Friday, March 22nd
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 22nd: Psalm 63:1-8; Daniel 12:1-4; and Revelation 3:1-6. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
My mother passed away on this date in 2005. She died of cancer, but lived with cancer for something like 50 years. Because of her early battle with the disease she was told not to have children. She had two. It was a terrible thing to watch her lose her fight against cancer and die at the age of 75, and so many others know this kind of loss first hand too, but her story is still being written.
Those 50 years after her first cancer were a blessing, and so is the promise of eternal life a blessing. That promise may be taken for granted by Christians since it is so deeply embedded in our faith, but that needs to be reexamined.
The Old Testament speaks of Sheol. Moral distinctions do not divide in Sheol. All the dead become mere shades of their former selves in this place of futility and inactivity. It was a place of forgetfulness. Identity and hopes disappear.
Then, toward the later stages of Old Testament composition, Daniel appears. In this book, in today’s selection as a matter of fact, a new revelation emerges. Daniel speaks of resurrection: ““Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, …” Sheol remains, but Daniel adds the hope that at the end-time, God will raise the dead to judgment. The dead are dead until this apocalyptic resurrection.
The latter half of Daniel (chs 7-12) was written during the Maccabean Revolt, which places their composition around 165 B.C. It’s only a bit more than a century and half later that Jesus enters the story. When Jesus dies, the reality was catastrophic. It seems that the disciples flee and disperse and return to their old lives, putting Jesus behind them.
This is one of the readings of the resurrection statement that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee and that is where they will meet Him. They had been forewarned about the crucifixion and foretold about the resurrection, but they simply could not process the information. Their minds were dominated by Sheol. When Jesus died, that part of their lives died too.
The resurrection changed everything and everyone. It reversed the understandable fear and failure of those earliest Christians. It proved to them a new reality. This is a joyous discussion for another season, but for now let us concentrate on how revolutionary the idea of resurrection was.
It gave believers a hope that was greater than any hopelessness the world could hurl at them. And it is no less true today. It’s true at the bedside of a terminal cancer patient; it’s true when disasters and wars strike; it’s true when accidents intrude; and it’s true for all of us who are constrained by our mortality.
We’ve believed in the resurrection ever since some stubborn disciples were forced to believe in it 2,000 years ago, but we should never, ever, take it’s hope and promise for granted. The resurrection cost Jesus, cost God, everything. Jesus’ life wasn’t enough. Jesus’ death had to be added. As we walk toward the cross this Lent, let’s try not to rush right past it to the empty tomb. Let’s linger there on Golgotha. Let’s appreciate the cost of Christian hope. And if we do, then we become like those praised in the Book of Revelation: “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” Let us hope and pray that our Lenten journey help us to shine.
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