on to the burial of our Lord and then, hallelujah, to the empty tomb. We don’t know who these saints are, what they do and say, or what becomes of them. I know I’ve probably seen too much special effect filled TV but I can’t help but imagine a spiritual tsunami being triggered by Christ’s death on the cross. In my mind’s eye I see a shock wave emanating from the cross that’s so powerful that when it reaches graves of recent dead believers that they’re brought back to life. After all, the cross is all about death and life. A “spill over,” if you please, of the cross is this “back to life” event reported only by Matthew.
Take Away: Christ’s death on the cross was powerful in ways we can hardly grasp.
You’ve got to be kidding!
Genesis 44: God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives.
“God was behind it”?? Joseph, you’ve got to be kidding! This was a bad series of events. You’ve been sold into slavery, lied about, imprisoned, forgotten – and God was behind it? What school of theology did you attend anyway? Do you really believe God would send you into such difficult circumstances? God only sends nice things into our lives – you know, “God is love,” “Name it and claim it,” “Health and wealth” — that sort of thing.
Uh, what’s that I see? It’s a shadow that looks a lot like a cross. The cross…God was behind it…saving lives.
Never mind…I get it.
Take away: God will do whatever is necessary to bring grace into the world and into our lives.