Mar15SunMarch 15, 2020
Pastor’s Page: For The Grace Vine, April 2020 issue (by Pastor Steve)
One of the little irritations that comes with having a cold is the roller-coaster effect of the medications I often take to deal with its symptoms. In the morning, a “non-drowsy” pill not only drains my sinuses but also gives me a jolt of energy. At night, a different potion makes me sleepy as well as clearing away my congestion. Up, down… up, down… day after day. It’s a relief when I’m finally well enough to wean myself off of that cycle and get back to a more normal state of stability.
Many of us, I think, are probably longing for stability to return to the wider stage as well. There haven’t been very many “ups” in the last few months, but the “downs” have been coming at us non-stop. Energy projects cancelled. Wages cut and jobs lost. Political turmoil at every level. Anger and anxiety over climate change. Market tumbles, sowing fear and worry. And over of it all, the creeping menace of COVID-19, disrupting everything: internationally, regionally, within our city, here at Grace, and in our homes and families. Lately, it’s felt like the trajectory of life as a whole is heading steadily down.
“What does this mean?” That’s a key question in the Small Catechism, and one worth asking now too as we try to interpret all of these setbacks. And in some ways, the best answer arises from the church year, especially the two very different parts of it that we find ourselves in this month. Until Saturday April 11, we’re trudging along the downward path of Lent. Then, starting on Sunday April 12, the trajectory zooms upward at a dizzying angle as we enter the Easter season.
Sometimes people wonder why we bother following the church year anymore. Isn’t it kind of old-fashioned? Wouldn’t it be better to organize church life these days on the basis of current concerns? Instead of looking backwards to remember the key events in Jesus’s life, maybe we ought to look outward at the world instead, and focus on what’s happening right in front of us!
To me, though, it’s at times like these that the church year becomes more meaningful, not less. Yes of course we’re drowning in a deluge of bad news. Why? Because of the sin that infects the whole creation. The Old Testament reading for Ash Wednesday called on us to return to the Lord with all of our heart (Joel 2:12-19), and that’s a theme that permeates all of Lent. We’re sinners, both inadvertently and intentionally. We’re mixed-up, selfish, and blind. We flee from God as if he were the problem, when in reality he’s our only source of hope. These are the reasons why the trajectory of life follows the same downward path that Jesus walked as he made his way to the cross. Just as death lay ahead for him, so it waits for us too. There are consequences for our disobedience, both individually and collectively. The price for our sin must be paid.
Do any of us enjoy these blunt reminders? No way! But as Jesus once said, it’s only the truth that can set us free. (John 8:32) And the blunt truth the world is showing us in all kinds of ways these days is that we’re neither as smart nor as invincible as we’d like to imagine we are. The matching truth that the church year shows us on a deeper level is that our failures are due to our sin—which not only needs to be confronted on our part, but has already been fully dealt with by God himself. In the person of Jesus, his Son, he never flinched from our failures, but took them all upon himself, carrying them first up onto the cross and then down into the depths of the grave. All of our sin was buried there, with Jesus. That’s where the trajectory of our suffering finally ends.
And then, you see, the whole pattern changes completely on Easter morning—suddenly, unexpectedly, permanently. Out of the grave, new life. From death and decay, immortality. After loss and tears, joyous laughter. Instead of an arc of history that bends steadily downward, all the way into hell itself, a totally unexpected reset of the whole system: “See, I am making all things new!” (Rev 21:5)
I don’t know how much you and I will ever experience, here in this life, of the fullness of this new beginning that Jesus’s resurrection introduced to the world. Maybe things will indeed turn around for us soon, with the pandemic passing, markets rebounding, climatic changes abating, and all the other signs of our frailty and sin settling down and returning to “normal.” But even if not, the abrupt U-turn that the church-year makes on April 12—from the solemnity of Lent to the exuberance of Easter—both summarizes and totally changes the whole of our human experience. Down into the grave? Yes, that’s the first part of the story for sure. But then also up again, into the wonder of a restored creation!
So much to look forward to, dear friends, even in times like these. And the death and resurrection of Jesus is the turning-point. From Lent to Easter, it all changes. Just like that.