We connected on Google Duo right around breakfast time, and my granddaughter Violet shared that she had gotten up early that morning before her parents were even up, and she went into their bedroom and quietly asked if she could go out into the living room by herself while they were still in bed. Now, this is a huge request and a big deal to an almost-four-year-old! They granted her request, simply asking that she not wake up her baby brother. So out to the living room, she went, and she described it like this: “Nana, I just sat on the couch all by myself in the dark and didn’t do anything, not even 'video games' (her little electronic learning game). I was all alone!”
It was at that time that I reminded her that she is never alone; that God is always with her. She paused, as if considering the validity of my statement, then leaned in close to the screen and replied, “But, Nana, I forgot all about God! I forgot about Jesus and God!” My daughter Kelli and I smiled as she said this, for we too have often forgotten about God and we both almost simultaneously replied, “We all sometimes forget about God and Jesus.”
The Lenten season is over, and I’m reflecting on the blog I wrote last May when I began with someone’s observation that “this is the Lentiest Lent I’ve ever lented!” Honestly, is it any different this year? We are still in a season of pandemic ambiguity about many things, and very little seems to be controllable. During Lent, believers have spent 40 days lamenting and repenting of the sin and brokenness that put Jesus on the cross. We give things up, let things go, and give until it hurts. That is the mandate.
As I reflect on this Lent season, I come to the same conclusion that a respected pastor declared in a Lenten devotional: “I flunked Lent!” The things I aspired to do in the beginning, like fasting from the vices of sugar and mid-afternoon snacking, fell by the wayside once again as I sought comfort in times of sorrow: sorrow over my mother’s passing, sorrow over the suffering of friends I love, sorrow over the division and brokenness in relationships. The attempts at will power confronted me with the enemy’s lies: “See, you just can’t do it.” I failed Lent; I wasn’t strong enough to overcome temptation. I want a “do-over.”
Here is the thing; Lent reminds us why Jesus came: WE CAN’T SAVE OURSELVES. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount reminds us that the “poor in spirit, the hungry, the weak, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden” are the ones who inherit the kingdom of God. "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). Christianity is not a theology of religious self-fulfillment, an individualistic endeavor of pulling ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps. It’s an acknowledgment that takes humility and grace with one another: “I can’t; God can; I think I’ll let Him.”
I have wept, confessed my inadequacies with my hubby and others I am close to; been angry about injustice, and felt inadequate in my efforts to address it. I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed some more with others in our congregation who have gone through loss and disappointment. I’ve felt very empty and very filled up at the same time. When the crowds sought out Jesus for physical signs and healings, He taught them that “the work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.” When the crowd then asked for a miraculous sign such as the manna that God gave the Jews in the wilderness, Jesus replied: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never go thirsty. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
This is the message of Easter, and we are Easter people if we take Jesus at His Word. We get to have a daily “Be-over.” In this season of the “now and not-yet” of Eastertide, we get to put ourselves in the stories of the various encounters Jesus had in the 40 days after the Resurrection: the times that Jesus appeared, first to Mary Magdalene and the other women, who became the first evangelists; then to two men who walked with Jesus along the road to Emmaus; then to the disciples as He stood among them saying, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24). Then making a special appearance to doubting Thomas. Restoring Peter (John 20 and 21). After all these things, Jesus predicts the coming of the Holy Spirit and is taken up into the clouds and we commemorate that event on Ascension Sunday (Acts 1). Ten days later, the Holy Spirit came upon believers as we celebrate Pentecost (Acts 2).
The Upper Room Discourse that we’ve been studying reminds us that being and abiding in the presence of Jesus is the way that leads to hope and joy. One of the things I’ve done over the past eight weeks was joining a group of wonderful and vulnerable folks on Zoom to discuss the book Gentle and Lowly. The author, Dane Ortlund, concludes the book by reminding readers that “the Christian life boils down to two steps: 1. Go to Jesus. 2. See #1. That place in your life where you feel most defeated, He is there, right there, and His heart for you, not on the other side of it but in that darkness, is gentle and lowly. Your anguish is His home. Go to Him.”
My breakfast conversation with Violet that morning ended with me reading a children’s book entitled Shhh….God is in the Silence. It is a story for all ages. May the promises in this excerpt comfort and encourage your heart as we continue our “Be-Over” in this season of Eastertide:
Shhh…God is in the silence.
Listen closely to your heart.
This is where he lives.
Can you hear Him?
I love you, He says.
You are precious.
There is no one else like you.
I created you, you are mine.
I am with you always.
You are safe.