Easter Needed Early: Marian Dyer

Yesterday made me shrink before the mystery of death. I attended the funeral of one our pastors, Marian Woodle Dyer, age 53, who fought a courageous battle against cancer. She was always so positive and full of faith. I preached a revival for her last fall and sensed an overwhelming expression of how much she was loved by the congregation at Mt. Pleasant. We celebrated her life yesterday and we rejoiced in Christ. The pain of loss is real and I especially grieve for her husband Mike and teenage daughter Adrianne. I know today is Maundy Thursday but I need Easter before Sunday comes. I need the mystery of death defeated and unraveled by the deeper mystery of Easter

Someone once said that God’s incarnation in Jesus was just as the Apostle John phrased it in his Gospel, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and theologians have been trying to explain it away ever since.” If Christmas is beyond the ability of human language to adequately explain, then the mystery of Easter is totally out of reach. As a matter of fact, our attempts to explain the unexplainable may even detract from the miraculous news of Jesus’ resurrection.

In this vein, St. Francis once said, “Listen, my child, each year at Easter I used to watch Christ’s resurrection. All the faithful would gather around His tomb and weep, weep inconsolably, beating on the ground to make it open. And behold! In the midst of our lamentations the tombstone crumbled to pieces and Christ sprang from the earth and ascended to heaven, smiling at us and waving a white banner. There was only one year I did not see Him resurrected. That year a theologian of consequence, a graduate of the University of Bologna, came to us. He mounted the pulpit in church and began to elucidate the Resurrection for hours on end. He explained and explained until our heads began to swim; and that year the tombstone did not crumble, and, I swear to you, no one saw the Resurrection.”

Therefore, let’s leave Easter as it is: the most marvelous mystery imaginable. It is beyond our comprehension that death can be conquered, that evil can be overcome, that justice can roll down like a river, and that peace will someday reign in God’s kingdom. But, we believe in spite of our grief, our frustration, our lack of empirical evidence, and the gnawing fear in our gut that faith is but a sham.

Jim Harnish, a pastor friend from the Florida Annual Conference, told the story of a little boy who was, “not exactly happy about going to church on Easter Sunday morning. His new shoes were too tight, his tie pinched his neck and the weather was just too beautiful to be cooped up inside … As he sulked in the back seat, his parents heard him mutter: ‘I don’t know why we have to go to church on Easter, anyway; they keep telling the same old story and it always comes out the same in the end.’”

This attitude reminds me of a book I read several years ago about the Battle of Gettysburg. It is a revisionist history of the battle by Newt Gingrich, of all people and this is no political advertisement. Author Harry Turtledove has other revisionist histories of the Civil War that are also interesting, but what made Gingrich’s Gettysburg so fascinating is that General Robert E. Lee acts decisively and wins. That’s a switch for any Southerner who has visited this site of such abject defeat. I have a love-hate relationship with visiting Gettysburg. I had ancestors who fought there, and I know they left defeated and broken. No matter how many times I visit I know the outcome. There are a lot more Yankee monuments than Southern ones because the winners usually have more reason and more money to do such things. Nevertheless, even though I know how Gettysburg always comes out, the trek is worth it. Its pivotal role in American history is without precedent.

Similarly, I keep coming back to church for more of the same at Easter. The message, though always the same, is one that I need to hear, some years more so than others, and this is one of those years. Easter is the penultimate hinge in history, cosmically and personally. Thank God it always ends the same. That’s a sameness that I can bank on year after year, day after day, and minute after minute, and I’m glad! Today I’m especially glad for all of us who will miss Marian Dyer.

Christ Is King!

This coming Sunday is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday in the Christian year, the last hurrah before we rush headlong into Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas and New Year’s. This Sunday is a reminder that come what may, Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Christ the King Sunday exists to ask the all-important question: “If Jesus is King, what else matters?”

I can confess Jesus as King easily but my actions often betray me. This is especially true at this time of year. I’ve always been one who loved to get the mail out of the box. Holiday season has always made the experience even better. When I was a child we got plenty of magazines offering holiday pleasure. I perused the Sears catalog until it was practically memorized. I sorted the “Wish Books” from the rest of the mail and hoarded them like treasure. I whiled away hours, days, weeks, flipping the pages, compiling my lists: G.I. Joe play sets, walkie-talkies, and camouflage. Catalogs were about fantasy and the potential fulfillment of every want, need, and dream.

Catalogs, ironically enough, weren’t bad practice for anticipation. What is anticipation, anyway, except glimpsing something that might be, and deciding you want it, and awaiting its arrival, yearning for it even? But mystery: Mystery is something else entirely. There is no catalog code or customer service number that we can provide to procure the Messiah. There are no glossy pages that can contain the living power of the Incarnation, of the Holy Spirit moving through a world battered, bruised and beautiful, a world being called to remember its true song.  Christ is coming. No credit card necessary. That’s what Christ the King Sunday is about! My sin so often is to wish for trivial things while Jesus is all that is really needed!

Don’t let this season catch you pondering wish lists that never ever truly satisfy our longings. We need more than self-serving gratification. What we need is the peace that will never wear out, break, or become outmoded by next year’s newer model. The Author of that kind of peace and contentment is Jesus. There is none other than Jesus who can meet our every need and satisfy our every longing. Only Jesus makes our wishes come true.

The great mystery is that Jesus, the anticipated King, has come and is coming again. We see the in-breakings of his kingdom all about us. However, the sparkle and glitter of holiday season produces such a glare that it’s almost impossible to squint through the blinding light. But, stare through the glitter we must if we are to know the peace that comes from knowing Christ as king. We can’t order peace from some 800-number or a website, but we can find it if we dare to be still and ponder the mystery of God in Christ.

Mystery of Suicide

>

I woke up this morning to hear the news that Kenny McKinley, former University of South Carolina, star football receiver had apparently taken his own life. Friends, former teammates, coaches, and fans are shocked. He was here at the USC-Georgia game two weeks ago. According to everyone, he seemed fine. Of course, he has been injury-plagued over the last two years with the Denver Broncos. There was no suicide note, no explanation. Other than his injury there was no thought that something like this would happen.

I have never experienced suicide in my own family, but as a pastor I have dealt with quite a few. Every time I was shocked. One was especially difficult. It was an older man who was beloved in the community. His wife had some very tough health issues and had to be moved to an assisted living community. Apparently, he couldn’t take it and took his own life. I have preached the funeral of a murder suicide, too, and there have been other tragic events in the churches that I served where someone took thier own life.

It is always hard for me as a pastor to know what to say in this situation. And I have often wondered why I didn’t pick up on some kind of signal that this might happen. I have felt the sting of the prophet Jeremiah’s words when he warns that we should not say, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” Yet, the presence of the Incarnate Christ who came to know our pain as the Man of Sorrows gives us hope, whether we can say the right words or not.

I try to think of God’s mercy like this: If human courts will acquit someone of murder because of insanity, then God’s mercy surely must prove more complete than that. I have known people so full of despair that they couldn’t see past their own hand much less their problems. In that moment of sheer pain and darkness they have done the unthinkable. I pray in God’s mercy that they are just as acquitted as we humans would absolve the temporarily insane.

It’s a mystery, and no easy answer is forthcoming. I’m reminded of Deuteronomy 29:29 again and again, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” What this means to me is that there are some things we can’t know or perceive and we must leave those unfathomable mysteries to God. Let’s stick to what we can know and about which we can do something.

I’m certainly not advocating suicide as an option to life’s dilemmas. Its pain and unresolved issues for families last generations. There is NOTHING beneficial that can come from doing such a thing, but I think God’s word to me this morning is to cut people who have committed suicide some slack, and open my eyes to the unseen hurts around me. A simple “Hey, How are you?” isn’t enough to delve into the human heart. If there’s anything at all to take from this it is to live more intentionally in community where we rub shoulders and look into one another’s faces and hearts. Facebook is a good thing but it cannot replace real community, face-to-face.

The Church is the best place for us to have deep relationships with one another. Small groups, Sunday School classes, mission projects, and other significant church activities put us side by side in an intimate setting where we can get to know the unseen pain of others. In our economically dark and terror-filled world, we need Jesus and He is most easily seen in one another. I hurt for the McKinley family and for any family that has faced such a tragedy. May they find peace among us, and help through us.