I sit in expectation of the horror of good Friday and in hopeful expectation of the work of Easter Sunday. This time of year is always the most contemplative for me, perhaps because it offers the fullest range of emotion that seems to explain so much of my life. The text I am reflecting on this year is the parable of the weeds found in Matthew 13. Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a farmer who sows seed in a field, but while he slept the enemy came and sowed weeds into the same field. When the wheat sprouted so did the weeds. The farmer does not pull up the weeds, but tells his workers to leave the weeds because in pulling them up they will pull up the wheat and kill the crop. Let them both grow together and at harvest we will burn the weeds and harvest the wheat. Perhaps you have had a flower or vegetable garden and you understand this story well, I understand this story because of my calling as a chaplain, my experiences in life, and God’s revelation.
We live with great perspective. We look back at Good Friday and Easter while living between the transfiguration and Christ’s return. For the disciples, the cross must have looked much different than it does to us, then there’s Easter Sunday! In life, there are two discernable realities that we live in either by choice and because these are the truthful realities of our world. The first reality is the experience of the cross. The cross, of course relates back to when Jesus died for the sins of all mankind so that we can live in relationship with God once again. To those who were there the cross represented great loss, a curse perhaps, and grief to be sure. But when God created a beautiful garden, perfect in every way, much like the gardens described in fairy books I read to my daughter and even more so because that was where God walked with the man and woman. He intended it to be far more glorious and victorious until one day the enemy entered the garden and brought sin into the world through the man and woman and everything changed. From that time forth the weeds grew in the garden of God. The garden is not all it is supposed to be, we know this. We feel this truth deep inside. Something isn’t quite right. One day, at the harvest, God will return and with his winnowing blade cut down the weeds to be burned up while the rest of the garden will be forever redeemed according to the ransom paid for on good Friday. One reality we experience in life is the reality of weeds. We all have them. Grief, sadness, death, pain, sickness, questions without answers, and all that is imperfect in our world. It might be a cave you created for yourself to protect you from the world or it might be the losses you have experienced in a job, career, loved ones, or precious items dear to you. I hear about this reality in my profession when those who are experiencing this reality enter my office and ask me, “chaplain, why is this happening,” “why is God doing this,” “why does God allow evil to exist?” C.S. Lewis’ theodicy question of God’s goodness in the face of the world’s evil becomes very personal for us at some point and at numerous times for many. Matthew 13 reflects the light of Easter Sunday as it answers the question for those living in grief today at the foot of the cross. In my travels I have seen people live out this reality differently. While flying over mud and cardboard homes in the barrenness of Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Africa I looked out the back of our helicopter and saw people struggle to toil the ground, to meet their daily needs, and survive in extreme conditions. A daily task for them might be to find clean water or to get something to grow from the dust, or to find safety for their family amidst war. Here in the states I’ve seen people who possess so much, but struggle to find meaning in their life, struggle to find meaning to their experiences, and toil so hard to have more while missing the moments to reflect on why they are striving so hard. You can call this reality grief, or curse, or sin, or just life, but that would be missing something unless we understand that we aren’t called to live in the weeds at the foot of the cross.
The second reality for us is Easter Sunday in hopeful expectation of the second coming. Some of the most beautiful moments of life have been experienced in the oasis. This is a reality no matter where I have lived. All over the world, wherever there is good water there is life. From the swamps and intra-coastal waters of Florida to the mountains of Colorado, to the deserts of Arizona, Africa, and Asia or the Mosel and Rhein regions of Germany where there is living water there is life abundant flourishing amidst the garden like environment. A second related reality is that when the area around that water is arid and barren the water is abundantly precious. It’s amazing to fly over a dry, brown, arid desert and suddenly be surrounded by a lush green oasis. Isn’t that a good description for God’s blessing and grace in our life? Second chances often feel that way whether at work with your boss on that big project or in a relationship where one of the parties has failed. This is the message of the cross and even more so, Easter Sunday. God’s big project; His creation, didn’t quite work out as planned, but a way was made for the creation to be all it was meant to be. You and I, finite in so many ways, failing to live up to God’s covenant with us, have been forgiven through Jesus’ work on the cross and God finished that work in the empty tomb. For some of us life has brought to us a time of darkness, grief, and challenge, where it seems everything our life is toil and struggle. We might even question where God is at this time and why he is allowing us to go through this difficult time. And for some it is more like Deuteronomy 11:26 calling out to us today to make a choice, to choose the way of blessing and turn away from the cursed life. You could say we sit at the edge of the oasis and have been given a choice in life, come and live by fresh waters where things come alive and flourish or walk into the desert and struggle. Either way, life is a series of choices that we make. If you are in a struggle today choose the blessed life and watch for fresh water to enter your world. For beside it the still waters of life he will restore us and guide us for his name’s sake. You might have failed in your life at some point, but you have a choice today. Jesus is no longer on the cross, he’s no longer in the tomb. But that’s from our perspective today. For the disciples and for those of us approaching the cross this time of year there is a time to reflect on what this all means. Yet, we are called from that dark place to enter the enter tomb and find God’s victory is sure. And yet, God doesn’t leave us there either. We await a harvest time when all these weeds in our lives will be burned and we will live in the abundance of His glory forever.