Jarrod Robinson speaking on Galatians 3 at the 2014 Pepperdine Bible Lectures — part of the theme, “Enter the Water, Come to the Table.”
This is Jeff Childers debating Jeff Childers in a late night session at the 2014 Pepperdine Bible Lectures.
My journey with Easter has come in three stages:
Stage One: We don’t celebrate Easter. I was raised in a tradition that (barely) tolerated bunnies, eggs, and jelly beans. But not the rest of Easter. The reason? “Because the Bible doesn’t mention Easter. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus every week.” The first sentence now strikes me—as one who sees Easter at the very center of the Bible’s story (even if it isn’t called that until later)—as funny. The Bible doesn’t mention Easter in the same way that the Chronicles of Narnia don’t mention Aslan. But honestly, I still have a deep appreciation for the second reason, for we are, indeed, the people of the resurrection. (Those who grew up in this tradition can appreciate the humor of someone’s “Hitler Easter video.”)
Stage Two: It’s ok to celebrate Easter. Yes, it was ok. Freeing, even. But just “ok.” Because as a person who often dwells in mystery and puzzlement, I found this to often be the church at its most “full solar spirituality” (to borrow from Barbara Brown Taylor). Extra assemblies! Bring in the visitors! Banish death! Promise healing, health, and forgiveness! Easter has a way of bringing out the kind of triumphalism that made the Apostle Paul queazy.
Stage Three: I can’t live without Easter.
This is my twentieth Easter since Megan died. For the first fifteen years, we held a small gathering of family and friends at her grave at sunrise on Easter morning. We read 1 Corinthians 15, listened to a song or two, exchanged Megan stories, and prayed. Marana Tha. For the last several years, I haven’t been in town on Easter Sunday, but different rituals continue. This morning, my three-year-old granddaughter and I visited the grave of the aunt she never knew, leaving Easter lilies and enjoying the beauty surrounding us.
Through the years, I’ve spoken and written a lot about Megan. I hope it hasn’t been just to work through my own grief. I’ve always had others in mind: those who have buried loved ones, those who live in fear, those who have failed big time, those who are suffering, those who don’t yet feel “strong at the broken places” (Hemingway). So “Megan” stories have been about an actual, loving, mentally-disabled child who died when she was ten. But they’ve also been metaphors for a larger human experience of brokenness and loss.
Does time help? Oh, yes. But it doesn’t remove all the pain. I’ve written before about a buddy of mine, a physician, who saw an 84-year-old patient and asked how she was doing. “I’m a bit sad today,” she said. “It’s the anniversary of my daughter’s death.” He immediately imagined what it must have been like for her to lose her adult daughter. He wondered if this daughter had her own children and perhaps grandchildren.
“I’m so sorry. How long ago did she pass away?”
“Sixty-two years ago,” the woman replied.
We grievers are so thankful for time, for friends, for memories, and for unpredicted joys.
But the real key is hope. And that’s what Easter is all about. It declares that God’s glorious future has broken into this world through the resurrection of Jesus. It announces the invasion of God’s kingdom of love and justice. While it doesn’t promise that all illnesses will be cured or that all depressions will be removed, it does offer a vision of the future that is secure. God will wipe away all tears.
“The resurrection of Christ is terribly relevant for those who’ve been victims of injustice. For those who’ve been gutted by rejection or betrayal. For those who’ve faced every day with pain—of whatever sort. Or for those who’ve stood on a wind-kissed hill to pay final respects to a spouse, a child, or a friend.
“‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ said Jesus. Either he is or he isn’t. It depends on what happened that weekend in Palestine. For those like me who believe that he was raised by his Father, there is wild hope. Suffering and death do not have the final word. A day is coming when pain, failed relationships, bitterness, depression, and death will be put behind us. Jurgen Moltmann had it right: ‘God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with him.’ That’s the outrageous joy called Easter!
“‘It makes a big difference whether we think someone is dead or alive,’ Luke Timothy Johnson puts it baldly. ‘The most important question concerning Jesus, then, is simply this: Do we think he is dead or alive?’
“What we believe about that question makes all the difference in the world.”
We’re down to about a month before the 71st Pepperdine Bible Lectures. As we focus on the meaning of baptism and communion (and as they guide us in understanding gospel, discipleship, community, mission, and eschatology), we want to experience them.
So instead of just talking about baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we will participate!
Some will perhaps want to be baptized during the week (April 29 – May 2). In addition to the Pepperdine pool which is just outside Firestone Fieldhouse, leaders of the University Church will be on hand to assist anyone who wants to be immersed in the Pacific Ocean. (We don’t want to lose anyone!)
Then on Friday night after the evening session, tables will be set up outside the fieldhouse and around the upper part of campus where the late night sessions are held. Everyone will be invited to participate in communion. It will be an amazing experience of unity and commitment to the mission of Jesus.
It’s not too late. Come on! “Enter the Water, Come to the Table.”
She lies, drug-induced and feverish, in bed, awaiting gall bladder surgery.
He sits in his wheelchair.
It’s sometimes difficult to recognize him:
this state boxing champion, this five-time runner of the Boston marathon, now weakened by the ravaging blows of Parkinson’s;
this expressive man whose face has now lost so much of its bandwidth of emotion, flattened out by the disease;
this steady man who now shakes with tremors.
Then I watch in amazement:
As if dancing, they both lean toward each other. She—this amazing woman!—rolls and stretches her hand, moving around the IV in her arm; he presses with limited flexibility as far as he possibly can, leaning forward in his wheelchair toward her. And they touch. They hold hands. If a picture is worth a thousands words, this scene is worth a million. They don’t speak. They just . . . touch.
Through it all,
Please don’t assume it’s been a perfect marriage. To be honest, perfect marriages don’t interest me. They seem plastic and unattainable.
A poem by my maternal grandmother about her own marriage seems to fit:
Ours is not the meeting of two meadow streams,
The quiet fusion of slow and placid waters,
That start from gentle springs
And meander softly to each other’s arms.
Ours is the whirlpool union of two rivers,
That issue from the crags, close to the skies,
And leap the rocks, and spill tempestuously
To canyons far below,
Where, with steam and vapors rising,
Fired by earthbound mutterings,
And in a maelstrom we mate, and run our course,
Parallel, but never merging,
downstream to the sea.
Go ahead: tell me about your signs and tongues and miracles. I’ve learned not to frown, winter Christian though I am.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in miracles. Back in the same little hospital, in the same little town, with the same two people—after 57 years that passed in a flash—I witness a wonder, a marvel that stirs my soul.
Ask an old person . . . how to download the PBL app:
. . . how to tweet a request for the hymn sing:
“God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.” – Christian Wiman
Here’s the question I’ve been asked several times since yesterday’s post: Why didn’t I include that story in my book about Megan?
The answer is simple: I wasn’t prepared to tell it. In fact, I never imagined telling it.
But this Wednesday, I led an evening on the theme of “hands” in scripture (the hands of Jesus . . . the hands of God . . . human hands). And after agonizing prayer and hours of conversations with Diane, I decided to write it.
But then the question was, do I make that public to a broader audience? After all, it’s a bit embarrassing. Most of us want to hear stories of how people held up under pressure—not of how they buckled. That’s why we often tell the stories of how hymns got written while omitting some of the later stories.
I’ve recently mentioned that my favorite hymn is “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” We love to give the background of the young convert who wrote the stirring words; seldom do we go on to point out, however, that the writer who penned the profound words “prone to wander” did, indeed, wander from the faith later in life. (There are different strains of tradition about whether or not he returned.)
Even Wednesday night, we pulled out an old gospel pop song: “Put Your Hand in the Hand.” I didn’t bother to mention that the author of those words later ended his own life in despair.
But, again, Diane and I decided to go ahead and publish the piece on behalf of others who feel flooded by a dam that has burst in their lives. For me, the flood was an immersion in depression, doubt, and grief. But it could be many other things.
If that’s you, perhaps you’re wondering: When do I get my “you-will-be-ok-Daddy” experience?
You may not. I’m 56, and I’ve had one in my life.
But, and here was the real point of the piece, there are hands all around you that can hold you and guide you back to life.
Be careful, of course. There are many judging hands, shame-inflicting hands, retaliatory hands. Don’t go there.
But there are also plenty of gentle hands, compassionate hands, safe hands. They might be the hands of those whom you already know and trust; but they might also be found in unexpected places.
Do not suffer alone. Life isn’t over. There can be glory days ahead. Years after I thought my life might never recover, I’m living in the best part of my story.
God goes belonging to every riven thing, my friends. God’s story involves the sorrow of bearing pain and sorrow: “From his riven side which flowed,” as a wonderful old hymn reminds us.
But there’s one thing you have to do: open your hands. Admit that they’re empty. Trust that God will give you a new future and that he’ll do that, at least in part, through the hands of others.