“Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:23-24.
Yesterday was a difficult day for my family. Yesterday we gathered as a family in the McPherson, Kansas cemetery to say goodbye to Barbara Flory. Barb had been struggling with cancer that had metastasized to a number of key organs. It was something she had been fighting for a while now, but the end came rather suddenly. Within a few days after returning home from an out of state cancer specialist where they learned that there was nothing more that could be done, Barb quickly moved into the active process of dying. While it was something that we knew would come, the timing was jarring, and at moments grief has been over-whelming.
As I sit in my office writing today I have a clear view of several redbud trees across the street. Redbuds are a special tree to me, in part because my parents planted a redbud tree in our back yard the year that I was born. They’re also special to me because their flash of color in the spring always seems to come suddenly against the backdrop of what appears to be dry, lifeless branches. They are always a burst of new life in a seemingly lifeless landscape.
As I hold the emotions of saying goodbye to Barb and as I gaze on the bright flowers of the redbud tree, I also am holding the Easter story in my mind as well. In a few short weeks we will be gathering again on Easter morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a celebration, not simply of life, but a celebration of life after the most horrific of events. Jesus was brutally killed using an implement of torture and humiliation. It was a method of execution that was meant not only to kill an individual, but to kill the movement that that individual represented or was leading. The cross is death at its most brutal….and yet, here we are.
Easter morning celebrates, in the most barren of landscapes, the persistent bit of green poking its head up through the dry ground. Easter morning celebrates, on a dry brittle branch, the bud of color peaking its head out once again. Easter morning celebrates, in the face of the finality of death, that Jesus cannot be held by the grave and has come back to life. Easter morning celebrates, in the face of evil that tried to suppress the good news, that the word of Jesus has continued to spread throughout the course of time and across the face of the globe.
I don’t particularly know why suffering and pain exist, but it’s not for a lack of trying to understand. I’ve certainly spent many a year trying to come to grips with why suffering exists in this life. It’s also true that thousands of people before me for thousands of years have struggled with this same question. And yes, there are people who have pontificated at length on why bad things happen to good people. I suppose I could find some fancy words for it all, but it all boils down to some simple things for me. 1) Suffering happens to us all, and when it does, God suffers with us. God knows and cares. 2) There is no way around the suffering. As much as we would all like to avoid suffering in our lives, the only real path forward is through it, not around it. 3) God does not cause or desire suffering, but can always use suffering to bring about something beautiful. It requires a certain openness to it on our part, but the true miracle of the power of God is that God can take the ashes of our suffering and use them to bring new life.
I don’t know why people like Barb get cancer. I don’t know why lives are cut short or destroyed for a whole host of reasons. But as sure as the redbuds sprouting tells me that winter will not last forever, the hope of Easter tells us that whatever we might face, the story is not over. Out of the ashes, out of the pain, out of the challenge, God will bring new life, new joy, and a new hope. For this we celebrate, even in the midst of tears.
Each month for our newsletter Pastor Alan writes a short article on a variety of topics. At times he will also create a video version of the article.