a perfect and wonderful surprise

At 6:37 am this morning, my hands were already covered in lamb juice, worcestershire sauce, wine, tomato, onion, and a mix of blurry other things. I forgot for a moment why I was preparing lamb and why the sunlight on this day breaks open the most precious gift in all creation.

Resurrection Sunday.

There is something more final than death and sunlight is singing it over all the darkness today. There is something more final than death and His name is Jesus. I opened my window and gloried with the birds in the breaking day. I whispered, “Happy Easter, world!” and threw my smiles up and down Hawthorne Street.

Today, we celebrate how completely He conquered the grave. I can finally shake off the Lenten despair because God planned such a perfect and wonderful surprise.

the sun will rise

Love as Christ loved.

That is the message of Maundy Thursday, the new commandment Christ gave to the disciples in his final, informal sermon. Love one another. He commands it because He knows it can be done, though it is impossible.

We are not naturally lovely people – not naturally kind or caring. We are selfish and proud and have been since that forbidden fruit. We guard our independence and vacation time and personal freedom and charity, considering others sparingly and only when we feel like it. To “love one another” is an impossible command, but Jesus commands it because He knows it is possible. His is a love that can swallow up every force that opposes it, even death.

His is a love that empowers love when the network of human nature fights against it.

Christ shows us love and then commands us to do what only He can make possible in our lives. “Love one another” is not a reason for Easter resolutions or a slogan for social justice. “Love one another” is an impossible command that Jesus obeyed perfectly on the cross, a command that we can obey by way of His righteousness.

Jesus commands us to love one another and then He shows us what love looks like as he lives out the prophecy spoken in Isaiah.

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
[ISAIAH 53:1-6]

I still do not understand it, but I read myself in these words. I hid my face, esteemed him not, and threw my grief on his bloody back. And today we remember that He was crushed. He was pierced and wounded because of our black hearts and secret sins. Today, we remember the sky went black when death killed the healer.

This is the darkest day, but there is hope on the horizon. There are rays hiding behind the dark sky, lit by the glory of the Creator – our God who knew all along that there would be a resurrection. And the resurrection lights the way for our love of one another.

hot pressure heartburn

It felt like heartburn, but I am sure it wasn’t.

The hot pressure pushing against my rib cage on Monday might be as close as I have ever felt to groaning with creation for the coming of the Lord (Romans 8:19). My body craves Jesus’ return as much as my spirit, and together (I think) they press up against my bones to remind me of my true home.

This week is about death.

Even in the triumphal entry on Sunday, we know it is death toward which we process. Even as we sing “Hosanna!” on the road into Jerusalem with the redeemed, we save our breath for the “Crucify!” in the center of the city with the masses. The true drama of the scene churns up this hot pressure heartburn behind my rib cage.

It is frightening, unless you believe in the God who keeps promises. This God, who loved the world so much that He threw His seed to the earth to be sown in death. The evidence is in the palms of His hands and the scars on His sides.

The resurrection is waiting on the other side like the buds breaking through dead branches and the sprouts peeking out from dry ground. Resurrection is hiding, buried safe in God’s plan for redemption.

This week is about death, but it was always about life to God.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called  children of God; and so we are. In this the love of God was made manifest  among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live  through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us  and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 3:1, 4:9-10).

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For  one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person  one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we  were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be  slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

Passages from the Journey to the Cross devotional.

truth is the best comfort

The wind squealed through deserted school windows today, pushing raindrops against the panes. It is Spring Break and the 14 foot creamy white office ceilings felt cavernous above my head. I wrote some proposals and planned some programs and printed some decorations for bulletin boards. I pushed play on my rainy day Spotify mix and wished the Jewish Passover holiday meant seven days of job-free preparation for Protestants, too. My heart is not in the office because my heart is racing toward the Resurrection.

It might have been this passage from Isaiah 25 that swelled the ache in me, but I’m pretty sure the ache was already there. This is one of those rare situations where the word “epic” is actually appropriate. A mountaintop, a feast of rich food, an abundance of well-aged wine… and the main event where death is swallowed up forever. Forever death is swallowed up and forever the reproach of God’s people is taken away.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” [ISAIAH 25:6-9]

“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.” There is brilliant, unmatched weight in these words. The mass of the Milky Way and the heaviest mountains are pebbles to these words. I imagine whispering them at the table the Lord will prepare, for the crushing joy will have stolen my voice.

“Behold,” I’ll whisper with the widest eyes, “It is all true and you are God. I have waited for you and believed that you are my salvation. You are the Lord!”

Truth is the best comfort.

Truth is not easy or cheap or immediate or luxurious, but it is really the best comfort. And I guess comfort is what I needed on this rainy day when my heart is preoccupied with the Resurrection celebration. In my impatience, I started to wonder if I am secretly hoping Easter weekend will naturally reorder my joy. Maybe I let the ruts of the Lenten road sink too deep in my soul and maybe I have hung all my hope on this weekend to pull me out.

You all probably just think I need to take a break from introspection, which is probably (always) true. I regret the mazes of my mind, too, but they are there still, haunting me regardless.

Honest? I want hot chocolate and blankets and movies and sleep all day. Because that sounds like the kind of comfort I can taste and feel.

But, when I read this passage from the pages of Isaiah, I know that Truth is best. When I read the word, “Behold” I realize the rain is temporary, the career questions are temporary, the sunshine weekends are temporary, the personal struggles are temporary, and the best joys on earth are temporary.

Truth is the best comfort because there is a day when I will say, “Behold,” when I stand in front of the One who prepared a feast.

preparing for Passover

I was distracted because my mom was on the phone. One of us was telling the other one of us updates about our equally crazy lives. She is pulling her classical friends Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven out of the cabinet archives in the music room in preparation for a wedding this weekend. Meanwhile, she is preparing students to sing in state contest on Saturday. Nbd. She organized a women’s ministry retreat last Saturday and the awesome train just keeps chugging along.

Anyway, between her telling me she will be playing piano in a literal zoo this weekend and me telling her about my Easter planning escapades, I got off at the wrong bus stop. I spent the next 27 minutes walking instead of riding to home group, navigating strollers and long black skirts and babies/boys/men with curls swirling out from under hats. I was in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and I did not regret one minute in the nearly Spring sunshine.

Passover is coming.

The boxes in Williamsburg have overtaken the sidewalks for several weeks now. Aluminum pans and serving dishes and mountains of bags of potatoes are crowding pedestrians space. There are mobile trailer grocery stores outside the regular, freshly stocked Jewish grocery stores. I walked my purple pants past the bustling storefronts and smiled at all the similarly dressed children on unadulterated parade, riding scooters and trikes and other wheeled revelries.

Passover is coming and I felt a growing anticipation well up from somewhere my commute normally cannot touch.

Our Feast of the Resurrection will be a different kind of Passover celebration, but those sidewalks were pregnant with a very similar excitement. And all of a sudden, my excitement got multiplied by history. The same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the same God of Mary and Joseph and John the Baptist; the same God of Matthew and Moses is the God who sent His Son to be our forever Passover.

Are you ready to throw a party that is unlike any other party on your yearly calendar? Even if it is a small and simple gathering, are you ready to really supremely celebrate the way Jesus changed history?

If you are in the area, I would suggest a walk around Williamsburg to get you in the right spirit. I might get off at the wrong bus stop a few more times this week…

The Feast of the Resurrection

It’s not a thing, yet.

Easter usually looks like pastel outfits, higher church attendance, and some version of ham taking center stage at the Sunday dinner table. At least that has been my observation of Easter in mainstream Christianity over the years. And even in more serious circles, Easter is always situated on a Sunday so that means less paid time off to reflect on deeper things.

The Feast of the Resurrection is not a thing, yet. But it will be this year, April 18-20 in my Brooklyn apartment, and you are invited. This is something Patrick has talked about for years – he believes Easter should be bigger than Christmas and certainly bigger than Thanksgiving. And I am all in. Regardless of what traditions or work schedules tell us, we know Easter is about death dying.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

Jesus’ death and resurrection changed the course of our earthly and eternal lives. This seems like it deserves more than pastel colors, festive ham and a theatrical production on Sunday morning where a faux tomb is rolled away.

Enter the plans for The Feast of the Resurrection, a three day event with meals and Scripture and music and laughter. Slow mornings and lively afternoons and precious times gathered around a table to break bread, drink wine, and remember the life we were given when Christ conquered death on the cross.

If there was ever something to celebrate, it would be this gift. If there was ever a reason to cancel all plans to throw a big party, it would be to remember this event.

And so, it is happening. The first annual Feast of the Resurrection and I am already giddy with anticipation. I hope my preparations in Lent this year will look a little different, with this celebration in view. I am excited to see this vision of community and fellowship and joy spill over into a new tradition.

It’s not a thing, yet… but it is about to be and you are invited!

how to make the neighbors talk

The average “how to” article is written because people want to know how to do something they don’t already know how to do. But this isn’t your average “how to,” I suppose.

In December, my sister and I moved into a house that was built in 1865 on a block in what used to be an Italian neighborhood near downtown Des Moines. The biggest selling point for the house was the landlord with the loud voice, who lives next door. I guess that prompted our next day move in. We saw the house on a Friday night and moved in on Saturday with a simple handshake sealing the deal.

And the pair of us, we moved in with intentions. We weren’t just going to be the two look-alikes with questionable driving skills and frequent memory loss on trash day. We wanted to be the kind of friends and neighbors who did more than wave en route to the driver’s seat.

I can’t tell you we’re there yet – but I can tell you about our progress and how to make the neighbors talk.

It all started in January when Christina decided the people with the worst job are airport workers working the early shift on a Saturday morning. As part of her church outreach, everyone in the congregation had been given $20 to bless the community in some way (funded by a private donor). So, off we went at 5 am on a Saturday to pick up donuts and coffee at Hy-Vee. A few very interesting conversations and several surprised airport workers later, we still had donuts and coffee.

(Now, remember I’m not saying this is how to recruit friends or admirers or a following… just how to make your neighbors talk. I just want to throw this in here, to be clear.)

We came back and took a nap before delivering the rest of the donuts and coffee to our neighbors. Yep, we just walked door to door and introduced ourselves, in all our roused and ruffled Saturday glory, and then when they looked at us like we were crazy we raised up our offerings and said, “Do you want some coffee and donuts?”

And do you know what they did? They invited us in! So, in we went to our neighbors’ houses to chit chat about neighborhood things and learn a little about some of the lives on our street. When we got back to our house, we kept saying, “That was so random. That was so random.”

And that was that.

Then there was February, when Christina discovered some leftover Halloween candy in her car and I unpacked some Valentine’s decorations from Mom in the kitchen. Christina crafted together some pink baskets with candy and I made sugar cookies from scratch. And Christina went out to deliver them door to door. She didn’t see very many faces, but she left them in mailboxes instead.

That’s when Tremain showed up on our doorstep. He had a chain necklace, a coat with fur, and several sparkly pieces in his mouth. He stopped Christina as she was walking in the door and said, “I just wanted to say thank you for the Valentine” and gave her two candles he had made for us along with a very sweet letter. A few days later, we received a card from Marie down the road and she said, “It was the only Valentine I received this year. It meant so much.” I remember Marie’s house because it has a very friendly lamppost in the front yard.

We really didn’t need an occasion to pop over to our Mexican neighbors’ home. We have been swapping baked goods since the week we moved in. And now we know that if you knock on the door you should be prepared to stay for a while. I once arrived home from work and told Christina I would be gone for a few minutes to bring a pumpkin cake next door. An hour later I came back wiping my mouth after enjoying a delicious tostada cooked to Mexican perfection. There were about 30 baking powder biscuits and an unhappy Christina to greet my satisfied belly.

Then there was March and, of course, St. Patrick’s Day. I went on an Irish baking frenzy – making Irish soda bread, shepherd’s pie, and irish soda cookies to bring to our neighbors. Caraway seed is a funny ingredient, but we reasoned that traipsing around to distribute something “irish” made our intrusions a little less weird. Looking back, I wish we just would have done cookies with green frosting or celery because caraway seed is just too strong of a taste. In any case, we knocked on doors and left cookies in mail boxes with an invite to church on Easter Sunday. Christina did another sweep with personal invitations later to invite everyone to church and then Easter dinner at our house.

Meanwhile, we got invited to a fiesta where they put tequila in the fruit punch and chocolate on the chicken. It was the best garage party we’ve been to in a while and the only one where Christina depended almost exclusively on my Spanish and her good looks to not embarrass herself.

Then there was Easter and, as it turns out, our neighbors mostly had plans. But an adorable couple across the street (lived here for 60 years) brought over a secret recipe jello and we made promises to have them over for dinner soon. Our Easter table filled up anyway, with our grandparents, a high school student and a friend (and thank goodness because we made two main dishes!). It was perfect.

Last night, I finally brought their jello dish back along with some banana bread. Luis and Arlene invited me right in to their kitchen. We chatted about the weather and about the neighborhood and then I asked them what they liked to eat for dinner because we’d like to have them over. They said they were easy to please.

I can tell you one thing, the neighbors are talking. They might be talking about dry, caraway seed cookies or they might be talking about the two pony-tailed girls making the rounds at 8 pm or they might be talking about stale candy and church invitations. We don’t really know what they are talking about, but we hear bits and pieces.

“Are you those girls in 318?”

“Oh, Marie was asking about where those cookies come from and we told her it was you girls.”

“Yeah, those irish ones were weird.”

“Now, are you two sisters?”

You want to make your neighbors talk? Figure out ways to get invited into their living rooms.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

living risen on Monday

It had its own paragraph, tucked away on page 117 in Gospel Deeps by Jared C. Wilson and this one sentence struck a chord that has been resonating ever since,

If suffering was good enough for Him, shouldn’t it be good enough for us?

Well, wow. What to say here… We all say “yes” because it would seem so horrible to say anything else. Our Savior, Christ the Lord who holds all things together died. He held all things together as fully God while walking around as fully man. And then…

He allowed Himself to be undone unto death so that we might rise and be held together in Him.

And Christ was never less than perfect. Though he died the death of a criminal, He never lived less than perfectly. The God of all creation became like us (whoa) and then became sin for us (wow) and suffered every temptation for us (oof) and endured death on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God (oh my).

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

The resurrection swell of Easter was still spilling over yesterday, burying again the death of Jesus with the triumph of his third day victory. The Easter season, according to the church calendar, has really just begun and I want to observe the fullness of it. Because resurrection changed everything, not just a food-packed Sunday selected by the lunar calendar. EVERYTHING. And, I think it’s good to have a season set apart to reflect on the weight of “everything.”

Even a full season won’t condition my heart as it should, but God has promised to complete the work He has started and to make perfect (in Christ) my imperfect attempts to believe. And so, I stand in the swell of the Easter season asking what it looks like to live risen on Monday… and Tuesday – Friday.

What happened in the living, dying, and rising of Jesus happened in real time – the clock measured His footsteps up to Calvary and the three days after he died. The light broke the dawn on Sunday, marking the morning and Jesus’ day of resurrection.

But the glory of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is not contained on the calendar. Before the foundations of the world (Romans 8:29) – before the light broke the first morning and before the ground felt the weight of any feet – God planned to lavish love on His chosen through the person and sacrificial work of Christ.

How deep the Father’s love for us,
how vast beyond all measure,
that He would give His only Son,
and make a wretch His treasure
(How Deep the Father’s Love, Stuart Townend)

The beauty of God’s love for us runs as deep as eternity stretches long. We know from Psalm 115:3 that God acts out of His pleasure, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”

Just let the weight of “whatever He pleases” sink in deep. He was pleased to plan before the dawn of time for our redemption. He was pleased to send His Son, who emptied Himself and died in our place. He was pleased to bring reconciliation through the resurrection. It was God’s will to crush His Son so that we could be counted righteous.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:10-11)

What does it mean to live risen on Monday and Tuesday and Saturday? It means believing that God’s love was not constrained to a weekend nor the power that it produced. God was planning in the forever past for our redemption and prepares a place for us in the forever future.

Christ’s suffering did not take away from God’s glory, but revealed it. In Christ, God pulls back the curtain so that we can gaze on His glorious character and find it is nothing like anything we know. What we see and savor in Christ will allow us to endure the suffering the same way – revealing the glory of God.

Living like I’m risen means believing God planned all along for me to rise and trusting God to keep His promises.

God is glorified in our love for one another

She wandered in to the kitchen, shrugged her shoulders and said, “What can I do?”

Twenty years of provision fell heavy on my heart and I brimmed with thanksgiving. My grandma, who had hosted countless Easter gatherings at her home and provided the homemade bread and deviled eggs for too many Easter gatherings at my parents’ to count. Her knobby fingers have kneaded more dough and cleared more dining room tables than mine can dream about.

And she wandered into my little kitchen after our ragamuffin Easter dinner to offer her help. But, not just to wash the dishes and de-bone the chicken… because as we scrubbed the carmelized onions out of the bottom of the stew pot, she asked how she could pray for me. We chatted about how to make the best beef stew from roast leftovers and about how to make creative meals out of de-boned lemon sage chicken. And she said she was praying about my job constantly. She put her hand on my arm and looked at me with a steady gaze and assured me she was praying.

This was the first Easter my sister and I hosted at our humble rental home in our little Des Moines neighborhood. We invited our neighbors, our grandparents, and a few friends. We conquered Lemon Sage Chicken and Chuck Roast Dinner with (surprisingly) very few catastrophes or disastrous substitutions. The sunshine started early and was still proclaiming resurrection joy when we arrived at our house after church.

I’ll admit, no amount of Febreze in any scent can compare to a house with a roast in the oven. The smell was coming out the windows when I invited my grandparents inside, where they spread out the deviled eggs and fresh baked french loaf. Just before our celebration began, our neighbor Louie came over to bring a jello salad and his regrets that he wouldn’t be able to make it with his wife. We made plans to have them over for dinner soon (and vice versa) and I introduced Louie to my Grandpa.

Our guests around the table ranged in age from 15 to 80, but the laughter was all the same level after my Grandpa said grace. We enjoyed elderberry jelly and lemon-buttery potatoes and conversation and laughter. We enjoyed it all and we enjoyed each other and our laughter lingered long after enjoying my Gram’s puff pastry dessert with coffee.

But, it was that moment when my Grandma wandered into the kitchen to offer her help (and more than just her help), that I breathed a sigh of gratitude for the way we are designed for relationship.

Our front doors are meant to swing open to family and friends and strangers – to break bread with one another, delight in the gathering and the eating and the laughing and the conversing. We are made to live together in relationship and our hearts are glad when we live as we were made to live.

My heart was full today as we broke bread together, as we laughed together, as we prayed together, as we washed dishes together, and as my Grandma looked me in the eyes and told me she prays for me constantly.

Because I know she does.

God has woven our hearts together intentionally to reveal His glory. He is glorified as we benefit by loving one another, sharing with one another, bearing each others’ burdens, and wandering into the kitchen to say, “How can I help?”

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

just as He said

“He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”
Matthew 28:6, emphasis added

God keeps His promises – He will do what He says He will do.
He has never broken a promise, not ever

This morning I am caught up in the rhythm of believing – the every moment proclamation that God is, in fact, trustworthy. He did what He said He would do… freely, joyfully, and painfully enduring the cross so that we could come close and be reconciled. He suffered, as He said He would, on our behalf and for our ransom.

Then He rose, as He said He would, in victory over the grave and to secure our souls’ resurrection.

Just as He said.

He conquered death and offers us the every moment victory over the same. We are united with Him in His resurrection and invited to see just how trustworthy is our God.

Every moment, trustworthy.
Every moment, gracious.
Every moment, forgiving.
Every moment, loving.
Every moment, joyful over our reconciliation to Himself.

Every moment, keeping His promises.
I am moved to joyful belief because my God chooses to keep His promises to me.

Every moment, the God of all creation keeps His promises to His little, created ones.